Climate Smart Agriculture Sourcebook

Sustainable soil/land management for Climate-Smart Agriculture

Production and Resources

Creating an enabling context and removing barriers for adoption of sustainable soil and land management

Fostering the uptake of sustainable soil and land management is a complex process. It involves not only providing technical options suitable for different conditions, but also managing barriers to adoption and establishing supporting policies and institutions to ensure successful scaling up of successful practices. It also requires investments in identifying and promoting appropriate production systems that can simultaneously reverse or minimize degradation, conserve above- and below-ground biodiversity, sequester carbon, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ensure sustained productivity.

To promote the principles and guidelines on sustainable soil and land management and support their transition into sound policies and activities at all levels, the 39th Session of the FAO Conference adopted the revised World Soil Charter as a normative measure. The principles contained in the revised Status of the World’s Soil Resources were elaborated on in the Voluntary Guidelines for Sustainable Soil Management under the Global Soil Partnership (FAO and ITPS, 2015a and 2015b; FAO, 2016a). The Voluntary Guidelines for Sustainable Soil Management, which take into account evidence provided in the Status of the World’s Soil Resources report, recognize that sustaining soil biodiversity and ecosystem services provides many benefits to people and the environment, including strengthening climate change adaptation and mitigation. The Guidelines highlight the importance of soils as a non-renewable natural resource and the importance of sustainable soil management as an integral part of sustainable land management. They provide a reference document for generally accepted, practically proven and scientifically based principles to promote sustainable soil management; and offer guidance to all stakeholders on how to translate the principles into practice. They also include the core characteristics of sustainably managed soils, key challenges and potential solutions to address them. 

The technical guidelines address in particular the main soil threats that hamper sustainable soil management. They highlight the need to minimize soil erosion; enhance soil organic matter content; foster soil nutrient balance and cycles; prevent, minimize and mitigate soil salinization and alkalinization, soil contamination, soil acidification and soil compaction; preserve and enhance soil biodiversity; minimize soil sealing; and improve soil water management to prevent waterlogging.

The impacts of climate change are complex and will affect natural resources and ecosystems in different ways in different places. It is important that communities understand the implications of these potential impacts in their own areas and can adapt to them. There is a need to enhance farmers’ knowledge and innovations and develop the capacity of local agricultural producers and other land users to manage their soil systems in ways that build resilience and allow them to continually innovate and adapt to changing climatic conditions and changes in production systems. This will involve building on practical farming skills through observation, personal experiences and knowledge sharing. Examples of potential climate-smart practices include breeding locally adapted seeds and livestock, using organic fertilizers, such as compost, manure, and green manures, and managing soil moisture.

To scale up climate smart sustainable soil and land management practices it is vital to understand and analyse the various barriers that hinder farmers from adopting these practices. The barriers for sustainable soil and land management adoption vary from one area to another, and most importantly, from one agricultural ecosystem to another. 

Some of the common barriers are the lack of sufficient technical information on sustainable soil and land management technologies; the poor quality of agricultural extension, including forecasting systems; an absence of a multidisciplinary, integrated landscape approach to land resource management and land-use planning; inadequate financial resources and access to credit; insufficient technical and management capacities; lack of promotion of crop diversification, including inadequate seed supplies and limited dissemination of information about market conditions; and institutional disconnection at various levels on issues related to land, soil and water management.

Specific barriers for the adoption of sustainable soil and land management in irrigated agroecosystems are the lack of developed input and output market institutions, and the lack of farmer awareness or training in the use of appropriate soil and water management practices. 

In rainfed agricultural ecosystems, farmers are also generally unaware or untrained in the use of appropriate soil conservation practices. Other barriers to adoption include the lack of land resources and land-use planning and monitoring; a lack of mechanisms to implement laws and legislations; and the shortage of labour, working capital and capital assets, such as machinery. 

In rangelands, common barriers to adoption are the absence of policies and mechanisms to regulate land management (e.g. pasture leasing mechanisms or agreements between land users); lack of economic and management capacities, particularly among individual household pastoralists; and the limited public awareness of rangeland degradation issues and approaches. This module as considered the tools and approaches to tackle some of these barriers. Barriers related to institutions and capacity development are addressed in module C1; extension services in module C2; and policies in module C3