It is obvious to most of us that food is a human right. But our discussions of food justice need to be grounded—literally—in what experts are calling a right to healthy soils.

Without well-nourished soil, “the global issues of climate change and food security cannot be addressed,” says soil scientist Dr. Rattan Lal. He’s the recipient of the World Food Prize and a Distinguished University Professor of Soil Science at The Ohio State University.

I had the opportunity to chat with Dr. Lal recently at a U.N. human rights conference on food justice in Doha, Qatar. World leaders had some crucial discussions at that summit—and, as always, I personally learned so much from Dr. Lal.

“The right to food and right to soil are inextricably linked,” Dr. Lal says.

If we want good food, we need good soil. Ninety-five percent of food nutrients come from soils, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization calculates—which makes the problem of soil erosion so much more concerning.

As Adrian Lipscombe, a chef and the Founder of the 40 Acres Project, put it: “If we don’t have soil health, we’re not going to have food.”

Soil erosion specifically refers to the removal of topsoil from the land’s surface, which can be caused by factors like water, wind, and tillage. Of course, some of these processes are natural—but healthy soils have the resiliency to resist excess erosion, whereas degraded soils are more vulnerable to even natural climatic cycles.

About a third of the world’s soils are currently degraded, the FAO says, and poor land management practices and hyper-industrialized agriculture is pushing that number higher.

And that has direct impacts on our food supply and climate. Poor soils can cut crop yields by up to 50 percent—which, if we’re not careful, could result in more soil being tilled to grow more crops, which degrades more soil, which pushes us closer to climate catastrophe.

And while poor soils hurt the environment, good soils can help repair the earth. Healthy soils, boosted by regenerative farming practices, can sequester more carbon from the atmosphere and more effectively store and drain water. Farmers can use techniques like no-till growing, cover cropping, rotational grazing and planting, and implementing other buffers against erosion.

“We need the soil for our physical sustenance,” says the amazing Leah Penniman of Soul Fire Farm, “but I also very much believe we need the soil for our psycho-spiritual wellness.”

Read the full article about food justice by Danielle Nierenberg at Food Tank.