Global Soil Partnership

Working group to produce a technical manual on Soil Organic Carbon management at the national and local scale

Background and rationale

After the publication of the Status of the World’s Soil Resources (SWSR) in 2015, it was identified within the Intergovernmental Technical Panel of Soils (ITPS) and the Global Soil Partnership (GSP) that increasing soil organic matter (SOM) represents a major part of the solution to various environmental concerns related to food production, reversing and preventing soil degradation as well as climate change adaptation and mitigation. Enhancing soil organic carbon (SOC) and maintaining soil biodiversity would increase the soil’s resilience to withstand disturbances resulting from human-induced climate change for continued food production.  SOM buffers the impact of climate extremes on soils and crops by (i) regulating water supply to plants, (ii) reducing erosion by decreasing runoff, and (iii) providing sites for nutrient retention and release (FAO and ITPS, 2015). Furthermore, in the last decades the importance of SOC as the largest terrestrial carbon reservoir along with its function as a source and/or sink for atmospheric carbon has gained growing attention in the context of climate change.

During the Fifth Working Session of the Intergovernmental Technical Panel on Soils (ITPS), held at FAO Headquarters in Rome, 14-18 March 2016, the working group (WG) “Global Management of Soil Organic Matter” under the leadership of Miguel Taboada (INTA, Argentina) was established as one of the four main priorities for action identified in the SWSR. In collaboration with the eight Regional Soil Partnerships, the WG is currently advancing in the preparation of the relevant contributions for the second edition of the SWSR, which will be published in 2025 as decided by the 5th Plenary Assembly of the GSP held in June 2017.

The growing awareness on SOC and SOM, including the need for action toward preserving and enhancing its stocks, led to the joint organization of the Global Symposium on Soil Organic Carbon (GSOC17) by FAO, GSP and ITPS, IPCC, UNCCD-SPI and WMO in March 2017. The Symposium succeeded in reviewing the role of soils and SOC in the context of climate change, sustainable development and land degradation neutrality. Participants from 111 countries engaged actively by presenting the results of studies demonstrating the potential and challenges of managing and monitoring SOC and by discussing and elaborating key messages. Based on those results, recommendations were developed and were published in the Outcome Document of the Symposium “Unlocking the Potential of Soil Organic Carbon” aiming at supporting the policy processes and actions to encourage the implementation of sustainable soil management practices and strategies that foster the protection and sequestration of SOC. The GSOC17 Outcome Document recommended as a way forward, the establishment of two WG:

  1. A WG “for developing feasible and regionally contextualized guidelines for measuring, mapping, monitoring and reporting on SOC” and
  2. A WG “to coordinate the development of a technical and institutional manual on SOC management” […] “to provide context-specific guidance on the sustainable management of SOC at the national and local scales.”

This open call for the establishment of a WG represented a response to the urgent need to identify, compile and highlight management practices and land use systems that promote the preservation and/or enhancement of SOC stocks taking into account the regional and sub-regional specificities using existing knowledge, adapted according to site characteristics and land user needs, considering cost-benefit analyses and social impacts. The progress reached by the ITPS WG “Global Management of Soil Organic Matter” and the Regional Soil Partnerships, including their Regional Implementations Plans, shall be hereby build upon. The outputs of this WG shall be within the scope of the principles presented in the Voluntary Guidelines of Sustainable Soil Management. The collaboration will be online-based. The results will be compiled into a technical manual on SOC management, an FAO publication, at the end of the process. The establishment of this open WG is an important activity as part of the GSP Pillar 1 to “Promote sustainable management of soil resources for soil protection, conservation and sustainable productivity”.

The process

Basis and considerations for preparing the manual

The contributions made within the online collaboration should target the compilation and recommendation of best management practices and systems that promote the preservation and, wherever possible, the increase of SOC stocks in all land uses at regional, sub-regional and national levels. The contributions should be adapted to site characteristics and land user needs and consider cost-benefit analyses and social impacts. The priorities of action as reflected in the Regional Implementation Plans of the Regional Soil Partnerships will be thoroughly taken into account.

The material compiled should be based on scientific evidence. Although, peer reviewed journals are obviously preferred, this could severely hinder the scope of the search, because of the scarcity of publications in many regions of the World. Furthermore, these regions are often those where SOC sequestration or restoration practices have more potential or application. The so called “grey literature” and local reports could be taken into account, whenever their validity is carefully evaluated.

Recommendations resulting from the Global Symposium of Soil Organic Carbon as published in the Outcome Document “Unlocking the Potential of Soil Organic Carbon” shall be accounted for, in particular the following: 

  • “In estimates of the potential for SOC sequestration, include the full GHG balance and consider possible interactions between the carbon and nitrogen cycles that could affect the climate change mitigation potential of applied practices.”
  • “The design of implementation strategies and appropriate soil and land management practices for SOC protection and sequestration should consider land use and the local environmental, socio-economic, cultural and institutional contexts, and potential barriers to adoption.
  • “Identify and specify the tangible short-term and long-term benefits for farmers of management practices for SOC sequestration to trigger their adoption, and introduce mechanisms to incentivize the adoption of such practices.”
  • “Prevent SOC losses by maintaining current SOC stocks (especially in carbon-rich soils) as the minimum action on SOC management.”

Call for experts

The call for experts has been made in September 2017 and was open for all those interested to contribute including land users, farmers, agricultural extension services agents, government representatives, scientists and researchers, NGO members, decision makers at different levels, members of existing initiatives, among further relevant stakeholders. As such, it falls in line with the inclusive, participatory and voluntary mandate and nature of the GSP, building on existing initiatives and institutions while bringing together all regions and countries of the world.

More than 200 people expressed interest and answered the call and became members of this working group.

Members of the working group

Online survey

An online survey about beneficial practices for SOC management was started in December 2017 (80 people filled in the survey) in order to reflect in the technical manual the specific information related to: the description of the practice; the land-use system it corresponds to; the region and/or country where this practice has been applied or studied (in one or more practices); the associated soil processes that enable SOC preservation and/or increase; the possible side effects that could negatively affect the climate change mitigation potential of the practice; the considerations for adoption within the cultural and socio-economic context; and the possible synergies and co-benefits or conflicts with other practices.

Table of Content of the technical manual on SOC management

Around 130 people are actively working on the preparation of the technical manual on SOC management. The table of content was agreed in a participatory manner using the results from the survey. Lead authors and contributing authors were appointed after an open call inside the working group. The structure of the manual and its associated Lead author and contributor authors are the following:

1. Introduction and preparation process of the technical manual

1. Introduction and preparation process of the technical manual

Lead authors: Cuevas, Rosa ; Taboada, Miguel ; Alcántara, Viridiana; Ronald Vargas.

Contributing authors: Chersich, Silvia ; Hao, Xiying ; Lal, Rattan ; Nkongolo, Nsalambi ; Reed, Eleanor.

2. Points of consideration when studying, recommending and adopting sustainable soil management practices that target the preservation and/or enhancement of SOC

2. Points of consideration when studying, recommending and adopting sustainable soil management practices that target the preservation and/or enhancement of SOC

[Including the possible trade-offs of SOC sequestration efforts when assessing the full GHG balance as well as a discussion on the required efforts to measure and monitor SOC stocks,  the link between SOC and SIC, and a co-benefit analysis of SOC sequestration in SOM and soil quality improvement, and of nutrients use efficiency for better GHG balance and better water quality]

Lead authors: Fornara, Dario ; Landers, Melvin

Contributing authors: Batjes, Niels ; Bhattacharyya, Ranjan ; Blakemore, Robert ; Brazao Vieira Alho, Carlos ; Byrne, Ken ; Chen, Janet ; Chenu, Claire ; Claessens, Lieven ; Cruz Gaistardo, Carlos ; García, Magali ; Horn, Rainer ; Ibañez Asensio, Sara ; Jassogne, Laurence ; Khanal, Shiva ; Klumpp, Katja ; Koncz, Peter ; Musinguzi, Patrick ; Navarro Pedreño, Jose ; Nobela, Laurinda ; Tian, Ye ; Vanlauwe, Bernard ; Virto, Iñigo ; Wood, Stephen; Cordovil, Cláudia M.d.S. ; Wiesmeier, Martin ; Brandao, Miguel ; Cowie, Annette.

3. Recommended management practices and actions for preservation and/or enhancement of SOC

3. Recommended management practices and actions for preservation and/or enhancement of SOC

[Considering the local environmental, socio-economic, cultural and institutional contexts, and potential barriers to adoption and including case studies and success stories of effective practice adoption and achieved SOC/SOM preservation/increase should be included whenever suitable as long as based on measurements and evidence-based results with the adequate statistical accuracy]

3.1.   Unmanaged and Protected Lands (including virgin forests, rangelands, grassland, shrublands, wetlands, sparse and bare areas).

Lead author: Cruz, Carlos.

Contributing authors: Koncz, Peter ; Koutika, Lydie-Stella ; Jouquet, Pascal ; He, Hongxing ; González, Ana ;  Kapović, Marijana ; Henry, Beverly ; Chersich, Silvia ; Bunch, Ronald ; Llorente, Mireia ; Idowu, Mary.

3.2.       Forestry (managed/silviculture).

Lead author: Prescott, Cindy.

Contributing authors: Fornara, Dario ; Bolsen, Wesley ; Fernández, Emilia ;  Brandao, Miguel ;  Mehra, Mamta ;  Chávez, Bruno, Galicia Leopoldo ; García, Felipe ;  Saynes, Vinisa.

3.3.       Forestry with agricultural or livestock activities: agroforestry, silvopastoral systems.

Lead authors: Fungo, Bernard ; Wiesmeier, Martin.

Contributing authors: Fornara, Dario ;  Jouquet, Pascal ; Prescott, Cindy ; Fernández, Emilia ; Landers, Melvin ; Chersich, Silvia ;  Bunch, Ronald ; Brandao, Miguel ;  Llorente, Mireia ; Idowu, Mary ; Mehra, Mamta.

3.4.       Grassland, shrublands, and bare and sparse areas with low, moderate, and high livestock density.

Lead authors: Khalil, Ibrahim ; González-Pedraza, Ana Francisca.

Contributing authors: Koncz, Peter ; Francaviglia, Rosa ;  Henry, Beverly ; Cardinael, Remi ; Klumpp, Katja ; Llorente, Mireia ; Costa Junior, Ciniro ; Nerger, Rainer ; Madari, Beata ; Munoz, Miriam.

3.5.       Rainfed agriculture - subsistence and familiar.

Lead authors: Loum, Macoumba ; Musinguzi, Patrick ; Ndour, Ndeye Yacine Badiane ; Francaviglia, Rosa.

Contribiting authors: Vicente-Vicente, José Luis ; Riaz, Muhammad ; Nerger, Rainer ; Bandel, Tobias ; Halas, Ján ; Barančíková, Gabriela ; Chen, Janet ; Thaís de Melo Carvalho, Márcia ; Madari, Beáta ; Soler da Silva, Mellissa ; Jose Marques, Maria; Bienes, Ramón; Sastre, Blanca; García-Díaz, Andrés; Skrylnyk, Yevhen ; Hetmanenko, Viktoriia ; Kutova, Angela ; Blanchart, Eric ; Bernard, Laetitia ; Trap, Jean ; Razafimbelo, Tantely ; Ratsiatosika, Onja ; Razanamalala, Kanto ; Audouin, Sarah.

3.6.       Rainfed agriculture – commercial.

Lead author: Thais de Melo Carvalho, Marcia.

3.7.       Irrigated agriculture.

Lead author: Bhattacharyya, Ranjan.

Contribiting authors: Gardi, Ciro ; Moshiri, Farhad ; Mehra, Mamta ; Meena Vijay Singh ; Ghosh, Avijit ; Pramod Jha.

3.8.       Rainfed or irrigated agriculture with livestock.

Lead authors: Rasul, Fahd.

Contribiting authors: Nerger, Rainer.

3.9.       Urban areas.

Lead author: Rumpel, Cornelia ; Yeboah, Edward.

3.10.    Wetlands with agricultural activities.

Lead authors: Navarro Pedreño, José.

Contribiting authors: Wichtmann, Wendelin ;  Agus, Fahmuddin.

4. Experiences with diverse incentivizing mechanisms for large scale practice adoption

4. Experiences with diverse incentivizing mechanisms for large scale practice adoption

Lead author: Ramirez, Marina.

Contributing authors: Daniel, Joy ; Fungo, Bernard ; Galford, Gillian L. ; Hamid, Custovic ; Moreira, Ana Laura ; Mosquera Losada, María Rosa ; Ortega Ramirez, Mariana ; Prat, Christian ; Vats, Varun ; Moussadek, Rachid.

5. Future directions and identified gaps

5. Future directions and identified gaps

Lead authors: Chabbi, Abad ; Giandon, Paolo ; Perhouse, Didi.

Contributing authors: Chenu, Claire ; Fernández-Getino García, Ana Patricia ; Gonzalez Forero, Rosalina ; Idowu, Mary ; Milne, Eleanor ; Mosquera Losada, María Rosa ; Vargas, Rodrigo ; Vrščaj, Borut; Cordovil, Cláudia M.d.S.; Angers, Denis; Cowie, Annette.


by 30 June 2018 

First draft of each chapter 


by 30 July 2018

Editing to harmonize chapters (ITPS/GSP Secretariat, feedback process with lead authors) 


by 30 August 2018

Review by ITPS/UNCCD-SPI/IPCC and other stakeholders 


by 30 September 2018

Preparation of final draft 


by 30 October 2018  

Final review and clearance by ITPS


by 30 November 2018

Layout and printing 

5th December 2018

Launch of the Technical Manual on Soil Organic Carbon management at the regional and sub-regional scale during the World Soil Day in FAO headquarters 

Contact persons and facilitators

Rosa Cuevas (GSP Secretariat): [email protected]

Miguel Taboada: [email protected]