World Soil Day: FAO launches global soil initiatives

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation has launched the Global Soil Partnership and an online soils portal to help build awareness of and improve soil management globally.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation has launched the Global Soil Partnership and an online soils portal offering a comprehensive collection of soil maps and over 700 technical reports as part of a campaign to increase global awareness about soil management.

Both initiatives aim to establish a new global soil information system which is expected to be fully operational within four years, according to an FAO announcement to mark the first official World Soil Day on Friday.

The United Nations has also declared 2015 will be International Year of Soils after estimating that one third of all soils are degraded due to erosion, compaction, soil sealing, salinisation, organic matter and nutrient depletion, acidification, pollution and other processes caused by unsustainable land management practises.

Paying more attention to the health and management of the world’s soils will be essential in feeding a growing global population, Maria Helena Semedo, FAO’s deputy director-general, told a group of soil scientists and research organisations on Friday.

The need for healthy soil for food production, water systems and carbon management has been overlooked for several years causing widespread desertification in many parts of the world, she added.

“The importance of soil for food security should be obvious,” she said. “From the origins of civilisation in early farming communities up through today, we can see how societies have prospered thanks to healthy soils and declined when their lands became degraded or infertile.”

Various investment groups have launched regenerative agriculture projects and agro-ecological projects that aim to improve soil biodiversity and increase agricultural yields at the same time. They inclue SLM Partners, the Australian livestock asset manager, Agro-Ecological, the New Zealand agri manager, and Soil Capital, the European diversified agri firm.

Soil mapping will be available through a few initiatives including SoilGrids1km, a new system for producing updatable soil property and class maps for the entire world, developed by the International Soil Reference and Information Centre (ISRIC) at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

The Geological Surveys of Europe, a not-for-profit organisation, has also launched a database providing previously unavailable information on the chemical composition and quality of soils in 33 European countries, according to the announcement.