11 The Voluntary Guidelines for Sustainable Soil Management for the achievement of a zero hunger world

Healthy soils for food security and nutrition

Organizers

  • Global Soil Partnership (GSP)
  • Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
  • European Commission (EC)
  • World Farmers’ Organization (WFO)

Abstract

Soils are an essential and non-renewable natural resource hosting goods and services vital to ecosystems and human life. Ninety-five percent of our food comes from soils, which are also providing us with feed, fibre, fuel, and filter the water we daily consume. The sustainable management of soils (SSM) -an integral part of sustainable land management- is defined as 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.

Given that soil degradation can cause a significant yield penalty for staple crops (%25 yield loss) and that 33 percent of land is moderately to highly degraded due to erosion, salinization, compaction, acidification and chemical pollution of soils, SSM is considered the basis for promoting food security and improving nutrition, supporting agricultural and rural development, and addressing poverty eradication. In this context, the Voluntary Guidelines for Sustainable Soil Management (VGSSM) were endorsed by the FAO Council in December 2016 at the purpose of providing general technical and policy recommendations on SSM for a wide range of committed stakeholders. Efforts for increasing soil health will then contribute to achieve a hunger-free world.

Key speakers/presenters

  • Ms. Liesl Wiese, GSP Secretariat
  • Mr. Eduardo Mansur, Director Land and Water Division, FAO
  • Ms. Lucrezia Caon, GSP Secretariat
  • Mr. Gunsham Seeborun, Falcon Citizen League, World Farmers Organization
  • Ms. Anna Benedetti, CREA, Italy
  • Mr. Luis Ceciliano, Permanent Representation of Costa Rica to FAO
  • Ms. Cristina Grandi, IFOAM
  • Mr. Ronald Vargas, GSP Secretariat

Summary

Ninety-five percent of our food comes from soils, which are also providing us with feed, fibre, fuel, and filter the water we consume daily. Given that soil degradation can cause a significant yield penalty for staple crops (25% yield loss) and that 33 percent of land is moderately to highly degraded due to erosion, salinization, compaction, acidification and chemical pollution of soils, sustainable soil management (SSM) is considered the basis for promoting food security and improving nutrition, supporting agricultural and rural development, and addressing poverty eradication. In this context, the Voluntary Guidelines for Sustainable Soil Management (VGSSM) were endorsed by the FAO Council in December 2016 with the purpose of providing general technical and policy recommendations on SSM for a wide range of committed stakeholders. Efforts for increasing soil health will then contribute to achieving a hunger-free world.  

  1. Is it important for farmers to be aware of the VGSSM and the fact that there are efforts at the political level to guide the sustainable use of soils, or should farmers rather be involved more indirectly through activities that support sustainable soil use?
  2. It is the development of documents such as the VGSSM useful to governments and how are they being implemented in Italy and Costa Rica?
  3. Could the guidelines lead to a shift in consumers’ behavior and orient the market towards an increased consumption of organic or sustainably produced products?
  4. Is there any advice on how to implement the guidelines at the national level?

Summary of key points (responses to questions above)

  1. It is important that farmers are aware of the VGSSM, but at the same time they need to supported by extension services to implement relevant practices;
  2. Countries need to identify key priorities in terms of soil management and implement the guidelines accordingly (development of national documentation adapting the VGSSM to the national context);
  3. The implementation of the VGSSM has the potential to shift consumers’ perspective and behavior, but driven more in terms of human health rather than soil health;
  4. The implementation of the VGSSM could occur at two levels, i.e. political and practical. Politically, the continued support from all partners/stakeholders is essential, including FAO through the national FAO offices and GSP Secretariat. At the practical level, implementation is a slow process driven by communication and social involvement.

Key outcomes/take away messages

  • Need for including a list of bad and good practices as part of the implementation plan for Pillar 1 of the GSP;
  • Need for investing in awareness raising, extension and education on soil and the VGSSM;
  • Need for mobilizing financial resources to raise awareness and promote good practices on soil;
  • The successful implementation of the VGSSM and their broad endorsement strongly relies on the work of national FAO offices in disseminating them at the national and local level;
  • There is the need to stress the benefits of implementing the VGSSM for each type of stakeholder.
Side Event - 11 - The Voluntary Guidelines for Sustainable Soil Management for the achievement of a zero hunger world