After the International Year of Soils, we won't take soils for granted anymore
What have you learned this year?
It's hard to believe but the International Year of Soils is coming to a close. It's been an exciting year packed with soil-themed initiatives that have taken place across the globe. It began with a challenge. As FAO Director-General, José Graziano da Silva said at the opening of the year twelve months ago; "healthy soils are critical for global food production, but we are not paying enough attention to this important silent ally." Calling soils "a nearly forgotten resource", Graziano da Silva called for more investment in sustainable soil management and awareness raising activities. Giving this silent ally a voice became one of the main goals of the IYS global campaign.
Three things anyone can take home from the 2015 International Year of Soils
1. A deep and newfound appreciation for our soils
Before 2015, did you know that 95% of our food is directly or indirectly produced on our soils? Did you know that soils host over one quarter of our planet's biodiversity and that a single gram of healthy soil contains millions of organisms? Or that soils help to combat and adapt to climate change by playing a key role in the carbon cycle? Most people certainly didn't! Over the last twelve months, the key role of soils in our sustainable future has become evident. Soils affect almost everything in our lives: the food we eat, the vegetation we walk on, the medicines we take, the buildings we live in, the clothes we wear, the water we drink and even the weather! Soils really do enable life on Earth and they are central to sustainable development.
2. A wealth of information material
Throughout the year a vast amount of information material has been produced in numerous languages. This information packet makes the topic of soils accessible to everyone and includes fact sheets, infographics, educational booklets, videos, posters, interviews and stories. FAO has also released some key publications on soils this year including the Revised World Soil Charter, the Farmer's Compost handbook and Understanding Mountain Soils: A Contribution from mountain areas to the International Year of Soils 2015 .
For the more scientifically-minded, the much awaited Status of the World's Soil Resources report, was launched on 4 December. The purpose of this seminal publication is to carry out the first ever global assessment of soils and soil change.
3. Friends, partnerships and linkages
Another important thing to emerge from the year is the power of partnerships and collaboration. With the logo translated into 35 languages and hundreds of events taking place all over the world, this has been a truly international year. If there's one lesson to learn, it's that we all have a role to play from farmer to scientist and from policymaker to the ordinary person. As we move into the 2016 International Year of Pulses, the aim is to foster these relationships and build on lessons learned thus far. The linkages between soils and pulses are evident, as were those between family farming and soils. These will be explored during 2016 and well beyond in order to ensure a productive food system, improved rural livelihoods and a healthy environment for generations to come; objectives which are at the heart of FAO's mandate.
The way forward
So, at the end of the year, we are left facing another challenge: turning the year's outcomes into concrete actions. FAO's Global Soil Partnership (GSP) is already implementing actions in all the regions to promote the sustainable management of our global soils. Their actions will continue well beyond 2015! Initiatives like the Macedonian Soil Information System and the Turkish soil carbon and soil fertility system were finalized this year. The development of soil information systems in Cambodia and Afghanistan will commence in the coming months as well as an assessment of soil erosion in Malawi, among many other initiatives. Awareness raising will also continue with World Soil Day to be celebrated every 5th December and the World Soil Prize to be established under the GSP aegis. With soils explicitly mentioned in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the first time, strong foundations are in place for more happen. We need to keep the momentum of the year going: 2015 may be over, but our soils still need us as much as we need them.
A final word
On a closing note, just the other day a member of the IYS Steering Comittee told members that he recenly found out that soils contain a bacterium called mycobacterium vaccae, also known as the Golden Bacillus. Apparently, scientists have found that, when ingested or inhaled, this substance reduces anxiety and increases levels of serotonin in the brain, making you happier. It is widely known that serotonin also plays a role in learning. In fact, an experiment was carried out using mice that were fed the bacteria. It was noted that these mice navigated a maze twice as fast and with less demonstrated anxiety behaviours than the control mice that weren't fed the bacteria*. So, in addition to all their other functions, soils can also make you happier and smarter.
There's always something new to learn when it comes to soils. Whoever said soils were boring was so wrong!
* According to research presented at the 110th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in San Diego