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FAO SOILS PORTAL

Welcome to the FAO Soils portal

This portal is designed as a source of soil information and knowledge on the different components and aspects of soils and the value and importance of this vital and finite resource for policy makers, development planners, soil scientists, agricultural extension officers, students and other practitioners.

Why soil matters

A woman from the Batwa community harvesting sweet potatoes, Burundi

It is difficult to rate the importance of the different soil functions, since all are vital to our well-being, to some extent. However,  the function of supporting food and agriculture worldwide is fundamental for the preservation and advancement of human life on this planet.

Soil is also the basis for plant growth and contributes to the maintenance of natural and planted vegetation, including our diverse forests and grasslands and the huge breadth of crop species and varieties (annuals, perennial shrubs and trees) that are cultivated or managed for their diverse food fibre, fodder,  fuel and medicinal products in relation to the prevailing climate, landscape  and soil type and according to societal needs.

Through plant growth, the soil also plays an important role in supporting animal biodiversity above ground, including wildlife and domesticated livestock. Moreover, the soil itself contains millions of diverse organisms, that play many vital functions such as breakdown plant debris, take in components from the atmosphere, aerate the soil as well as regulation of carbon, nutrient and hydrological cycles and breakdown of toxic elements.

Soil is increasingly recognized as playing a fundamental role in the quality and availability of our water supply. The soil, coupled with the landscape and its vegetation is responsible for the distribution of all rainwater falling upon it andthus plays a key role with respect to the water cycle and supply  as nowrecognised by hydrologists.

Related to how water moves through the soil and the absorption properties of soils is the soil's ability to perform an important function in pollution control (pesticides, nitrates etc).

Soil has always been important for the foundation platform of buildings, roads and other communications. It also provides base materials for these.

Many people are interested in their origins and how earlier man lived. Soil plays an important part in the preservation of the earth's history and cultural heritage .

Finally, soils have been recognized as having a key role in modifying and ameliorating the risks and effects of climate change. Soil organic matter is one of the major pools of carbon in the biosphere and is important both as a driver of climatic change and as a response variable to climate change, capable of acting both as a source and sink of carbon.