Soil: A Forgotten Necessity for Sustaining Life
By admin July 8, 2015


It is not often that one thinks about how important soil is to sustaining all life around them. Healthy soil is critically necessary to ensure food security and the production of fiber as well as for maintaining environmental quality and healthy ecosystems. Many scholars have defined soil health as “the capacity of a living soil to function, within natural or managed ecosystem boundaries, to sustain plant and animal productivity, maintain or enhance water and air quality, and promote plant and animal health” (Doran et al., 1996, 1998, 2002).

Given the important role soil plays in maintaining a sustainable ecosystem, it is surprising that it is often defined as a second tier priority in regards to world issues. FAO has noted that an international body has yet to be created to support coordinated global action on soil management. To counter this, in 2011 FAO started the Global Soil Partnership for Food Security and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation (GSP). The GSP brings together international, regional and national organizations that are working in the area of soil protection and sustainable management. They are working under the mandate “to improve governance of the limited soil resources of the planet in order to guarantee healthy and productive soils for a food secure world, as well as support other essential ecosystem services, in accordance with the sovereign right of each State over the natural resources.”

Hundreds of public and private organizations and businesses have now joined the GSP and all act in accordance with GSP’s mission which is to develop awareness and contribute to the development of capacities, build on best available science, and facilitate/contribute to the exchange of knowledge and technologies among stakeholders for the sustainable management and use of soil resources.” An important aspect of this mission is the contribution to the development of capacities. Soil scholars are becoming increasingly scarce, with very few agricultural students focusing on soil management and sustainability. While many of these scholars recognize its importance, it is necessary to increase their knowledge and then share that knowledge with communities worldwide.

Soil health is greatly determined by human use of it. In many parts of the world, farmers are still using outdated technologies, are unaware of sustainable soil practices and cultivation, and use harmful fertilizers that harm the lower layers of soil including the watershed and areas for bioenergy production. New scientific techniques are needed to deter people from conducting harmful practices and move into a more sustainable direction towards soil management. Luckily, many different organizations are now implementing activities under the GSP mandate to do just that. Interestingly, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is carrying out a number of projects to improve soil and water management in more than 20 countries around the world including ensuring sustainable increases in crop production in Afghanistan, improving irrigation in Ecuador, and sustaining soil fertility in Mozambique. There are many other organizations implementing similar projects in the hopes that attitudes about soil management will change.

Promoting sustainable soil use is an issue that the world needs to put more of an emphasis on in the upcoming Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Ignoring its critical importance will prove to be detrimental to life on this planet. FAO has declared 2015 as the International Year of Soils to help raise awareness of its importance. Now it is time for the world community to commit ensuring all soil use will produce healthy soil that can be productive for years to come.

For more information:

Doran, John W., “Soil health and global sustainability: translating science into practice” (2002). Publications from USDA-ARS / UNL Faculty. Paper 181.

Thanks for sharing !

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