FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Saving soil – International conference calls for greater action to stop the degradation of soils so vital to food security and a stable environment

21/08/2015 Cha Am, Thailand

Scientists from around the world today called for greater action on the protection of soils – a complex mix of minerals, organic matter, gases, liquids, and the other organisms vital for our survival. 

Researchers, government officials, UN agencies and resource partners from four continents met for four days in the Thai seaside resort of Cha Am to consider ways to improve the sustainable uses of soil in harmony with food security. Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand presided over the main opening session.

The International Soil Conference was organized by Thailand’s Land Development Department and co-organized and supported by a number of other institutions including the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

“Healthy soils constitute the foundation of agriculture, without which, life on earth is unsustainable,” said Vili Fuavao, FAO Deputy Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific. “Yet, despite the obvious importance of soils and our dependency on them, their health is under constant and increasing threats. Soil degradation is impacting negatively on many functions that are critical for the production of food and for the provision of many ecosystem services.”

Fuavao pointed out that soil is not a renewable resource making its preservation an urgent matter. “It can take up to one thousand years to form one centimetre of soil. And this same centimetre can be destroyed in only a few minutes because of degradation,” Fuavao added.

Soils are in danger because of expanding cities, deforestation, unsustainable land use and management practices, pollution, overgrazing and climate change.

Soils support our planet's biodiversity and they host a quarter of the total. While helping to combat and adapt to climate change by playing a key role in the carbon cycle, soils also store and filter water, improving our resilience to floods and droughts.  

The meeting heard that ensuring healthy and fertile soils for the production of healthier food, fodder, feed and fuel was part of the equation needed to ensure food security and adequate nutrition for today’s and future generations. “Sustainable development will not be achieved if soils are not given the consideration they deserve,” Fuavao said.

While the challenges are many, the conference heard that there are good practices at hand to better conserve soils, both established and emerging, such as sustainable land management (SLM), sustainable peatland management, integrated plant nutrient and water management, composting, organic agriculture, agroforestry, and Conservation Agriculture (CA) among many others. The conference also reviewed the emergence of new soil mapping and information systems which are necessary for assessing soil capacity and functions for various ecosystem services. 

The International Soil Conference was convened in Thailand during this, the International Year of Soils (IYS), declared during the 68th UN General Assembly. The venue was not chosen coincidentally as His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, who has a palace in nearby Hua Hin, has shown great personal commitment to the cause of soils and their key contributions to food security and sustainable development. His efforts have been recognized internationally with the declaration of World Soil Day, observed each year on 5th December, the King’s birthday.

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