'Soil regains attention it deserves'

Gepubliceerd op
5 december 2012

Good soil management will become increasingly important in the upcoming decades, because the demands on soil are becoming larger. Not only has the amount of soil used for food production, building materials and textile increased, we have also come to rely on soil to provide us with energy, allowing us to be less dependent on fossil sources deeper in the ground. The United Nations has declared 5 December World Soil Day to raise awareness for "the soil". Soil scientists at Wageningen UR are happy to see the renewed attention for the soil, which often plays a crucial and regulating role in different global, environmental and development issues.

Global Soil Partnership

"Thirty years ago the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization had over a hundred staff members who specialised in soil science. Nowadays they employ a lot less", says Prem Bindraban, director of ISRIC World Soil Information. But the downward trend for soil research has been reversed, he observes. The Global Soil Partnership, which was founded in September 2011 and organises World Soil Day, has drawn up a plan for contributing to large societal themes of this time, such as increasing food security. Bindraban is very pleased with the Global Soil Partnership's plans. "The plan consists of five pillars: sustainable management, investments in proper land use, targeted applied research, standardisation of management methods and collection and analysis of data. These last two themes contain important tasks for ISRIC, and Wageningen UR as a whole can contribute to these themes."

Climate, desertification and biodiversity

Coen Ritsema, professor Soil physics and Land Management at Wageningen University, agrees that the role of the soil has been underestimated for years. "There are three UN-conventions: one about climate change, one about desertification and one about conservation of biodiversity. The soil should be a binding factor in all these debates, but has not received enough attention in the past," Ritsema notes.

For example: "Climatologist schematise soils rather simplistically. That effects model results. Soil scientists can help improve these models. Soil scientists on the other hand probably oversimplify meteorological conditions, or, for example, the functioning of plants. The only way forward is to cooperate, because everything is related to everything else. Not mono-disciplinary, but multidisciplinary solutions for global environmental problems; that's what we have to work on." Ritsema believes that this could lead to large amounts of substantive and practical gains.

Soil as a basis

The soil is the centre of attention again today. In addition to the Global Soil Partnership which was recently founded, and the celebration of World Soil Day, the Global Soil Week was also organised from 18 to 22 November 2012. Hundreds of soil scientists, country representatives and delegates of the United Nations came together during this week.  Similar conferences and meetings will be  organised in the future. The soil thus regains the position on the international agenda that it deserves.