Despite being the largest country on earth and having an ever-decreasing population, the over-zealous use of fertilisers and cropping regimes over generations has devastated soil quality nationwide, the Russian news agency Interfax said.

The report comes less than a week after an international survey using satellite data showed that soil degradation has dramatically reduced food productivity (see related story). In the days of the Soviet Union, particularly during the 1960’s, inorganic fertilisers were widely used as a means of rapidly developing agricultural productivity on the huge collectively-owned farms. This process was largely halted with the start of agricultural reforms in 1985, and now, the report says, farmers in Russia (the situation in the other ex-Soviet states is not mentioned) use only 10% of the mineral fertilisers, and around a third of the organic fertilisers used a decade ago.

However, now the nutrient-deficient land is suffering from a ‘negative balance’, whereby farmers are unable to put sufficient nutrients in the soil for crops to flourish. The vast majority of farms are now very small and individually owned by farmers who attempt to eke out an existence and can little afford to improve the soil quality.

Despite the creation of a centralised programme to tackle agricultural pollution in 1997, environmental devastation is felt nationwide: from the north, where deliberate flooding has led to waterlogged soil to the south, where irrigation schemes have left the soil salty. Even the extremely fertile traditional breadbasket of central Russia with its ‘black earth’ is suffering from soil exhaustion.

The report says that environmental groups have tended the overlook the gravity of the problem, instead focusing on more dramatic events, such as the state of nuclear plants.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie