Soil provides nutrients, water and minerals to plants and trees, stores carbon and is home to billions of insects, small animals, bacteria and many other micro-organisms.

Yet the amount of fertile soil on the planet has been diminishing at an alarming rate.

Underscoring its importance 2015 has been declared the International Year of Soils by the United Nations.

Here are five reasons to treasure our often overlooked natural resource.

3. Soil can mitigate climate change

Soil makes up the greatest pool of terrestrial organic carbon, more than double the amount stored in vegetation.

As well as helping to supply clean water, prevent desertification and provide resilience to flood and drought, soil mitigates climate change through carbon sequestration and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

“Soils of the world must be part of any agenda to address climate change, as well as food and water security,” says Rattan Lal, Director of Ohio State University’s Carbon Management and Sequestration Center.

4. Soil is alive, teeming with life

A quarter of the planet’s biological diversity exists in soil. There are literally billions of microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, and protozoans in the soil, as well as thousands of insects, mites and worms.

More organisms are contained in one tablespoon of healthy soil than there are people on the planet.

“It’s only been recently that we’ve begun thinking about soil biodiversity as a resource we need to know something about,” says Diana Wall, Scientific Chair of the Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative. “Without soil and their biodiversity, there is no human life.”

5. Investing in sustainable soil management makes economic and environmental sense

Managing soil sustainably is cheaper than rehabilitating or restoring soil functions.

“Across the globe, human pressure on soils is reaching critical limits,” Ronald Vargas, Soils and Land Management Officer at FAO.

“As per the principles outlined in the World Soil Charter and supported by FAO, good soil governance requires actions at all levels, from governments to individuals in promoting sustainable soil management.”

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