Studying the soil is also an adventure

Pictures taken during the congress (Courtesy of Luiz Bezerra de Oliveira).
Pictures taken during the congress (Courtesy of Luiz Bezerra de Oliveira).

Those who follow an academic career have participated or will happen to participate in a congress within their specific area. In Brazil, the main congress on soil is the Brazilian Congress of Soil Science (BCSS), and the venue for the meeting is usually a convention center, with all the comforts and technological resources one could want. However, it was not always so.

In 1961, the VIII BCSS took place in Belém (Pará state). It consisted of sixteen days of study and instead of a suit and tie, the 120 participants wore shirts, shorts and sandals. Instead of air conditioning, there was only hot and humid air. Instead of comfortable accommodation, there was the swing of a hammock. And, finally, the main venue  was a ship!

At that time little was known about the soils of the Amazon region. In order to not disappoint, the organizing committee thought of all the details. Previously, the organizing committee selected various soil profiles from which samples were collected and analyzed. It turns out that such a large sampling had never been undertaken with soils of the region, but it was necessary to consolidate the criteria used to classify these soils.

On the first day of the congress, even on land, everything was normal. There was the solemn opening session in the sumptuous and historic Amazon Theatre, followed by a cocktail party for the general gathering of participants. The second day was dedicated to visits to experimental facilities and fields of the North Agronomic Institute, the Forest Garden and the famous “See the Weight” Market, where participants were able to buy the proper attire for the congress on the ship.

The much awaited moment had arrived. On the third day of the congress participants, adequately dressed, boarded the ship, Jari, and left the port of Belém for a memorable adventure. The opportunity to study unknown land and join a different conference was worth any effort.

During the day, stops were made at points previously chosen from Belém, Macapá, Monte Alegre, Santarém, Obidos, Belterra, Fordilândia to the city of Macurí. At these numerous stops participants had the opportunity to discuss the criteria for classification of Amazonian soils and also got to know the Amazon rainforest and all its charms and dangers.

Upon reaching the chosen destinations, there was always a means of ground transportation waiting for the congress participants. The participants had to settle on top of a truck, but they were not very upset. In addition to technical visits and studies of the profiles, 38 scientific papers were presented, presentations which were held in the hall of the ship.

In the evening, while the ship sailed quietly on the river, participants rested from the intense day of discussions and visits. Or maybe not. When it was time to rest, hammocks were set up on the  deck, but the engine noise forced the participants into idle chitchat, idle chitchat for hours, with hopes of shortening the night. Martyrdom for some and fun for others. Also, ‘happy hour’ on the Jari, consisted of serenades, joke sessions and even a theatre show. And without a doubt many discussions about soils!

This congress on the Jari which was a great adventure, also became a milestone in the history of Brazilian soil science. Currently a huge ship would need to perform such a feat, considering that in the last editions of the BCSS, between 2000 and 3000 participants were registered. But maybe one day...

Written by Julierme Zimmer Barbosa (Doctoral student of Federal University of Paraná) and Giovana Clarice Poggere (Doctoral student of Federal University of Lavras) based on personal account of Luiz Bezerra de Oliveira (Retired researcher from Embrapa Soils and participant of the Congress on the Jari ship).

Courtesy of Luiz Bezerra de Oliveira
Courtesy of Luiz Bezerra de Oliveira

The views expressed here belong to the speaker and do not necessarily represent FAO’s views, positions, strategies or opinions.

Submitted by Julierme Zimmer Barbosa





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tudying soil can indeed be an adventure. Soil is a fascinating and complex system that plays a critical role in supporting life on Earth. Here are a few reasons why studying soil can be an exciting and rewarding adventure:

Diverse Ecosystem: Soil is home to a vast array of living organisms, including bacteria, fungi, insects, and earthworms. These organisms play a vital role in soil health and contribute to the overall health of the ecosystem.

Geological Features: The study of soil also involves understanding the geological features that have shaped the landscape. Soil can reveal information about past geological events, such as volcanic eruptions or glaciation.

Importance of Soil: Soil is essential for supporting plant life and plays a crucial role in food production. Studying soil can help us understand how to better manage and maintain healthy soils for agriculture and conservation.
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