Prof Dr Ahmad Saeed Bhatti, Prof Dr Shahid Mahboob Rana & Ayesha Saeed The origin of the first towns, early empires, and powerful nations in the world can all be traced to the use of soil for agriculture and, according to former US President and member of the New York Academy of Sciences, late Thomas Jefferson: Civilisation itself rests upon the soil. The enormity of this statement can be better understood through the words of R. Neil Sampson, an agricultural expert, who said: We stand, in most places on earth, only six inches from desolation, for that is the thickness of the topsoil level upon which the entire life of the planet depends. Although food production, extraction of natural resources, industrial activity and pollution affect the environment, population alone threatens to override all others in their effect on the various components of environment, especially the soil. The Malthusian growth in population is fast depleting natural resources, while spurring on the process of industrialisation. As a result, food and environmental quality is decreasing at a rate that warrants attention, as do other problems pertaining to the environment such as conservation of soil and water, use of sustainable production methods, alternative foods, and eating within the lower tier of the food pyramid. Of the worlds population of over 6.4 billion, some 80 percent inhabit developing countries, and suffer from scarcity of food, according to the National Space Science and Technology Centre, USA. For food sufficiency, therefore, a multi-pronged approach, comprising population control and measures to conserve water and soil, must be used. The Green Revolution of the 1960s provided developing countries with an opportunity to feed their teeming millions, using high yield wheat and rice varieties, high fertilisers, pesticides, and mechanised cultivation and harvest procedures, to realise their full potential. While per capita food production in the world rose by 30 percent between 1950 and 1970, it fell by 13 percent between 1984-2003, dwindling sharply due to desertification. Today, over 250 million people are suffering from food scarcity forcing many, in some parts of the world, to flee their homelands. While achieving higher crop production with the use of high fertilisers and pesticides, their extended use, from 1950 to 2000, made some developed countries become unwitting victims; and a high energy cost was incurred in the form of serious environmental problems such as deterioration of the atmosphere, and degradation of soil and water, which led to the call for development and promotion of bio-fertilisers, to offset the losses resulting from the use of inorganic fertilisers. In Australia, intensive cultivation resulted in the loss of nearly 2.7 million sq km topsoil of its five million square arable land over the past 200 years, while in the US 20 percent of its farmland had lost its topsoil, according to a study conducted in 1982. While China and India are said to be losing topsoil at a much more rapid rate than the US, the rate of desertification in Pakistan can be judged from some 19 million acres of its topsoil already being lost. In Australia, the Decade of Landcare initiative, involving planting of special grasses and deep-rooted trees, and building of earth banks and promotion of better land use was started. In 1990 alone, the scheme envisaged planting of some one billion new trees in the country. While desertification in Haiti and many areas of Africa forced people to vacate their lands in search of greener pastures, Kenya managed to revegetate its degraded land with some 30 million plants - thanks to the single-handed efforts of Nobel Peace Prize winner, Madam Wangari Maathai. While world food production data indicates economic viability of food production without chemical fertilisers and pesticides, it does not promise to feed over six billion people, if farming with inorganic fertilisers was fully replaced. If adopted, organic farming may, however, create large social benefits in favour of farmers with small land holdings and labour forces, and help diminish soil erosion, according to Brian Halweil. Phil Edwards and Ian Roberts in International Journal of Epidemiology maintained that keeping slim is good for the environment, and helps to reduce (carbon) emissions and slow climate change, thus calling on all to shun obesity. With the money spent on junk food, the entire equatorial belt could be reforested, said Rachmat Wito-elar, the Indonesian Minister for Environment. Although trees are planted all year round in many Western countries, days like Earth Day, Environment Day, Desert Day, Arbor Day etc, are marked to emphasise the importance of plants to the planet. The US government has embarked upon a plan to convert 11 percent of its cropland to meadows and forest. With 60 percent of its total land degraded, Pakistan must adopt measures such as intervention of fallow periods, agro-forestry, afforestation, pla-nting of grasses, revegetation, and raising parks and roadside trees to help thwart soil erosion. The One-Student, One-Tree initiative, by Government College University, Faisalabad, offers an excellent model to achieve this objective. Farmlands are a legacy of mankind, and as former British Prime Minister, Margaret That-cher said: No generation has a freehold on the earth.All we have is a life tenancy, with a full repairing lease. The writers are researchers at the Department of Environmental Sciences, GC University, Faisalabad.