Welcome. The soil stories blog aims to communicate the profound importance of soils for human life.

Stone-filled landscapes: about soil erosion and places where stones grow


This blog was written by Ángel Héctor Hernández Romero. Facultad de Ingeniería en Sistemas de Producción Agropecuaria, Universidad Veracruzana (Agricultural Production Systems Engineering, University of Veracruz).

Some years ago, while attending a workshop with farmers in a little indigenous village in Los Tuxtlas Natural Reserve with some colleagues and students from the State University of Veracruz (Southern Mexico, at North America), something caught my attention. A farmer pointed out that the stones on his land seemed to be growing. “I prepared my land for the maize season. I applied my liquid (what local farmers call herbicides), I sowed my seeds, I added fertilizers, and some months after, I harvested my corn; I have done this for five years, and the only thing that has grown are the stones. Do you believe me?" he said. We were curious and went to his farm. We immediately noticed that the stones were bigger than they were some years before. What was actually happening was the loss of soil by water erosion (Fig 1).


Treatments Rehabilitate Saline/Sodic Soils to Produce High Rice Yields


This blog post was written by Michelle DeFreese, Innovative Agricultural Research Initiative (iAGRI), Tanzania.

Rice is an increasingly important commodity with rising rates of consumption throughout sub-Saharan Africa. In Northeastern Tanzania, where rice is the principal crop, soil salinity is of particular concern. Irrigation schemes have doubled rice production in areas with low precipitation by creating the ideal conditions in terms of water content for rice crops to flourish. However, on the long-term, traditional irrigation schemes in Tanzania are often suboptimal due to insufficient outlets and the re-use of water, resulting in soils with high salinity and sodicity if improperly managed. Due to a combination of low yields and increasing consumption, an estimated 10-25% of rice consumed in Tanzania is imported.  Roughly 90% of rice production in Tanzania is done by small-scale farmers. For these reasons, iAGRI funded a collaborative research project focused on management practices and improved varieties designed to increase agricultural production for small holder farmers in Ndungu, Tanzania.


Video: Interview with a tomato farmer in Japan


In this short video, young soil scientist and Assistant Professor at Saga University, Ieyasu Tokumoto, interviews Yuichiro Uemura, a tomato farmer in Japan.

Japan has a long history of reclaiming land from the ocean to create available agricultural land for farming. Yokoshima village in the Kumamoto prefecture was established on land reclaimed from the Ariake sea, starting from 1605. Over the course of 370 years, 46 land reclamation projects were carried out in Yokoshima, and the amount of land reclaimed totaled 1,457 ha. On the reclaimed land, there are some unique agricultural techniques to grow crops, which would also be useful in tsunami affected areas in Japan. In this video clip, a tomato farmer, Yuichiro Uemura, answers interview questions regarding the International Year of Soils. Mr. Uemura pointed out “what we should know is the advantage and disadvantage of soil conditions for tomato production. This is a way to conserve soils in the future.”


Video: 'The bowl'


I’m a filmmaker who recently moved to New Orleans, a city built on coastal wetlands. Here, the impacts of poor soil drainage are directly felt after every rainfall. Our streets constantly flood and the flooding is only made worse by impervious surfaces and poor upkeep of city infrastructure. I wanted to use the struggles we face in New Orleans to explore the question: why is the relationship between soil and water important? My goal was to explain the importance of this relationship to those who may never have realized or considered the intricate processes going on right under their feet. I also wanted to make a video that was creative and relatable, so that you didn’t necessarily have to be into soil science to have fun learning about this topic. I’m most thankful to the National Resources Defense Council and the Lexicon of Sustainability for choosing my video, and for coming up with an inventive platform to inform others about the importance of healthy soils. Happy International Year of Soils!


International Year of Soils: The Younger Generations also deserve to hear the good news


Since the declaration of 2015 as the International Year of Soils (IYS) by the 68th UN General Assembly, several activities have been proposed and carried out by relevant bodies to mark the IYS. These bodies include international organizations like the International Union of Soil Science (IUSS), national societies, such as the Soil Science Society of Nigeria (SSSN) and local bodies like Departments of Soil Science in the various Universities and Colleges around the world.

From the activities organized so far, it's clear that most of these initiatives are aimed at older generations, giving less attention to our youth.  From a certain point of view, this is justifiable since most farmers today are of a certain age. However, it is important to note that conserving the soil for sustainability depends on the integrated outcome of every individual contribution. With a fast growing global population and more mouths to feed, there is an urgent need for us to start putting efforts into “raising new generations of farmers”, equipped with the necessary knowledge and expertise.  The “role of soil” is fundamental in this respect. It must also be noted that sooner or later the present generations of farmers will be replaced by the younger ones; timely education and training can go a long way in improving the  knowledge and practices of our future farmers.

It is precisely for these reasons that myself and some other students, also in the Department of Soil Science and Land Resources Management of Obafemi Awolowo University (Nigeria), decided to come together to form a team and embark on the mission of taking this good news of the International Year of Soils to Secondary Schools in south westerm Nigeria. The major objective of the team is to enlighten these young men and women about the crucial role soil plays in food security and sustainable development. We tell them about the IYS and the reasons behind it, we explain what healthy soils are and why they are important, we point out the consequences of soil degradation, and finally what role they can play in preserving the soil. During these visits, we make use of charts and images to make the subject more appealing and comprehensible to the students. After the short talks, we give room for questions, and it's really amazing to witness how these young students are willing to find out more about soils and what they can do to help to conserve them.


The end of the International Year of Soils is just the beginning


In October of 2014 I sent the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization a proposal for a blog to celebrate the International Year of Soils. I wanted it to be a global venue where anyone could contribute a story about their relationship with and understanding of the soil medium.

Since the blog was launched in March 2015 we have had posts from scientists, farmers, activists, students, journalists, and educators. Blog posts have ranged from a NASA scientist working on a soil moisture satellite to a memoir about a child’s discovery of soil diversity in his backyard. We have had posts in four different languages from fourteen different countries (Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, England, Guatemala, Honduras, Japan, Mexico, Philippines, Scotland, Serbia, South Africa, Spain, USA) and every continent except Australia and Antarctica. Although our very first post was about a soil microbiologist who works in the Arctic, so pretty close!

I am also extremely pleased to report that the blog will be continuing for another year. Although the United Nations International Year of Soils is officially ending on December 4 the movement to respect and value our soil resources will continue, and I hope that this blog can play a role. So if you haven’t submitted a post, there’s still time and there is still a need. Anyone can contribute a post and we are always looking for new perspectives.


After a fire, the soil sparks interest


In 2015, thousands of wildfires burned across the world. Over 20,000 square kilometers have burned in Indonesia this year after annual, and perhaps some illegal, burning of peatland became unmanageable. In the United States, a combination of extended drought and high winds has led to over 37,000 square kilometers catching fire. And in Australia, a massive bushfire caused by lightning, dry conditions and a heatwave continues to burn.

Fire is a natural part of almost every ecosystem. It can clear away dead and decaying materials and make way for new growth. There are even some plants that exhibit pyriscence, releasing their seeds only in response to a fire. While the effect of fire on flora is well studied less is know about how fire effects the living material beneath vegetation, the soil.

Dr. Jorge Mataix-Solera has been studying fire’s effect on soil for more than two decades. In 1994, when Jorge was considering what subject to pursue for his PhD, thousands of hectares of land caught fire around his home-city of Alicante in eastern Spain. His father, a professional soil scientist, had ‘taught him to love the soil’ and now the circumstances in Alicante provided him the motivation (and grant money) to pursue his degree.

Jorge has traveled to Israel, Wales, United States, Australia, and Slovakia to investigate fire’s effect on soil. Fire only interacts with the top few centimeters of soil, but it can have enormous repercussions for the soil properties within those few centimeters. Depending on the severity of the fire, soil organic matter can be burned off, which in turn effects the quantity and quality of the soil microbial community. A fire can also alter soil structure, which can lead to less water infiltration and more erosion.

Another post-fire trend that has interested researchers is water repellency in soils. Water repellency can contribute to erosion and water runoff, the latter of which when paired with a lack of vegetation can lead to catastrophic flooding. Water repellency, as Jorge points out, doesn’t happen ‘in a uniform layer: it’s patchy.’ In the past, this inconsistency was primarily explained by the varying temperatures achieved by the soil during a fire, or ‘the type of vegetation which excretes different organic compounds’ that coat soil particles and repel water. But thanks in part to Jorge’s work, another explanation based on the materials that make up the soil can be included.


Studying the soil is also an adventure


Those who follow an academic career have participated or will happen to participate in a congress within their specific area. In Brazil, the main congress on soil is the Brazilian Congress of Soil Science (BCSS), and the venue for the meeting is usually a convention center, with all the comforts and technological resources one could want. However, it was not always so.

In 1961, the VIII BCSS took place in Belém (Pará state). It consisted of sixteen days of study and instead of a suit and tie, the 120 participants wore shirts, shorts and sandals. Instead of air conditioning, there was only hot and humid air. Instead of comfortable accommodation, there was the swing of a hammock. And, finally, the main venue  was a ship!

At that time little was known about the soils of the Amazon region. In order to not disappoint, the organizing committee thought of all the details. Previously, the organizing committee selected various soil profiles from which samples were collected and analyzed. It turns out that such a large sampling had never been undertaken with soils of the region, but it was necessary to consolidate the criteria used to classify these soils.

On the first day of the congress, even on land, everything was normal. There was the solemn opening session in the sumptuous and historic Amazon Theatre, followed by a cocktail party for the general gathering of participants. The second day was dedicated to visits to experimental facilities and fields of the North Agronomic Institute, the Forest Garden and the famous “See the Weight” Market, where participants were able to buy the proper attire for the congress on the ship.

The much awaited moment had arrived. On the third day of the congress participants, adequately dressed, boarded the ship, Jari, and left the port of Belém for a memorable adventure. The opportunity to study unknown land and join a different conference was worth any effort.

During the day, stops were made at points previously chosen from Belém, Macapá, Monte Alegre, Santarém, Obidos, Belterra, Fordilândia to the city of Macurí. At these numerous stops participants had the opportunity to discuss the criteria for classification of Amazonian soils and also got to know the Amazon rainforest and all its charms and dangers.

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El suelo, el sustentador de la vida


El suelo es un recurso natural no renovable (Figura 1), la mayoría de los seres humanos lo necesitamos para producir nuestros alimentos ejemplo de ello es cuando los agricultores siembran diferentes cultivos como frutas, granos y verduras, también le siembran forrajes que sirven para darle de comer a los animales (vacas, cerdos, cabras, entre otros); que posteriormente nos sirven de alimento, algunas plantas que se siembran en el suelo nos proveen materia prima para nuestra vestimenta, el algodón es una de ellas.

Por otro lado, nos brinda refugio debido a que sobre él se construyen nuestras casas. El suelo también nos provee de energía, gracias a las plantas que existieron hace millones de años, se fosilizaron y ahora son el combustible que se utiliza para los coches, fábricas e inclusive en forma de gas para nuestras casas, en algunas regiones se usa el carbón o la leña que también son de plantas que fueron sembradas en el suelo y algunas plantas son usadas para producir biodiesel.

El suelo proporciona otros servicios ambientales, en él se almacena y se filtra el agua de la lluvia, por lo tanto, es amortiguador contra las inundaciones; cuando las plantas y animales mueren y se depositan en él, nos ayuda a reciclar los nutrientes; capta el carbono ayudándonos en la lucha y adaptación al cambio climático, y no está de más comentar que hospeda a una cuarta parte de la biodiversidad de nuestro planeta; por ejemplo, en una cucharada sopera de suelo existen millones de microorganismos. Como verás hay un universo en él y hace muchas cosas por nosotros.

La mala noticia es que los suelos están en peligro, cada minuto que pasa a nivel mundial dos hectáreas de suelo son selladas por crecimiento urbano, esto es, hacer carreteras, casas, edificios.

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Las bibliotecas de las Islas Canarias organizan actividades de concienciación sobre los suelos


La Asociación de Bibliotecarios de Tenerife (Probit), Islas Canarias (España), organiza todos los años unas jornadas, de una semana de duración, para celebrar el Día Internacional de las Bibliotecas, que se conmemora el 24 de octubre.  

Dicho evento se denomina “Jornadas Bibliosolidarias” y tiene como objetivo unir a todas las bibliotecas participantes de las Islas en un proyecto común y solidario para convertir, durante una semana, las Bibliotecas de Canarias  en espacios vivos de encuentro y compromiso social. 

Como este año se celebra el Año Internacional de los Suelos, hemos propuesto organizar las IV Jornadas Bibliosolidarias planteando una serie de acciones de sensibilización sobre la importancia y preservación de los mismos como un recurso natural básico para el desarrollo de la vida.

La Asociación ha invitado a todas las bibliotecas de las Islas Canarias a abordar la solidaridad con los suelos de nuestro entorno,  a crear conciencia de su fragilidad y a debatir sobre la importancia de su sostenibilidad. 

Durante la semana del 19 al 24 de octubre, las Bibliotecas participantes en el proyecto, bajo el lema de la FAO “Suelos sanos para una vida sana” organizarán actividades culturales y educativas mediante exposiciones, mesas temáticas, paneles informativos, talleres, charlas y conferencias con el fin de concienciar a su comunidad de la importancia de preservar este recurso.

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