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A statement by FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva
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5 December 2014

World Soil Day and launch of the International Year of Soils


Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a privilege to address this audience today. We are coming together to, finally, recognize and advance the cause of a vital, yet often forgotten resource: soils. A year ago, the United Nations General Assembly designated December 5th as World Soil Day and declared 2015 as the International Year of Soils. I would like to express my gratitude to the member states of the FAO and the United Nations. And, in particular, I would like to acknowledge the support of the Kingdom of Thailand in these efforts, especially His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, a soil scientist by training and passion.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We speak a lot of the importance of sustainable food systems for healthy lives. Well, it starts with soils. Soils constitute the foundation of vegetation and agriculture. Forests need it to grow. We need it for food, feed, fiber, fuel and much more. Soils also host at least one quarter of the world’s biodiversity. They are key in the carbon cycle. They help us to mitigate and adapt to climate change. They play a role in water management and in improving resilience to floods and droughts.

All this should illustrate the importance of soils. And why we should take better care of them. Generally speaking, we are not doing such a great job: one-third of our soils have already degraded. If the current trend continues, the global amount of arable and productive land per person in 2050 will be a quarter of what it was in 1960. The world will have over 9 billion people in 2050, 2 billion more than today. And food production will have to grow by 60 percent to feed a larger population that will also be eating better.

So the there is no doubt the pressure on natural resources is bound to increase. And soils are not something we can simply fix if it breaks: it can take up to one thousand years to form one centimeter of topsoil. That same topsoil can be quickly washed away by erosion. I always remember my first Soils class in university. The professor said that soils were made up of about one-third water, one-third minerals and one-third organic materials. He took these three elements, mixed it in a pan. He showed it to us and said that that was not soil: soil is a living organism.

Considering this, we must manage soils sustainably. There are many ways to do this. Crop diversification that is used by most of the world’s family farmers is one of them. Let me take this opportunity to say that the International Year of Family Farming might be ending, but our work to support family farmers more and better is just beginning. The International Year of Soils will give continuity to our work to support family farmers because this sector is very important to the sustainable use and preservation of soils.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The multiple roles of soils often go unnoticed. Soils don’t have a voice, and few people speak out for them. They are our silent allies in food production. We are highlighting them and ensuring they are recognized by celebrating World Soil Day and the International Year of Soils. The launch of the Global Soil Partnership in late 2012 is also part of this effort. It is improving coordination among different existing initiatives and triggering action at various levels.

We now have adequate platforms to raise awareness on the importance of healthy soils and to advocate for sustainable soil management. Let us use them. I invite all of you to take an active role in promoting the cause of soils during 2015 and beyond. We need healthy soils to achieve our food security and nutrition goals, to fight climate change and to ensure overall sustainable development. You can count on FAO’s commitment and active participation in this effort.

Thank you for your attention.