Look down in wonder: the power of soils

©FAO/Matteo Sala


For most of the history of science, we have allowed soils to gather dust. When not using them as somewhere to grow our food (admittedly the most vital of functions), we have largely treated soils as dirt. An impediment when digging for water, for coal, for metro lines. Something to cover over as we built cities and factories. At best, something to play sports on. 

We now know there is much, much more to soils. Or rather, we intuit it: what we know for sure is that we only know about a tenth of what soils have to offer. That soils act as carbon sinks. That they are brimming with biochemical promise. That buried under our feet are no doubt the new frontiers of medical prowess. That we are, in effect, treading on treasures.

As research into soils advances, so do global efforts towards soil governance. World Soil Day on 5 December is a move to put soils on the map – and, for us, an opportunity to rustle up a selection of FAO publications on the subject. We’re listing some below, so get burrowing!

Soils for nutrition: state of the art
This booklet offers a review of literature and practices that can provide a more nutritious agrifood system for enhancing human health and wellbeing while protecting the environment. These include integrated soil fertility management, soil microorganisms, and sensor technology.  

Global Status of Black Soils
This report provides strategic information about the distribution, state, and management of black soils. It recommends establishing a global agreement for their sustainable management (conservation, protection, and production).

The International Code of Conduct for the sustainable use and management of fertilizers
This document is an important tool for implementing the Voluntary Guidelines for sustainable soil management with special regard to nutrient imbalances and soil pollution. It addresses the judicious use and management of fertilizers to prevent misuse, underuse and overuse.

Global assessment of soil pollution
World soil health is under pressure from 10 main soil threats, including erosion, loss of soil organic carbon and biodiversity, pollution, and salinization. This report presents the status and drivers of global soil pollution, as well as recommendations to address the issue such as using bioremediation technologies.

Did you know? The latest FAO publications catalogue features a wealth of soils-related reports. Check it out!


  • Global status of salt-affected soils