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Harbin communiqué: Delegates from 18 countries agreed to advance science and technology of black soils

Though various definitions of black soil natural capital were proposed in the past few months, no final decision was taken until the International Symposium on Black Soils (ISBS18). The ISBS18 was held in Harbin on 10 - 12 September as a result of a significant collaboration between the Food and Agriculture Organization and its Global Soil Partnership (GSP), the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs of China and the government of the Heilongjiang Province. 

Harbin Communiqué


At the Symposium black soils were defined as soils which have high organic carbon content (>1.2% for cold and temperate and >0.6% for tropical and sub-tropical regions); dark to black soil surface horizons down to a depth of at least 25 cm. Complementary, they are characterized by high quality humus (resulting from a high base saturation >50%), a stabile aggregate structure and high level of nutrient content.

Mostly developed under prairies and steppes that experience winter-dry and freezing conditions, black soils are extensively and intensively farmed, increasingly dedicated to cereal production, pasture, range and forage systems. They take on great importance because of their relevance to food security and climate change. Indeed, black soils are prone to soil degradation (e.g. carbon losses, erosion, crusting, and nutrient mining) and are latent sinks and sources of greenhouse gases. They need to be managed carefully to maintain their productive potential on the long run and especially their SOC content.

Delegates from 18 countries with black soils, which are also part of the International Network of Black Soils (INBS) and other concerned stakeholders gathered to take stock of the status of black soils and prioritize actions for conservation and sustainable management of black soils. The ISBS18 and the 1st meeting of the INBS created a good basis to foster collaboration among these countries and help identify relevant research gaps and technical cooperation potential. Taking note of the importance of these soils and connecting it to the aim of the Voluntary Guidelines for Sustainable Soil Management (VGSSM), they prioritized the following actions (as per the Harbin communiqué): (1) Complete a delineation of the areas identified as black soils according to the criteria adopted at national level; (2) Support the implementation of the VGSSM in the areas designated as black soils; (3) Perform a global assessment of black soils and publish it as a formal repot; (4) establish a capacity development programme on their management; (5) prepare a policy brief on the  importance of black soils and advocate for the implementation of binding legislation for the full protection of soils for future generations; (6) Black soil data streamline as part of a monitoring subcomponent of the Global Soil Information System (GLOSIS); (7) Develop best available practices knowledge bank as part of INBS Information System. The ISBS18 and the INBS work plan will capitalize on the strategic importance of soils with the highest carbon stocks for the development of national and regional policies on soil conservation to prevent soil organic carbon losses. Countries with black soils (covering mil hectares in North America, South America, Asia, Eurasia) have now the opportunity to discuss common issues related to their conservation and sustainable management, to report on the global status of black soils and to compare current productivity rates.

Harbin Communiqué

FAO-DG Videomessage | FAO news article | Details of the event | Presentations | Photogallery

Agenda English & Chinese | Poster 

More information on the International Network of Black Soils available here