Launch of global black soils map and new key targets for 2030
Global Black Soil Distribution Map
Rome - Representatives of more than 500 partners, including the Members of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), are gathering this week for the 10th Plenary Assembly of the Global Soil Partnership (GSP), which since inception a decade ago has worked to raise global and local awareness of the importance of sustainable soil management and guide policies to tackle issues ranging from erosion, salinization, and pollution to biodiversity conservation, carbon sequestration and nutrient imbalances.
The role of soils and their fertility are more important than ever to ensure food security for all, and enable the transformation of agrifood systems to be more efficient, more inclusive, more resilient and more sustainable, FAO Director-General QU Dongyu said in remarks opening the assembly. Hailing the GSP’s achievements so far in advocacy, capacity development, data and mapping, and mobilizing investments, he urged participants to work to catalyze and scale up sustainable soil management solutions on the ground.
“Our goal going forward is to improve and maintain the health of at least 50 percent of the world’s soils by 2030, which is only possible with your strong support and solidarity,” the Director-General added.
That goal - outlined in the new GSP Action Framework 2022-2030 to be adopted at the Plenary - is urgent given that one-third of the world’s soils today are in poor or very poor condition and suffer from degradation processes caused by unsustainable management practices.
Soil health cannot be measured by agricultural fertility alone. According to the Intergovernmental Technical Panel on Soils (ITPS), set up at the first GSP Plenary and comprising 27 top experts from around the world providing scientific advice, healthy soils are those “with the ability to sustain the productivity, diversity and environmental services of terrestrial ecosystems.”
Those services include enabling landscapes to act as the largest planetary store of carbon after oceans, water storage that enables life to exist even during dry periods, acting as a buffer against flooding, and regulating large-scale water cycles. They also foster biodiversity that helps regulate the occurrence of pests and diseases, and even providing a source for pharmaceutical products.
”Healthy soils provide safe and nutritious food and support healthy populations and ecosystems,” said Ronald Vargas, Secretary of the GSP. Unhealthy soils not only have lost their natural levels of biodiversity and productivity, but are less resilient, so prone to further degradation, he added.
While public interest in soil health has increased since FAO coordinated the 2015 International Year of Soil and World Soil Day since 2014 as well as due to numerous GSP initiatives, it is not adequately anchored in various international commitments. Through the new Action Framework, which includes measurable performance targets and proposes developing a global Soil Health Index, the GSP can act as an even stronger global voice to assure those agreements translate into concrete actions on the ground. The Action Framework also aims to better coordinate with the three Rio Conventions, ensuring the role of soils in maintaining a healthy environment is appropriately acknowledged.
New Global Black Soil Distribution Map
A highlight of the first day of the Plenary is the launch of the Global Black Soil Distribution Map, fruit of a multi-year effort using a country-driven approach led by the Global Soil Partnership.
Black soils not only sustain the people settled on them, but they also feed the rest of the world through their large share of food exports, despite representing a small proportion of the world’s soils. In fact, they generate around two-thirds of the world’s sunflower seeds, 30 percent of its wheat and 26 percent of its potatoes. Characterized by high content of decomposed plant material, full of carbon as well as key essential nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, black soils cover an estimated 725 million hectares, almost half located in the Russian Federation, where they account for 19 percent of the land area. Other countries with expansive black-soil areas include Argentina, China, Colombia, Hungary, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Poland, Ukraine, and the United States of America.
While associated with native prairie ecosystems, they can also be found in tropical regions. Crops, grassland and forests each cover around a third of the black soils worldwide. “Considering black soil’s fundamental role for food security and climate action and their increasing vulnerability to soil degradation, it is of the utmost importance to study the properties and status of black soils at the local and global scale” said Yuxin Tong, Coordinator of the International Network of Black Soils (INBS). Better monitoring of the dynamics of black soils resulting from management practices would allow for informed decision-making.
Black soils are literally alive and, thanks to the herculean work of the wide variety of soil organisms they host, turn plant and animal matter into humic acids that catalyze new life cycles above ground. Such complex ecosystems also make black soils sensitive to anthropogenic interventions that disrupt them - with outsized consequences for global food security and climate change.
Cem Özdemir, Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture of Germany, Chalermchai Sri-on, Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives of Thailand, Virginijus Sinkevičius, EU Commissioner for Environment and Fisheries, F.Abbasi, Deputy Minister of Agriculture of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Jihyan Lee, Director of the Science, Society and Sustaianable Futures Division of the Convention on Biodiversity all spoke at the opening of the Plenary, indicating broad and cross-sectorial support for the GSP agenda.
Participants will also discuss and review initiatives such as the Voluntary Guidelines for Sustainable Soil Management and SoiLEX, the International Code of Conduct for the Sustainable Use and Management of Fertilizers, RECSOIL: recarbonization of global soils, the World Soil Day 2022 campaign and the Soil Doctors Programme.
As the FAO-hosted GSP operates as a “network of networks”, the work of the regional soil partnerships will be reviewed, as will the progress of various GSP-backed international technical networks focusing on specific themes.
Final preparations will be made for the Global Symposium on Soils for Nutrition, to be held 26-29 July 2022. Previous symposia, organized by FAO’s GSP and the ITPS on themes such as soil organic carbon, soil pollution, soil erosion, soil biodiversity and soil salinity, have brought in thousands of participants from most of the world’s countries. These global symposia galvanized by debates incorporating both science and policy dimensions, have led to useful outcome documents conductive to the active implementation of recommended actions.