The first volume of the ATR
The first issue of the ATR focuses on the subject of reinventing soil stewardship: progressing from conservation to improvement. The analysis concludes that the present-day state of soil science, soil management, and soil policy is fragmented, sketchy, and inconsistent – though many encouraging initiatives and examples illustrate sustainability oriented and sustainable practices. What is critically lacking is public awareness, political priorities, public long-term and comprehensive research, bold legal and administrative rules on the national as well as international level, and economic incentives and tools in order to promote caring and sustainable use and enhancement of fertile soils. Most of all, a new consciousness for the sensitivity of the pedosphere and adequate care is needed.
What are the key messages of volume 1 of ATR:
- Make rehabilitation, improvement, and conservation of living soils a cross-cutting top priority for policy at national and international level.
- Soils are technically and biologically a de facto non-renewable resource. Human utilization of soils thus must be aligned with the responsibilities of stewardship instead of consumerism.
- Agricultural practice and policies must follow the guiding principle: Feed soils, not crops. Healthy soils need a balance between cultivation (withdrawal) and regeneration (restitution) of inter alia nutrients, trace minerals, organic matter, and moisture. All-season cultivation of diverse plants including trees is by evidence an appropriate practice.
- The institutional fabric as to fertile soils is fragmented and rather weak. The Intergovernmental Technical Panel on Soils (ITPS) should be transformed into an Intergovernmental Panel on Living Soils (IPLS) with a mandate to report and assess regularly status and changes, to facilitate international and regional cooperation and especially impart successful practices to enhance fertile soils.
- As degradation and destruction of fertile soils increasingly become obvious as relevant driving elements of violent conflicts in many continents, cooperation and coordination between all parts of the UN system as well as between national governments is imperative.
- Ramp up cooperation and coordination between existing institutions. Build effective national frameworks and implementation. As long as no comprehensive UN Framework Convention on Living Soils (UNFCLS) is emerging, cooperation and division of work between UNFCC, CBD and UNCCD should be expanded. National Soil Policy Frameworks (NSPs) should be designed.
- End agricultural subsidies worldwide that are harmful for soils and the environment in general. Soils in most countries are damaged by excessive use of mineral fertilizers and pesticides. Higher costs for energy will cascade through the system and make things that today seem ‘efficient’ and ‘rational’ appear like lunacy. In this way, many of the fallacies of today’s system will ‘automatically’ disappear, in particular production systems based on external-input-dependent, highly specialized production. The thus ‘freed’ financial means from reduced energy subsidies can be redirected towards compensating (or rather rewarding) farmers for providing environmental goods and services. Incentives for carbon sequestration in soils, for instance, may have the triple purpose of mitigating climate change, arresting soil erosion and encourage farmers to implement other regenerative agriculture practices.
- Science eventually must tackle the challenge of understanding the systemic complexities of living soils and soil improvement. Soil science is a truly trans-disciplinary field of scientific endeavour which until today is neither institutionally nor financially appropriately endowed. International research networks with coordinated agendas should be promoted, based on accordingly funded and maintained national capacities. A crucial element of agenda setting and research design is the practice of participatory research.
LEAD ARTICLE: Reinventing soil stewardship. Processing from conservation to improvement.
This article is intended to contribute to a necessary political, scientific and practical rethinking – how can soil stewardship become an integral part of all agricultural practice and how to advance from conservation to improvement?
Starting from the UN year of soils 2015 we were thinking: what is really turning soil management into a long lasting, friendly to life future?
Aenean commodo ligula eget dolor. Aenean massa. Cum sociis natoque penatibus et magnis dis parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus. Donec quam felis, ultricies nec, pellentesque eu, pretium quis, sem.
Humankind is living from four essential natural resources: fertile soils, clean air, fresh water, and biodiversity. The global land area amounts to 13.2 billion hectare (ha) of which 3.7 bn ha (28%) is forest, 4.6 bn ha (35%) is grassland and woodland ecosystems, and only 1.6 bn ha (12%) is used for agricultural crops (FAO 2011). It is a really startling phenomenon: although considering today's multiple challenges with soil degradation, medium-term growing global population and mounting impacts of climate change, in many societies, countries and national states fertile soils are still treated tremendously carelessly or even in a destructive way, just so as if it didn't matter to preserve and regenerate this pivotal element of essential natural resource and fabric of human societies. Let us lift the whole issue onto another level: At the latest from Howard (1947) we know that there is a fundamental link between fertile soils and human health. Since then scientists have found growing additional evidence that soils with rich diversity of life are ipso facto capable to produce nutrient-rich food. Furthermore, there is a correlation between bacteria in soils and in the human gut (Wall et al. 2015). And everything in the food system between the soil and human gut may touch our health, from farming methods and crop varieties to food processing, cooking and eating. When we change one thing in an interplay-ecosystem, we change many more (cf. Roberts 2008; Rundgren, 2015). So, from all we know, there is more than enough reason to treat soils very carefully, to use, maintain and eventually – that is one of our key points – improve every hectare and every square kilometre. >>> Read more
Nothing is more inspiring than good examples
The following illustrations – though by far not exhaustive - are intended to demonstrate that against all degradation and destruction in many places around the globe dedicated people, organizations, and institutions are successfully working for rehabilitation and regeneration of, and improvements in soil fertility. Clearly there are feasible real life alternatives to the powerful vested interests in a further fossil industrialization of the world's agricultures. >>> Read more
Synopsis of politico-scientific networks & information tools
The multitude of studies and assessments on soil fertility issues remind rather to a many-voiced, not exactly harmonious choir. Similarly soil-related networks and information tools represent a juxtaposition of different and sometimes diverging approaches, strategies, interests, and goals. Altogether, availability and volume of knowledge and data during the last two decades has grown significantly. For many problems and issues feasible and substantiated answers and devices are at hand. As part of the digitization of knowledge some technological and/or social-economic hurdles of access remain, especially in countries with poor infrastructure and many poor people. Likewise the trouble of selection and appraisal of information must be managed. >>> Read more