Get on the soil train...

What we plant in the soil of contemplation, we shall reap in the harvest of action”, said Meister Eckhart, the German Philosopher. Truly said, “Soil is where food begins”.

This session of CFS#44 was all about being more responsible to protect and sustain soil health. The importance of soil in our life and environment was duly recognized by the UN in celebrating 2015 as International Year of Soils as also by declaring December 5 as World Soil Day. With this much international attention, are we ready to ensure healthy soil?

Most among us know, soils are an essential and non-renewable natural resource hosting goods and services vital to ecosystems and human life. We heavily depend on soils, since ninety-five percent of our food comes from soils. Soils also provide feed, fibre, fuel, and filter the water we daily consume. Yet, often we choose to act irresponsibly, when it comes to the issue of managing soils sustainably. As we ignore the popular saying, “healthy soil for healthy life”, our neglect is costing us heavily.

Every day almost every one of us does something which degrades soil. With growing soil degradation everywhere in the world, the sustainable management of soils (SSM) has become even more important than anything else in food production. SSM, an integral part of sustainable land management, includes the activities that maintain or enhance the supporting, provisioning, regulating and cultural services provided by soils without significantly impairing either the soil functions that enable those services or biodiversity.

Everyone attending the session was concerned on hearing that soil degradation can cause a significant yield loss (25%) in staple crops.  We were cautioned that 33 percent of land is moderate to highly degraded due to erosion, salinization, compaction, acidification and chemical pollution of soils.  The panelists opined that SSM offers great hope, so could be the good basis for promoting food security and improving nutrition, supporting agricultural and rural development, and addressing poverty eradication.

Considering its importance, the FAO Council in December 2016 endorsed the Voluntary Guidelines for Sustainable Soil Management (VGSSM) that provide general technical and policy recommendations on SSM for a wide range of committed stakeholders; however, they are not binding and only voluntary. The opening presentation elaborated on the genesis of the VGSSM, while stating that it is mainly a follow up of two previous documents (here & here).

This session was exclusively devoted to ways of halting soil degradation by sustainably managing soils, using the guidelines and recommendations enshrined in VGSSM—a brainwork of multiple stakeholders from around the world. While following the discussion, I got the feeling of being part of an inclusive and participatory process involving multiple stakeholders. In developing VGSSM as one useful tool, appreciably many different national and international organizations, research and academic institutions, NGOs & private sector offered their knowledge and experiences. This, however, has yet to pass the field tests in diverse soil conditions across the world; apprehensions on this were raised by a section of the audience. The FAO representative convinced the participants that they are developing strategies to take it to the field level across the world, including scouting some champion farmers who would adopt the guidelines and countries which come forward to implement these via the extension services.

I wish to add here, soil health is one among the significant issues in food production, which can not be left alone to the technical experts on soils. Rather, it should be the responsibility of each one of us. We all want to eat good quality food in sufficient quantities, which is possible from healthy soils only. We must act responsibly at individual and community levels in matters of soil health by contributing to the efforts directed to prevent soil degradation. It was interesting for me that soil health was also associated with organic agriculture through the active representation of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements in the panel. Ms Cristina Grandi, IFOAM representative, remarked that the organic movement sees close association between organic agriculture and healthy soils. She further noted, “Soil health is important not only from the perspective of producers, but consumers too now demand that chemicals should not be sprayed on the soil to ensure food quality and safeguard the environment”.

Finally, like all other participants, I am optimistic too that the VGSSM is going to streamline and consolidate efforts towards improving and maintaining soil health leading to the goal of achieving a hunger-free world. This session ended leaving me feel more enlightened on soil health issues, and I hope many others felt equally, too.

So, as the song goes: "People all over the world, get on the soil train, soil train..!"


This blogpost covers the CFS44 side event: “The Voluntary Guidelines for Sustainable Soil Management for the achievement of a zero hunger world”

Blogpost by Mahesh Chander - #CFS44 Social Reporter – mchanderivri(at)
Photo courtesy
Scott Bauer, Natural Resources Conservation Service, US Department of Agriculture

This post is part of the live coverage during the 44rd Session of the Committee on World Food Security, a social media project supported by GFAR. This post is written by one of our social reporters, and represents the author’s views only.

11/10/2017 9:16


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