Global Soil Partnership Plenary Assembly looks at sustainable soil management beyond 2015

Member countries, non-governmental organizations, academic scholars, civil society groups and international organizations met in FAO headquarters from 22- 24 June. The Assembly reviewed the progress made in the promotion of sustainable soil management since the launch of the partnership three years ago and during the 2015 International Year of Soils. 

Soil agenda gaining prominence

Maria Helena Semedo, FAO Deputy Director-General, opened the meeting by noting the impressive achievements of the Global Soil Partnership and the key role played by the International Year of Soils (IYS) in raising awareness about soils. "The Global Soil Partnership is leading the way towards effective cooperation and action which will result in the promotion and implementation of sustainable soil management across the globe", Semedo said.

"The official appointment of the IYS Special Ambassadors during the FAO Conference on 10 June and the recent endorsement of the World Soil Charter will contribute to raising the voice of soils, our silent ally in the fight against hunger,” she noted.

Thanks to these global efforts, the soil agenda is gaining prominence and is thoroughly grounded in the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDGs 2, 3, 12 and 15 include key aspects related to soils such as improving soil quality, reducing the number of deaths and illnesses caused by soil pollution, combating desertification and restoring degraded land and soil.

The Bolivian experience

Speaking at the event, H.E. Johnny Óscar Cordero Núñez, Vice-Minister of Land of the Plurinational State of Bolivia underlined the importance of partnerships and the work the Government of Bolivia is carrying out to protect its soils and raise awareness about the IYS.

"We stand shoulder to shoulder with the FAO Director-General to eradicate hunger,” Cordero said.

"According to recent data, 51% of soils in Bolivia are affected by erosion covering an area of 56 million hectares of land," Cordero said. However, a number of policies and programmes are being implemented aimed at rehabilitating Bolivian soils. The current draft Soils Law puts emphasis on driving innovation on sustainable and integral soil management, including on the restoration of degraded soils and generating information on sustainable production.

In collaboration with FAO, Bolivia is building a soils information and monitoring system (SISBOL) which will provide soil data and information on how to manage the country's soils.

Much of the Government's work involves community-based approaches and direct interaction with Bolivia's farmers in addition to awareness raising activities in collaboration with a variety of stakeholders.

The Status of the World's Soil Resources Report: a seminal collective effort

The development of the first ever Status of the World's Soil Resources Report was lead by the Intergovernmental Technical Panel on Soils (ITPS). Over 200 top scientists from all regions of the world have contributed to the preparation of the 600+ page report. The main objectives of the report are to provide a global scientifically based assessment of current and projected soil conditions; to explore the implications of these soil conditions for food security, climate change, water quality and quantity, biodiversity and human health and well being; and to include a policy message with a series of recommendations for action by decision-makers and other stakeholders.

Members welcomed the report and provided with significant feedback . They agreed that this is an ITPS report, and as such there was no need for their endorsement.

Towards Voluntary Guidelines for the Sustainable Management of Soil Resources

Members endorsed a concept note on sustainable soil management for developing Voluntary Guidelines for Sustainable Management of Soil Resources (VGSMS) which, while not legally binding, would be a major step towards a more efficient global effort to establish a coherent strategy for soil protection.

The concept note was strongly supported by the GSP partners, particularly by developing countries. The Russian Federation offered to financially support the further development of the voluntary guidelines.

Plans of action and regional implementation plans

Pillar 3 Plan of action was welcomed by partners and after providing some important comments, it was endorsed accordingly. Partners also welcomed the efforts made to have regional implementation plans available for guiding GSP implementation at field level. A call by the Secretariat was made in order to support the execution of these implementation plans by contributing with financial resources.

The International Year of Soils: what's happening around the world?

Only half way through the IYS, much has been accomplished at national and international levels. 

The Regional Soil Partnership workshops took place in several regions with the aim of developing regional plans on sustainable soil management for the next five years.

Capacity development is being provided to countries through projects to address specific problems and to enhance the technical knowledge and skills for assessing and monitoring soils and for promoting sustainable soil management and the restoration of degraded soils. In particular, various training sessions have been conducted in Africa and Latin America on digital soil mapping.

Numerous soil-related events are taking place around the globe including major international conferences, cultural and awareness raising exhibitions and educational events targeted at the general public as well as technical sessions among soil scientists and other disciplines, that link soils with the wider food security and sustainable development agenda.

A wealth of communication material has also been prepared including fact sheets, infographics, posters and videos with the IYS logo translated into 30 languages.

Members thanked FAO for its instrumental role in leading the IYS and added to the discussions by providing information on IYS-related events and initiatives in their respective countries.

Speaking at the Assembly, Marcela Villarreal, Director of the Office of Partnerships, Advocacy, and Capacity Development said,  "keeping up momentum in national governments is key."

"We must join forces to ensure maximum impact of the IYS beyond 2015," she added.


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