Sustainable soil management

Empowering farmers to sustainably manage natural resources

07/10/2019 - 

Soil is a vital and finite resource that is integral to our ecosystems and human well-being and critical for guaranteeing food security and nutrition. Soil is the basis for plant growth and contributes to the maintenance of natural and planted vegetation, and helps to produce 95 percent of our food (FAO, 2015). Through plant growth, soil also plays an important role in supporting animal biodiversity above ground, including wildlife and livestock. Finally, soils improve resilience to floods, droughts and impacts of climate change.



In collaboration with: PhosAgro, a major producer of phosphate-based fertilizers and the world’s leading manufacturer of high-grade phosphate rock and feed phosphates

Timeframe: 2018-2020

Benefitting: Smallscale producers; national soil laboratories; national institutions

Geographic coverage: Africa, Latin America and the Near East

Contributing to: 




Humankind is facing tremendous challenges in agriculture: the climate is changing, the global population is growing quickly, diets are undergoing major shifts, and soils are becoming increasingly degraded (FAO and ITPS, 2015). Globally, about one third of our soils face moderate to severe degradation, which affects one billion smallholders.

Soil degradation includes a number of different processes such as erosion, soil biodiversity loss, compaction, acidification, salinization, and contamination. As the world addresses rising rates of hunger and malnutrition, understanding and attaining sustainable soil management has never been more important, as healthy soils play a key role in ensuring food security and nutrition and eradicating poverty. Evidence-based decisions are central to sustainable soil management, but soil information and data are often not available, or where they are, the collection process is not harmonized in a way the data can be shared and used globally.



In 2018, FAO and PhosAgro, Russia’s leading phosphate-based fertilizer producer, partnered to promote sustainable soil management. The collaboration supports farmers by enhancing their capacities in soil condition assessments and informed decision-making regarding sustainable soil management, as well as facilitating knowledge exchange among farmers and enhancing the capacities of national soil laboratories.



Project activities include the delivery of capacity development trainings to 5 000 farmers on the use of Soil Doctors Testing Kits for assessing soil conditions. The kits are part of the toolbox of the Global Soil Doctors programme, which is a “farmer-to-farmer” training where champion farmers, known as Soil Doctors, help other farmers learn soil science principles and train them on sustainable soil management practices independently from the availability of national subsidies and/or financial resources. The programme has already been successfully implemented in Thailand, where thousands farmers were able to access innovative soil management technologies. 

Activities will also focus on strengthening the performance of national soil laboratories through the use of standardized methods and protocols, and enhancing capacity development through technical cooperation with FAO/Global Soil Partnership. This project component has a focus on assessing fertilizer quality and safety with the ultimate goal of promoting sustainable soil management in collaboration with the private sector. Through the establishment of regional soil laboratory networks (RESOLANs) in Africa, Latin America and the Near East as part of the Global Soil Laboratory Network, the project aims to further harmonize soil analytical data and provide comparable information between countries, regions and projects.



Thus far, the project has purchased 5 000 Soil Doctors Testing Kits that will be distributed globally. Ten national workshops will take place in the coming months, with 5 000 champion farmers receiving kits, educational material, and training on how to implement the programme. The project has established new soil laboratories for greater regional coverage, such as the African Soil Laboratory Network (AFRILAB) and the Regional Soil Laboratory Network for Near East.

These laboratories will join the Latin American Soil Laboratory Network (LATSOLAN), which was established in early 2018 and is already operative and performing regional data harmonization activities, and the Southeast Asian Soil Laboratory Network (SEALNET), which was launched in 2017. Guidelines and protocols on proficiency testing have been developed, along with four globally harmonized Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). A global survey to assess the status of soil laboratory equipment and tools has been prepared and sent to national reference laboratories.

The first global proficiency testing (PT) was launched in March 2019, involving more than 100 laboratories worldwide. Participating laboratories are now in the process of sending their results to GLOSOLAN for statistical analysis, with the final results of the global PT expected by November 2019.


"We were getting different results for certain soil properties from different soil laboratories. Since the launch of GLOSOLAN, laboratory performances towards the development of global harmonized standards is in the process of strengthening. Moreover, the laboratories have the chance to compare their results with others by participating PT (proficiency testing) and demonstrate the quality of their data to their customers. This will certainly help us with improved decision-making."

- Nopmanee Suvannang, GLOSLAN Chair



The project has engaged all relevant stakeholders and institutions since the beginning, allowing them to see the potential benefits of their participation. Thee project seeks to develop a sense of ownership of the project activities beyond its duration, especially in relation to capacity development. Individuals and institutions are supported in the execution of their duties and mandates related to soil management and agricultural production.

Moreover, the project contributes to environmental sustainability as it promotes practices that maintain and improve the quality of soils allowing people to live well, now and in the future.


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