Two strong voices added to the International Year of Soils global campaign

Biodiversity expert Claire Chenu and soil fertility expert Tekalign Mamo officially appointed International Year of Soils special ambassadors 

FAO Director General, José Graziano da Silva, officially presented the two ambassadors to members during a side event on 10 June at the 39th Session of the FAO Conference.

"I have no doubt that, with their knowledge, commitment and influence, they will greatly contribute to raise public awareness and amplify the message that soils are the basis for feeding the world and ensuring food security," FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva told members in his opening comments.

"Their focus and commitment to food security, soil health and sustainable natural resources management has been demonstrated by the wide variety of roles they have undertaken in these areas," he added.

Claire Chenu, French biodiversity expert and professor of soil sciences at Agro Paris Tech University, and Tekalign Mamo Assefa, expert in soil management, senior government advisor in Ethiopia, and professor at the Haramaya University, are the new ambassadors.

In her first remarks as an IYS ambassador, Professor Chenu explained that soils desperately need ambassadors, voices to speak out for this silent ally in the fight against hunger and malnutrition. 

"We are soil-dependent" she told members. "Soils are at the crossroad of global issues. Soil security is strongly interlinked with food security, water security, energy demand, climate change regulation, biodiversity protection," she added.

Professor Mamo told a packed room "since the eighties, land degradation has increased by about 30 percent. In Africa alone, which has about 60 percent of the world’s remaining uncultivated arable land, an estimated 65 percent of arable land is degraded and loses soil nutrients worth $4b USD per year." He also stressed the climate change aspect, which has a major impact on agricultural productivity, especially in developing countries, and must be factored into all agricultural policies.

Both special ambassadors made recommendations and proposed solutions for this year and beyond. These include the promotion of sustainable soil management, the need for more information about the state of soil resources such as digital soil fertility mapping and soil databases; easier access to custom-made fertilizers; establishment of regional programmes; education and awareness raising about soils; and pushing for a true targeted soil policy.

A lively debate about soils followed and speakers, which included Ministers from Latin America and Africa and video contributions from the Minister for Agriculture and Cooperatives of Thailand, IFA (International Fertilizer Industry Association) and IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements), provided snapshots from their regions/sectors and shared their interest in protecting soils and halting soil degradation.

The general consensus was that this International Year of Soils is an unprecedented opportunity to raise awareness about soils and galvanize global efforts to protect and manage soils in a sustainable way.

"We know what we have to do and how to do it, but we have to do more of it!" said H.E. Ahmed Yakubu Alhassan (Deputy Minister for Food and Agriculture of Ghana).

Maria Helena Semedo, FAO Deputy Director-General, closed the event by wishing the IYS goodwill Ambassadors the best of luck, "we hope they will really help us to raise the profile of soils, so that its management is part of the national development agendas in the near future," she said.

"We need to continue working together. The importance of soils will not finish in December 2015," she added.


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