Global soils

Soil is a declining resource for a variety of reasons such as conventional agricultural practices and overexploitation of forests. Soil loss and erosion – half of the topsoil on the planet has been lost in the last 150 years – has a huge impact on our ability to produce food and, due to erosion, around 30% of the world’s arable land has become unproductive in the last 40 years. Tipped as an environmental problem second only to population growth, sustainably managing our soils should be a global priority.

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On the 4th of December, the Montpellier Panel published its latest report ‘No Ordinary Matter: Conserving, restoring and enhancing Africa’s soils’, this time focusing on the importance of soils to global food security. The report explains the contribution of soil to alleviating many of today’s pressing challenges is overlooked. The report finds that soils have become politically and physically neglected, triggering land degradation and recommends the following action be prioritised:

  1. Strengthen political support for sustainable land management
  2. Increase financial support for investment in land and soil management.
  3. Improve transparency for land and soil management.
  4. Attribute a value to land degradation.
  5. Start a ‘Big Data’ Revolution on soils.
  6. Create incentives, especially secure land rights.
  7. Build on existing knowledge and resources.
  8. Build soil science capacity in Africa.
  9. Embrace integrated soil management (ISM).
  10. Climate smart soil helps agricultural systems become more resilient. [Read more…]

The Soil Atlas of Africa

ID-100147244 (2)The Africa Soil Information Service is continuing with their plans to develop an “interactive, web-accessible digital soil map”, outlined in a previous blog article. This map will cover all the non-desert areas of Sub-Saharan Africa and is to be completed by the end of 2013. More recently, the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre has commissioned and launched, at the meeting of the African Union (AU) and EU commissions in April 2013, the first ever comprehensive map of African soils.

The Soil Atlas of Africa aims to increase African countries’ understanding of the diversity of soils found on the continent, the importance in managing this key resource and to aid governments in strategically planning land use and investments in agriculture and urban development.

The project started four years ago and is a collaboration between experts at the European commission, the AU and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Already the map has helped identify areas, in central Africa, some parts of West Africa, and southern Africa where soil is particularly fertile. Experts working on the project also hope it will strengthen government support for national soil bureaus and for training users of the Atlas at the regional level.

Declining soil fertility and soil loss is a significant problem in Africa. Nearly 3.3% of agricultural GDP is lost in sub-Saharan Africa each year due to soil and nutrient loss while more than 75% of total land in the area has degraded or highly degraded soil. The Atlas will help to identify trouble zones so that plans for the sustainable use of soil can be put in place.