Stories tagged: world soil day

Saving Soils for People and Planet

Ebunoluwa Ijeoma Ajobiewe, Ambassador for the NextGen Ag Impact Network (NGIN) and advocate for youth in agriculture, underlines the importance of protecting soils for human and environmental health. 

World Soil Day on 5 December is an opportunity to reflect on the importance of soils to not only the environment but also human well-being. In a growing world where over two billion people are affected by food and nutrition insecurity and 95 per cent of our food comes from the soil, we can no longer afford to mismanage this earthly element. Fertile soils are a non-renewable resource that cannot be recovered within a human lifespan. 

A complex narrative

Growing up, I was accustomed to having the soil around me. My family’s food and dietary needs were supplemented with vegetables from our garden and meat from chickens raised in the same environment. I had food on my plate, yet I had a complicated relationship with the soil. Topsoil was something we could play with outside, but it had no place within the house because it could mean more cleaning or crying if you were unlucky enough to get some in your eye during a sandstorm. It was only through my education that I began to understand the many components of soil. I can still remember the pie chart my teacher used to describe the composition of soil as 45 per cent minerals, 25 per cent water, 25 per cent air and five per cent organic matter.

I truly realized that the soil is alive when I planted my first maize and vegetable seeds and watched them grow, and when I viewed living soil organisms under a microscope for the first time. I realised that these tiny creatures wiggling inside the petri dish made their home in the soil beneath my feet. Soil organisms are critical to the efficient functioning of the ecosystem and important for nutrient cycling, decomposition, primary production and agronomic performance.

Photo: Courtesy A. Troccoli

Where food begins

Plants, animals, humans and the planet depend on the quality and health of the soil. This comprises many facets, including active carbon, total carbon and soil respiration. To understand the status of a certain soil or undertake a comprehensive assessment of soil health, the mineral nutrients composition, as well as ecological and biological activity, must be taken into consideration. Healthy soil should function as a vital living system, maintain environmental quality, sustain biological productivity and promote the health of the various organisms that depend upon it.

However, statistics from both FAO and IPBES reveal that about one-third of the world’s soils are already degraded, and over 90 per cent could become degraded by 2050 if we do not act. This degradation is propelled by natural and human-induced factors like erosion, loss of soil nutrients, acidification and pollution occurring worldwide. 

Photo: FAO (2020)

How can we make a difference?

There are many actions people—from farmers to youth, policymakers and more—can take to save soils and a number of resources to build understanding.

Farmers are in constant contact with this key resource and can harness the benefits of soil biodiversity. They can use practices such as diversification of crop types, agroforestry, high-precision management of nutrients and minimised tillage to conserve soil. In addition, the practice of regenerative agriculture principles, according to the World Economic Forum, could mitigate the loss of topsoil and aid the restoration of damaged soil for small and large-scale farmers. 

In its first year of existence, the NextGen Ag Impact Network (NGIN) has engaged over 200 young people in practical, in-depth discussions around regenerative agriculture alongside the impacts of agri-food education, school gardens, youth in agriculture and food security advocacy towards a sustainable food future. This is at the core of our mission. Similarly, the Global Soil partnership raises awareness and builds capacity through creative contests for children and prizes for innovative research.

The World Soil Charter recommends actions for individuals, the private sector, the scientific community, governments and international organisations to support the sustainable management and restoration of the world’s soils. These include personal stewardship of soil resources, advocacy and knowledge sharing, creation of socio-economic conditions that favour proper land tenure, facilitation of access to soil information and financial services, effective legislation and implementation of regulations. 

However, if we hope to save soils for humanity and the planet, there is a need for all stakeholders to do more. Right where you are, you can contribute to stopping biodiversity loss by becoming a soil advocate, avoiding the use of pollutants and recycling. For example, nearly 50 per cent of household waste can be composted to nurture our soil.

I am committed to enlightening the next generation about the importance of soil health and I will do my best to ensure that my actions above ground support belowground ecosystems. What will your soil promise be?


Header Photo: © 2014 CIAT / Stephanie Malyon

#IYS2015 Twitter Chat Summary – “Healthy Soils for a Healthy Life”

To pave the way to the International Year of Soils in 2015, Farming First hosted a dynamic twitter chat on World Soil Day (5th December) exploring the topic of soil health – and its role in the fight for food security.

The expert panel included Amit Roy, President and CEO of the International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC), Professor Richard Mkandawire, Vice President of the African Fertilizer and Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP), Ronald Vargas, Secretary of the Global Soil Partnership at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Juliet Braslow, Soil Area Co-ordinator for the Centro International de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT) and Machteld Schoolenberg, soil scientist and YPARD Netherlands representative.

Discussions were based around four questions that Farming First put to the panel:

  1. How is poor soil health currently impacting the global population?
  2. What interventions and policies are needed to manage our soils sustainably?
  3. Which projects and resources around the world are already successfully improving soil health?
  4. How can we scale up soil health projects?

Panelists responded with a wealth of knowledge:

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A lively audience kept the panel on their toes by posing many real-time questions of their own – leading the discussion in new directions.

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Everyone, from audience to panelists, shared a range of resources that illustrate work to boost soil health in action, from articles and photos to blogs and full case studies. Explore the range of resources shared below:

For a full round up of the discussion, check out the Storify summary of the whole Twitter Chat:






Video: Putting Soil Health Back on the Global Agenda

Farming First TV interviewed Charlotte Hebebrand, the Director General of the International Fertilizer Industry Association (IFA), on why it is so important to shine a spotlight on the importance of soil health.

Ms. Hebebrand observed that although soils are crucial for agriculture, they are often taken for granted and have historically suffered from overuse. To replace the nutrients used up by crop growth farmers need training in right type, timing, placement and rate of fertilizer application, known as the 4Rs of nutrient stewardshipContinue reading

Talking Dirt – 15 Ways Soil Is Getting Healthier

It’s time to start talking dirt as we enter the United Nations’ International Year of Soils!

Soil is the natural resource responsible for providing the vital nutrients our crops need to grow strong, healthy and abundant, yet its health has been overlooked in the global food security debate. Currently, nearly one-third of the earth’s land area is degraded, affecting an estimated 3.2 billion people who rely on this land for their food and livelihoods.

In the next installment of our “content mash-up” series – we bring you stories from Farming First supporters who are rising to the challenge to make soil healthier for future generations. Continue reading

Video: Why do we need an International Year of Soils?

Ahead of World Soil Day on 5th December, Farming First TV spoke to Ronald Vargas, of the Global Soil Partnership at the Food and Agriculture Organization, about why the United Nations agency has declared an International Year of Soils in 2015.

Mr. Vargas explains that although soil is crucial for food production, and human health is dependent on nutrients “the knowledge on how to handle nutrients is not…shared.” An International Year of Soils, he explains, could bring together lots of different initiatives, to join forces to bring the issue of soil health to the global food security agenda. Continue reading

Farming First #IYS2015 Twitter Chat “Healthy Soils for a Healthy Life”

Friday 5th December 2014

10am EST / 3pm GMT

We will soon be entering International Year of Soils, and the soil we use to grow our crops will move to centre stage in the food security debate.

Land degradation currently affects nearly one-third of the earth’s land area. The impacts this has range from reduced soil fertility and lower crop yields to reduced soil carbon sequestration that would mitigate climate change, as well desertification and rural migration. Smallholder farmers in the developing world are impacted most heavily; in sub-Saharan Africa it is estimated that 65 per cent of land is degraded, which is a major barrier to food production. Worldwide, the economic loss associated with land degradation is estimated to cost us USD 40 billion per year.

Healthy soils are the foundation of a productive food system, improved rural livelihoods and a healthy environment. When so many still go hungry – we must focus on protecting and restoring our soils.

How can we seize the opportunity this global event presents to sustain our soils?

Join our panel of experts for the Twitter Chat “Healthy Soils for a Healthy Life” on Friday 5th December at 10am EST / 3pm GMT and tweet @farmingfirst with your questions, using the hashtag #AskFF

Expert Panel


Amit Roy, President, International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC) – @AmitRoyIFDC / @IFDCNews

Amit Roy has been the president and CEO of IFDC since 1992. Under his leadership, IFDC’s programs have broadened to help create sustainable agricultural productivity around the world, alleviating hunger and poverty and ensuring global food security, environmental protection and economic growth.  He was instrumental in organizing the Africa Fertilizer Summit in Nigeria; founded Virtual Fertilizer Research Center in Nigeria and co-leads the Global TraPs project.  


RICHARD MKANDAWIRERichard Mkandawire, Vice President, African Fertilizer and Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP) – @R_Mkandawire / @AFAPPartnership

For eight years, Richard Mkandawire was part of the leadership that drove the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP). CAADP began as part of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) to eliminate hunger and reduce poverty by growing agriculture. He is now the Vice President of AFAP, bringing decades of experience as a socio-economist and rural development expert to the organisation. 


MachteldMachteld Schoolenberg, YPARD Representative, Netherlands – @MachteldAnna / @YPARD

Machteld is a policy researcher with a Masters in International Land and Water Management and specialized in land degradation, rural development and sustainable land management practices. Machteld currently works as a policy researcher at the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL). She mainly works in research projects on land degradation and restoration. But also contributes on projects about natural capital, land use innovations in the EU and social media strategies. 


Juliet Bjuliet_braslow1raslow, Soil Research Area Coordinator, Centro International de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT) – @JulietBraslow / @CIAT_

Juliet holds a Masters in Horticulture & Agronomy and another in International Agricultural Development. Based in Nairobi, Kenya she has a diverse background of skills ranging from soil management and agricultural extension to international development. She is interested in interdisciplinary and participatory research in natural resource management and effective science communication, especially when it comes to communicating the importance of soil.  



Ronald Vargas, Soils Officer, Global Soil Partnership – @FAOKnowledge

Ronald is Soils Officer and Secretary of the Global Soil Partnership Secretariat at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations with strong focus on the survey, assessment and management of soil resources globally.