Global Soil Partnership

Global Soil Doctors Programme: farmers boosting soil health

FAO's Global Soil Partnership had the pleasure to Launch the Global Soil Doctors Programme through an online webinar on Monday, 5 October 2020.


The webinar officially launched the programme as a direct contribution to sustainable soil management at the farm level. This event also marked the start of the implementation of the Global Soil Doctors programme, as, following the launch, Soil Doctors kits will be distributed for field implementation in the different regions of the world.

Mr Ronald Vargas, Global Soil Partnership (GSP) Secretary, welcomed to the webinar the 711 participants representing 139 countries and recalled the objective of the initiative: to promote sustainable soil management on the ground. He also introduced the agenda and eminent panellists and speakers of the webinar. 

Mr Eduardo Mansur, Director of FAO's Office of Climate Change, Biodiversity and Environment, recalled how inspiring it was to see farmers sharing their knowledge through the national Soil Doctors programme in Thailand to promote sustainable soil management. As he pointed out, those who are the health workers for the soil are those who work with the soil, therefore the farmers. Mr Mansur thanked the Thai government, the Russian Federation and PHOSAGRO for making the Soil Doctors programme a reality.

Mr Vargas recalled the financial contribution of the European Commission for the Soil Doctors programme communication material, and of PhosAgro for the Soil Doctors kits that will be made available to farmers for future use in the field.

His Excellency, Thanawat Tiesien, Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Thailand to FAO and Chairman of the Committee on World Food Security, recalled the importance of including farmers in discussions on sustainable soil management. As he pointed out, farmers know the best soil practices, based on their experiences, mistakes and successes, and knowledge sharing is essential to achieve sustainable soil management. While recalling the challenges and obstacles that can arise in reaching farmers, he highlighted the success of the Soil Doctors programme in Thailand, which was launched almost 30 years ago. H.E. Thanawat Tiesien noted that farmers are the keepers, champions and true practitioners of what they need to do with soils. He underscored the importance of transferring what they know to others, the successes that can be replicated and the mistakes that can be avoided by other farmers. He welcomed the GSP decision to expand this Thai initiative and hoped that other countries will learn from this project. He highlighted the importance of bringing together all soil stakeholders who are seeking to solve problems, including farmers, and the need to learn by doing and experimenting, which may explain why the Soil Doctors programme has been successful in the Kingdom of Thailand. 

Mr Siroj Loikov, First deputy CEO of PhosAgro recalled that PhosAgro has become the first Russian company in the history of FAO to provide financial resources to implement a global soil protection initiative. He mentioned PhosAgro's work in sustainable soil management and stressed the importance of working closely with farmers at the field level. He pointed out that Soil Doctors kits are already ready and will soon be distributed around the world. He stressed the importance of the common goal of FAO and PhosAgro: to provide healthy food to all and achieve food security. 

Mr Selvaraju Ramasamy, Head of FAO's Research and Extension Unit, spoke about the status of agricultural extension and advisory services and their role in sustainable soil management. He explained that agricultural extension operates within a broader knowledge system, the agricultural knowledge triangle, which represents research, extension and higher agricultural education, and encouraged the need to create linkages between these institutions to promote learning and the sharing and use of knowledge at the farm level. He welcomed the launch of the "Soil Doctors" programme, as it emphasizes and values farmer-to-farmer sharing and learning. He also recalled the importance of pluralistic partnerships because of the multiplicity of actors in the soil and the multiple services around agricultural production. 

Ms Bunjirtluk Jintaridth, Land Development Department of the Kingdom of Thailand, presented in more detail the national Soils Doctors programme in Thailand. She explained that Soil Doctors in Thailand are farmers selected from each village who are trained in the basic soil analysis programme, soil mapping and soil degradation units to assist other farmers and promote sustainable soil management. As part of this programme, farmers have learned how to do pH field testing, take soil samples, train farmers in organic fertilizers, promote sustainable practices, and have the opportunity to attend Land Development Department (LDD) events, among other privileges. Ms Jintaridth concluded her presentation with a video promoting the programme in Thailand and its benefits to farmers.

Ms Zineb Bazza, GSP Secretariat, recalled that the GSP Soil Doctors programme is strongly influenced by the success of the Thai national initiative and aims to build the capacity of farmers and contribute to sustainable soil management directly at the field level. She stressed the idea that the programme can become a self-sustaining system that will promote sustainable soil management irrespective of available national resources through the support of promoters and champion farmers. Ms Bazza presented the next steps and how the Soil Doctors programme will develop: first through the selection of promoters by the GSP, then through the selection of a community and a champion farmer/ Soil Doctor by the selected promoter, and finally through the training of other farmers in their community by the Soil Doctors.

During her presentation, Ms Bazza also presented all the material available for the Soil Doctors programme and informed that the communication and documents related to the programme are already available online and can be used for training purposes. She explained that the Soils Doctor programme will continue to evolve and improve based on the feedback received from the field and that translations are currently being discussed to facilitate the dissemination of the documents. She stressed that pilot studies will start soon and will be followed by a ramp-up phase of the programme.

Ms Rosa M. Poch, Chair of the Intergovernmental Technical Panels on Soil (ITPS), recalled that the Soil Doctors programme is part of the GSP's efforts to raise soil awareness and welcomed this field-based initiative with farmers directly implementing sustainable soil management. She outlined the challenges that the programme may face depending on the different extension services and the different soil threats that each area, region or country may deal with.

The webinar participants commended the Global Soil Doctors Programme, particularly the developing countries who showed great interest in this initiative, which was considered timely, innovative and in line with general expectations in terms of FAO’s GSP support in the field. The flexible design of the programme, which makes it adaptable to different contexts and local communities, generated positive audience reactions and good feedback during the chat and directly to the GSP Secretariat. Indeed, many practitioners are actively proposing themselves as promoters in the field and have high expectations of being selected to pilot the programme in their own countries.

Highlight and presentations | Photogallery (Colombia) | Video recordings | Global Soil Doctors programme's launch - Webinar report | Video of a success story | Details of the event

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