Global Soil Partnership

  • awareness raising
  • soil biodiversity
  • capacity development
  • soil information and data
  • soil erosion
  • soil fertility
  • soil governance
  • soil pollution
  • soil salinity
  • soil organic carbon

Soil fertility


Fertile soils contribute to food security, good yields for farmers and economic development for the countries

Fertile soils are able to produce healthy food with all the necessary nutrients for a healthy person

Soil fertility is the ability of a soil to sustain plant growth, by providing essential plant nutrients and favorable chemical, physical, and biological characteristics as a habitat for plant growth

Inappropriate soil fertility management can lead to adverse risks in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and contamination of soils and waterways


Soil fertility is the ability of a soil to sustain plant growth by providing essential plant nutrients and favorable chemical, physical, and biological characteristics as a habitat for plant growth. Plant nutrients include the macronutrients nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, sulfur, calcium and magnesium. Micronutrients are essentially boron, chlorine, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum and zinc. Fertilizers are chemical or natural substance or material that is used to provide nutrients to plants, usually via application to the soil, but also to foliage or through water in rice systems, fertigation or hydroponics or aquaculture operations. Nutrient sources include chemical and mineral fertilizers, organic fertilizers, such as livestock manures and composts, and sources of recycled nutrients.

The impacts of soil fertility are reflected in most of the Sustainable Development Goals, as they contain economic, social and environmental aspects. The main function provided by a fertile soil is the provision of food, which is very important considering FAO’s Zero hunger objective. A fertile soil also provides essential nutrients for plant growth, to produce healthy food with all the necessary nutrients needed for human health. Moreover, fertility has an impact on activities with an economic impact and is therefore related to economic growth and the fight against poverty. Finally, good management of soil fertility can help reduce soil, water and air pollution, regulate water resources availability, support a diverse and active biotic community, increase vegetation cover and allows for carbon neutral footprint.

Soil fertility is crucial for agricultural productivity and therefore for food security. It can be maintained or increased through several management practices. Farmers can improve soil fertility and soil health by optimizing soil nutrient management in terms of maximizing net returns, minimizing the soil nutrients depletion, and minimizing nutrient losses or negative impacts on the environment. Governments should promote sustainable agricultural practices, technologies and management in order to improve soil fertility and nutrient management as a whole, such as Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM) and Sustainable Soil Management (SSM). The International Code of Conduct for the Sustainable Use and Management of Fertilizers promotes practices including nutrient recycling, and agronomic and land management to improve soil health; it recommends regulation related to the sale, distribution and labelling of fertilizer products, wherever appropriate. It also promotes capacity development and education programmes for all stakeholders involved in the fertilizer value chain, and encourages developed countries to assist others in developing infrastructures and capacity to manage fertilizers throughout their life cycle.

Latest stories

Available tools

Fertlizers' Code

Fertilizers' Code implementation

Fertilizers' use and management

The Code promotes nutrient recycling, agronomic and land management to improve soil health; recommends regulation related to the sale, distribution and labelling of fertilizers.

Soil Doctors

Global Soil Doctors programme

A Farmer-to-farmer training initiative

The programme provides champion farmers with trainings, educational material and soil testing kits to build capacity on soil science and promote sustainable soil management.


Farmers' Compost Handbook

A practical guide to composting

Composting reduces pollution, reuses organic waste, reduces the cost of fertilizers and agricultural production inputs and especially returns to soil the nutrients taken to produce food.

Programmes and projects

SSM for Africa

Capacity Development on Sustainable Soil Fertility Management

The Government of China supports sustainable soil fertility management

The objective is to strengthen national capacities on soil fertility management, including appropriate fertilization and laboratory analysis of soils and fertilizers, to improve food security through increased agricultural productivity.

German project

Soil4Nutrition agriculture

The Government of Germany supports the “Soils for Nutrition” project

The scope of the project is the implementation of sustainable soil management practices to improve the nutritional quality of locally-produced food and address micronutrient deficiencies in plants and people.

Pilot project Malawi

Economic evaluation of soil and nutrient loss in Malawi

FAO/GSP-UNDP-UNEP Poverty-Environment initiative

The project analysed the economic impact of both soil and soil nutrient loss in Malawi with new data on erosion and nutrients loss collected through field surveys, merged with detailed climatic data and socio-economic information.


Global Symposium on Soil Fertility

Global Symposium on Soil Fertility

International science-policy meeting to be held at FAO headquarters in May 2022.

Webinar Fertilizers Code

Webinar on the Fertilizers' Code implementation

Tools and practices explained in a virtual meeting with the experts.


Technical workshops on nutrition-sensitive agriculture

Sustainable soil management meetings planned for May 2021


Featured Soil Doctors publications

Featured Malawi publications

Selected publications

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