Global Soil Partnership

Pillar 5: Harmonization of methods, measurements and indicator for the sustainable management and protection of soil resources

©FAO/Simon Maina

While the availability of soil data and information is dealt with in Pillar 4, it needs to be emphasized that information about soils must first be gathered in a harmonized way; otherwise, experiences cannot be shared and combined.

This is of utmost importance, for example, to utilize soil information for policy development and the building of observation systems. Harmonization and establishing guidelines and standards should not be a goal per se of the GSP. Standardization always implies a cost for the various stakeholders and therefore a clear cost/benefit analysis needs to be provided to justify any standardization activity. Many standards for soil measurements, observations, data collection and data management exist. The GSP will act to federate and facilitate a partnership among various actors to develop synergies and cost savings for all partners. 

Ongoing efforts as well as standards developed by the International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS) and by other regional and national standardization committees and institutions, need to be brought within a common framework to reduce duplication of efforts and the proliferation of standards and methods (both laboratory and field) that are often not compatible. A well-documented example of lack of coordination and political will is soil classification, with still two (or more) main systems used in many parts of the world that are difficult to compare (correlate) and harmonize (like the US Soil Taxonomy of USDA and the World Reference Base (WRB) of the International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS) endorsed by FAO).

The recent initiative towards development of a common Universal Soil Classification (USC) should be facilitated by the GSP to provide a common platform for such a future system. 

As Pillar 5 is directly related to Pillar 4 on soil information, it was agreed at the Soil Information GSP Workshop (March 2012) to develop a joint plan of action for both pillars. In this regard, a drafting committee including representatives from all the regions of the world is developing the draft plan of action  that then will be submitted for consideration by all the partners working in this field.