FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia

FAO: ‘Soils are our silent allies in food production’

Soils are essential for growing our food, yet they have no voice and few people speak out for them.  “Now we are beginning to change that,” said FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Europe and Central Asia Vladimir Rakhmanin, speaking at the opening of a national conference in Budapest today.

The multiple roles of soils often go unnoticed or unappreciated. FAO aims to trigger change by focusing on the significance of soils in 2015. The year has been designated by the United Nations General Assembly as the International Year of Soils.

Hungary is making an early contribution to the global push for change. The high-level national conference, “Healthy soils for a healthy life,” was organized by the Hungarian Ministry of Agriculture and opened with statements by both Rakhmanin and Minister of Agriculture Sándor Fazekas.

According to FAO, land area covered with healthy soil is becoming more and more limited. One-third of agricultural land is considered to be moderately to highly degraded – due to erosion, salinization, compaction, acidification or chemical pollution of soils. The current rate of soil degradation threatens the capacity of future generations to meet their food needs.

The partnerships, projects and platforms developed during the International Year of Family Farming (2014), are considered building blocks for the International Year of Soils. FAO emphasizes that family farmers depend on healthy soils, but also play a key role in preserving soil health and fertility.

Global action

In collaboration with partner organizations and governments, FAO is promoting soil preservation around the world to improve awareness and understanding of the benefits of sustainable land management.   The Organization has implemented more than 120 soil-related projects globally, and produced together with UNESCO the World Soil Map.

Too often, data on soils is outdated or fragmented. One of FAO's priorities is to establish a global soil information system, making available reliable data to aid in decision making on land management.

“We haven’t inherited this land from our ancestors, rather we have borrowed it from our children,” said Rakhmanin. “We should never forget that the way we use our planet’s soil will have consequences on the life of the next generation, because healthy soils are the basis for a healthy life.”

Rakhmanin added that FAO’s Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia looked forward to continuing its collaboration with Hungary, during a year which marks the 70th anniversary of the United Nations and of FAO, as well as the 60th anniversary of Hungary’s joining both organizations.

There was strong consensus among conference participants that sustainable land management should be promoted and expanded in order to stop the trend of declining soil quality. The Ministry of Agriculture will support initiatives to educate farmers and the broader public on this issue.

According to government data, 48.4 percent of Hungary’s territory is under cultivation, another 21 percent is covered by forests, and 15.8 percent is arable but not currently used for crops.

9 March 2015, Budapest, Hungary