FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia

Information system brings hope for soils in The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

Decades of archived soil research have now been transformed into an accurate, up-to-date, and fully functioning information system – based on state-of-the-art digital soil mapping techniques. The new Macedonian Soil Information System or “MASIS” – formally launched here today – was developed with support from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and its Global Soil Partnership.

Soils are a precious resource in this landlocked country, but climate change and other threats – including heavy human activities – are degrading it at an alarming rate. Without a proper evidence base such as a soil information system, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia had no systematic way of making decisions to promote sustainable soil management, or of monitoring soil conditions and functions over time. Since soil information is needed to guide sustainable soil and land management, this has contributed to stagnating agricultural development.

“Until the creation of MASIS, we had no overview of the spatial distribution of one of our most precious resources, or of its potentialities and limitations,” said Ronald Vargas, FAO lead technical officer for the project. “This lack of information has negatively impacted our ability to implement proper agro-ecological zoning, to know which soil is suitable for which crops, and to implement good practices for the protection of soil resources and preservation of soil health and fertility.”

Bringing MASIS to life took just over two years and was completed in four phases. The first phase involved compiling, evaluating and systemizing more than 100 existing hardcopy soil maps that contained information on over 80 percent of the country, and soil legacy data from about 15,000 soil profiles. The missing 20 percent was complemented with an advanced soil survey.

The data were then used to develop a spatial geo- database within MASIS which led to production of a national soil map compliant with both European and global standards – phase two of the project.

The third phase was development of soil property maps using the state-of-the-art Digital Soil Mapping approach. Erosion and soil suitability assessments were also performed. Installation of MASIS on the web Geographic Information System (webGIS) was completed in the last phase of the project. During this phase, all of the data and information were consolidated into the Macedonian Soil Information System and made publicly available on the web.

Starting today, MASIS is expected to be fundamental for guiding decision making at national and local levels, from policy to action-oriented fields such as land use planning, land suitability assessment, soil fertility policies, soil degradation, climate change adaptation, ecosystem services, and implementing the new global Sustainable Development Goals. MASIS will also make it possible to monitor soil condition and determine how human interventions, such as land use changes and climate change, affect it.

“As a dynamic system, MASIS can be continuously upgraded with new data from the field,” said FAO’s Vargas. “It will serve as the information reference center for storing and processing soil data, to provide the state of the art on the status of soil resources in the country. Because of that I look forward not only to the launch today but to see both the country’s people and its soils benefit from this for years to come.”

The United Nations General Assembly designated 2015 the International Year of Soils, with FAO taking the lead in drawing public attention to soils as a critical resource for global food security.

20 November 2015, Skopje, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia