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Discussion papers | Copyright
https://doi.org/10.5194/soil-2016-7
© Author(s) 2016. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Forum article 09 Mar 2016

Forum article | 09 Mar 2016

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This discussion paper is a preprint. A revision of the manuscript for further review has not been submitted.

Feeding the world with soil science: embracing sustainability, complexity and uncertainty

P. Tittonell P. Tittonell
  • 1Farming Systems Ecology, Wageningen University, The Netherlands
  • 2Natural Resources and Environment, Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Agropecuaria (INTA), Argentina

Abstract. Feeding a growing and wealthier population while providing other ecosystem services and meeting social and environmental goals poses serious challenges to soil scientists of the 21st Century. In particular, three dimensions inherent to agricultural systems shape the current paradigm under which science has to contribute knowledge and innovations: sustainability, complexity and uncertainty. The current model of agricultural production, which is also often the source of inspiration to propose solutions for future challenges, fails at internalizing these dimensions. It simply does not provide the necessary means to address sustainability, complexity or uncertainties. Part of the problem is that these are soft concepts, as opposed to hard goals, and so their definition and their translation into concrete actions is always subjective. They have to be sufficiently defined for soil science to embrace them in order to propose viable solutions to (i) produce food where it is most needed, (ii) decouple agricultural production from its dependence on non-renewable resources, (iii) recycle and make efficient use of available resources, (iv) reduce the risks associated with global change, and (v) restore the capacity of degraded soils to provide ecosystem services. This paper examines what the concepts of sustainability, complexity and uncertainty mean and imply for soil science, focusing on the five priorities enunciated above. It also summarizes and proposes new research challenges for soil scientists of the 21st Century.

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Current agriculture falls short of achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals: 1) It depends on non-renewable resources; 2) Impacts negatively on biodiversity and the environment; 3) Is not apt to produce food where people need it most. To contribute to food security and nutrition, new soil science must address these aspects of agricultural sustainability, while considering the complexity and uncertainties inherent to agroecosystems around the world, and communicate this better to society.
Current agriculture falls short of achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals: 1) It depends...
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