The Case for a Global Treaty on Soil Conservation, Sustainable Farming, and the Preservation of Agrarian Culture

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Ecology Law Quarterly

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Ecology L.Q.


Soil is the foundation of life, yet the international community has all but ignored it in conservation efforts and legal reforms. Right under our feet we are losing topsoil at rates that far outpace nature’s ability to keep up. Erosion, salinization, desertification, nutrient depletion, contamination — these and other threats have conspired to take away the land that feeds us. But they have done so largely at our own command. Like most environmental crises, human decisions have played a critical role in the degradation of Earth’s soils.

To remedy this situation — or at least generate change that moves us in the right direction — I argue that we need a new global treaty specifically designed to address the soil crisis. After explaining the nature of the threat and its causes, I canvass the social and legal responses that have been launched to address the problem. Through this discussion, we see that the international community has failed to meet the soil crisis with the construction of an adequate legal regime.

As an extension of this failure, the international community has also failed to recognize the other problem that comes along with land degradation: cultural erosion. As we convert valuable farmland to urban sprawl and lose fertile spaces to expanding deserts, we also witness the loss of small-scale farming and the communities it supports. I reveal the link between these two crises by emphasizing a common cause: the rise of industrial agriculture. With its emphasis on short-term profit margins, mechanization, product specialization, division of labor and capital, and economies of scale, industrial agriculture profits at the expense of ecology and rural communities. To save our soils and the communities that work them, I argue that a global treaty addressing soils should also address agrarian culture and — in the way of responding to both issues — should implement reforms in support of sustainable farming.

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