International Year of Soils: what have we achieved?

Published on
January 7, 2016

The United Nations' International Year of Soils has come to an end. One thing is certain: for many people, the soil has now finally stopped being the great unknown.


TerrAgenda, a symposium in Utrecht, marked the official end of the IYS in the Netherlands on 11 December.

The organisers looked back on a long list of activities that included a National Mud Day, the Northern-Dutch potato festival 'I Am A Potato', the Rotterdam Month of the Underworld and Soil Animal Day on 4 October, co-organised by the NIOO.


Soil Animal Day sparked a great deal of attention here in the Netherlands, from leading media that included the main Dutch television journal, mass circulation newspapers such as De Telegraaf and national public radio. The news that woodlice were the most frequently found soil animals in Dutch gardens even made it into the top three of most shared stories on the popular news website

Looking back on Dutch public radio's Vroege Vogels programme,  the NIOO's head of Terrestrial Ecology, Wim van der Putten, said that "we humans are in fact the ones who benefit the most" from all the additional attention for the soil. "Everything we eat, drink and breath constantly passes through the soil", van der Putten said. "But what do we do? Cover it with pavement slabs, asphalt and houses. All of the Netherlands looks like one big construction site. That goes at the expense of soil biodiversity...and so ultimately of ourselves."

Internationally, many blogs were posted about the IYS, and the UN's Food & Agriculture Organization presented a series of helpful Infographics about the importance of the soil and the threat posed by climate change. An overview of articles and news stories on the soil and on the IYS can be found on the website of the journal Nature.

Looking ahead

But the end of the Soil Year is a time to look ahead and not just to look back: what are the next steps in making sure our soil remains healthy and/or becomes healthier?

The big climate summit in Paris launched the '4/1000 Initiative', which is meant to show that even a tiny increase of carbon stocks in the soil - say, 1/4000 per year - can make a significant difference in terms of climate control. On the 4/1000 Initiative's website you'll find information about what you can do to join the initiative yourself.

Paris was also the birthplace of the Soil Manifesto, which calls on world leaders to help "protect, conserve, nurture, honour, cherish, defend and above all restore" the soil.

And the FAO held a special meeting in early December to discuss what can be done to translate the extra attention for the soil into concrete action. At the meeting, the FAO launched a report on the status of the world's soil resources (.pdf).


Meanwhile, Wim van der Putten and other researchers have been hard at work putting together a new atlas of worldwide soil biodiversity. The atlas is due to be published in the first part of 2016.

It's all much like life in the soil itself: a constant buzz of activity that never ends. Or, as the FAO-blog writes, the end of the Soil Year is only the beginning!