A two-year study of satellite data has revealed that farmland is becoming damaged by chemical contamination, acidity, salinity and poor drainage over the entire Earth. Just 16 percent of farmland, worldwide, appears to be free of these problems. Modern farming practices, designed to produce highyields, may mean that in the future, we will not be able to produce enough food to feed the world. “Agricultural production is being achieved at the expense of our ability to feed ourselves and future generations,” says AdlaiAmor, a spokesman for the World Resources Institute.

North America has the largest percentage of good land, at about 29 percent. Asia has the poorest quality farmland, with only 6 percent undamaged. Aluminum contamination from fertilizers is so high on 17 percent of the world’s farmlands that the soil is toxic to plants. Salt deposits are asignificant problem on irrigated land, with nearly 4 million acres lost every year due to excessive salt, which is about one percent of the world’s irrigated farmland.

Overuse of organic fertilizers reduces fertility and moisture retention and causes increasing emissions of carbon dioxide, which increases global warming. Agriculture consumes 70 percent of the freshwater used by humans, draining more water from the earth than can be replaced by rainfall, sowater tables are dropping.

We now produce 20 percent more food per person than we did in 1961. But we need to find ways to increase food production without destroying the land, because the world’s population is expected to grow by 1.5 billion over thenext 20 years. Clearing new land would further threaten biodiversity, as well as increase global warming by reducing the number of trees. Up to 30 percent of the world’s forest areas have already been converted to agriculture.

“We must not continue to take nutrients out of the soil faster than we replace them. We must not continue to deplete water resources faster than they can be replenished,” says Per Pinstrup-Anderson of the Food Policy Institute. “By analogy, you cannot continue to take more out of your bankaccount than you put in. Sooner or later, you’ll run out of money.”

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