Landowners are engaged in “an orgy of soil destruction”, writer and environmentalist George Monbiot has written in The Guardian, threatening our very survival.

In his piece, Monbiot says soil degradation barely rates a mention compared with such problems as climate change and water scarcity. But the problem is so immense that with the current rate of soil loss the world has on average just 60 years left of growing crops.

“To keep up with global food demand, the UN estimates, six million hectares (14.8m acres) of new farmland will be needed every year,” he writes. “Instead, 12m hectares a year are lost through soil degradation. We wreck it, then move on, trashing rainforests and other precious habitats as we go. Soil is an almost magical substance, a living system that transforms the materials it encounters, making them available to plants. That handful the Vedic master showed his disciples contains more micro-organisms than all the people who have ever lived on Earth. Yet we treat it like, well, dirt.

“The techniques that were supposed to feed the world threaten us with starvation. A paper just published in the journal Anthropocene analyses the undisturbed sediments in an 11th-century French lake. It reveals that the intensification of farming over the past century has increased the rate of soil erosion sixtyfold.”