FAO Liaison Office with the Russian Federation

Restoration of ecosystems in Russia: soil at the core

Photo: © FAO/Vladimir Mikheev
25/08/2021

On August 24, the Faculty of Soil Science of the Lomonosov Moscow State University and the Moscow FAO Bureau held a round table devoted to “The UN Decade for Ecosystem Restoration in Russia: challenges in a changing climate.” 

Moderator of the discussion Pavel Krasilnikov, Acting Dean of the Faculty of Soil Science of the Moscow State University, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, started his remarks with stating the importance of preserving ecosystems and biological diversity. “Unfortunately, some ecosystems are not able to recover in full, such as tropical forests, and require special attention and careful protection,” the moderator stressed. “At our round table, we will try to address not only issues of a soil nature, but also deeper aspects of ecosystem conservation.” 

Vladimir Moshkalo, Head of the Representative Office of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Russia, emphasized the importance of such a dialogue, which contributes to improving national programs to achieve all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Oleg Kobiakov, Director of the FAO Liaison office with the Russian Federation, highlighted the importance of SDG-2 “Eradicating hunger” for achieving all the other goals of the Agenda 2030. “Without progress on SDG-2, there is no point in talking about the remaining 16,” he explained. Noting the initiative of the Russian soil science community to organize the meeting, he highlighted the role of soil as “the main production resource not only in agriculture, but also in forestry, which, despite the latest developments in the food industry in the field of synthetic food, is the source of the vast majority of food consumed by mankind, and animal feed.” 

Yuri Dgebuadze, Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Head of the Laboratory of Ecology of Aquatic Communities and Invasions of the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution, talked about “Opportunities for restoring ecosystems after invasions of alien species”. “The most vulnerable ecosystems are already disturbed ecosystems,” the expert noted. “It is very difficult to restore ecosystems, so it is better not to touch them, and not to violate them.” 

Natalia Lukina, Director of the Center for Ecology and Productivity of Forests of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, spoke about the processes of reforestation and the importance of afforestation, noting the contribution of such processes to adaptation to climate change. “Forests are multifunctional ecosystems that simultaneously perform the functions of all 4 categories: providing, regulating, supporting and cultural,” Dr. Lukina noted. She emphasized the need to replace the reforestation model with a more modern one aimed at preserving existing and creating new complex ecosystems with a high level of biodiversity. 

Sergey Shoba, President of the Faculty of Soil Science of the Lomonosov Moscow State University, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and Ekaterina Kovaleva, senior researcher of the Faculty, presented a joint report “Approaches to restoring ecosystems disturbed during oil and gas production”. Ms Kovaleva emphasized that there are two types of ecosystem functioning disorders: primary technogenic and secondary post-technogenic.  The primary disorders include the destruction of vegetation and soil cover, the violation of the relief, the conditions of snow accumulation, heat exchange and heat release, the warming effect of wells.

Secondary ones constitute changes in the depth of seasonal freezing-thawing, violation of underground and surface runoff, waterlogging conditions, formation of high water, waterlogging, erosion, permafrost thawing, thermal erosion and solifluction.  One of the main impacts of the gas and oil production process on ecosystems is emergency breakthroughs that lead to a salvo of oil entering the environment, while oil can penetrate into the deep layers of the soil. Oil and petroleum products violate the morphological, physical and chemical properties of soils, change microbial communities, provoke soil salinization due to highly mineralized reservoir waters. Due to the properties of oil, agricultural activities, including the production of environmentally friendly products, become impossible on polluted lands.  Restoration of ecosystems is carried out by means of reclamation, including technical and biological measures.

Their goal is to eliminate the impact of petroleum products on all components of the environment. Russia has the best available technologies; their main principles are environmental efficiency and economic feasibility. At the same time, reclamation works should not cause more harm than the pollution itself. 

Olga Andreeva, Senior Researcher of the Institute of Geography of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Vasily Lobkovsky, Head of the Department of Physical Geography and Environmental Management Problems of the Institute of Geography of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Herman Kust, Chief Researcher of the Institute of Geography of the Russian Academy of Sciences, made a joint report on “The problem of achieving a neutral balance of land degradation in Russia: status and solutions.”  The authors of the study drew attention to the lack of a unified system for assessing land degradation, which would include international and national indicators that meet international practice and are applicable to vast Russian territories. They stressed, in particular, “the need to reflect in the national system a set of dynamic indicators, both reflecting the achievement of SDG target 15.3 in comparison with the established base period, and indicators of the state of land, reflecting their quality in comparison with the best or worst objects in a given area/region.” 

Vladimir Romanenkov, Head of the Department of Agrochemistry and Plant Biochemistry of the Faculty of Soil Science of Moscow State University, spoke about the agrochemical aspects of regenerative agriculture and, referring to FAO sources, cited the fact that a third of the transformation of agriculture is due to problems of the earth’s surface. Offering methods of solving problems, the expert named soil improvement, support for agricultural producers and compliance with animal protection standards as a priority. Answering a question from the audience, Mr Romanenkov touched upon the economic attractiveness of regenerative agriculture in the long term and raised the issue of the effectiveness of food chains in the short term (in the transition phase). 

Umid Abdullayev, Director of UzGIP LLC, Republic of Uzbekistan, Gulchehra Khasankhanova, Head of the Department of UzGIP LLC, Maria Konyushkova, Consultant on sustainable soil resources management of the Global Soil Partnership (FAO), made a joint report on the topic “Landscape planning of land use and restoration of degraded ecosystems in Uzbekistan.”   The country's territory is located in a desert zone, only 1.5 percent of the land is irrigated. Since the 1950s, these lands have actually been reclaimed from the desert. The Aral disaster should also be recalled: a whole sea was lost in one generation. 48 percent of the irrigated lands of Uzbekistan are subject to secondary salinization, and over 17 percent is located in the zone of moderate or severe salinization. Further, 56 percent are exposed to wind erosion.

According to experts, “during the period of drought at the peak of heat, water consumption increases by 30-40 percent compared to the norms calculated back in the USSR. Therefore, new approaches and conditions are required to solve this serious problem.”  In conditions of limited water resources, Umid Abdullayev continued, “the priority for Uzbekistan is water conservation, the only source of water is the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers. Therefore, it is necessary to develop water-saving technologies. Already about 30,000 hectares of land are on drip irrigation.” In addition, the expert noted, water conservation should also be stimulated. In Uzbekistan, farmers do not pay for water, so it is proposed to introduce a fee for at least water delivery. Another important direction is the use of drought – resistant crops. “The fight against desertification requires a system of management of natural resources, including land resources,” Dr Abdullayev concluded. 

Natalia Kovaleva, Head of the Laboratory of Ecological Soil Science at the Faculty of Soil Science of the Lomonosov Moscow State University, spoke about regional features and mechanisms of management of mountain pasture ecosystems. “Pastures are part of the natural and cultural heritage of mountain regions,” the expert noted, highlighting three main stages of their digression: destruction of vegetation cover, destruction of soil cover and destruction of the lithosphere (dehumification, over-compaction, depletion of biophilic elements, disaggregation). Ms Kovaleva noted the positive effect of systematic grazing and called for the abandonment of random grazing, leading to soil digression. 

Ivan Vasenev, Head of the Department of Ecology of the Timiryazev Russian State Agricultural Academy, shared the experience of the Timiryazev Academy and Wetlands International in restoring ecosystems on technogenically degraded waterlogged lands in the conditions of the Moscow metropolis. The expert spoke about a successful experiment on soil restoration that lasted for three years (2018-2021). “The project made it possible to create an experimental demonstration site on the territory of the Academy’s campus for the restoration of semi-hydromorphic ecosystems and the introduction of environmentally balanced farming methods on waterlogged lands. This corresponds to the measures proposed by the FAO to mitigate the effects of climate change in the agricultural sector,” Ivan Vasenev shared his experience. The expert noted a noticeable improvement and stabilization of the soil cover at the experimental site, as well as the fact that the landfill for landscape restoration has become a place for excursions. 

Oleg Makarov, Head of the Laboratory of Soil Erosion and Protection of the Lomonosov Moscow State University, Anton Strokov, a leading researcher at the Center for Agri-Food Policy of the RANEPA and Evgeny Tsvetnov, a senior researcher at the Department of Radioecology of the Faculty of Soil Science of the Lomonosov Moscow State University, presented the report “Methodology for managing sustainable agricultural development in conditions of soil degradation and climate change.” Oleg Makarov spoke about the stages of managing the sustainable development of agriculture, focusing on the preparation of databases on economic, climatic and soil criteria, on the use of econometric models for the development of the agricultural sector and obtaining the results of calculations carried out in accordance with these econometric models.

To view the discussion, please click here.

The presentations of participants:

- Umid Abdullayev, Gulchehra Khasankhanova, Maria Konyushkova

Olga Andreeva, Vasily Lobkovsky, and Herman Kust

Ivan Vasenev

Vladimir Romanenkov

- Sergey Shoba, Ekaterina Kovaleva

- Oleg Makarov

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The next joint event of the Moscow State University and the FAO Office within the framework of the UN Decade for Ecosystem Restoration will be the celebration of the World Soil Day in Russia on December 5.