Consultation on African Soil Partnership focuses on sustainable soil management

The Food and Agriculture Organization has implemented a number of projects related to sustainable production and better soil management

By DTE Staff
Published: Monday 01 June 2015

In Asia, soil degradation has become a serious problem (Credit: Ganesh Pangare)

A recent consultation on African Soil Partnership (AFSP) held in Ghana focused on the identification of regional priorities for sustainable soil management in the continent. Representatives from 35 nations participated in the event.

According to Bukar Tijani, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) assistant director-general and regional representative for Africa, “Soil performs (the) fundamental roles for human wellbeing; it is the foundation for food and nutrition security, sustainable development and climate change adaptation and mitigation.”

The partnership aims to facilitate links with national and local soil management programmes with a view to strengthening work on soil management, the FAO report says.

“There is the need to address climate change and…establish linkages and networks with other national, regional and global initiatives that impact soil health,” the Deputy Regional Representative and FAO Representative to Ghana Lamourdia Thiombiano said.

Ronald Vargas, land officer and Global Soil Partnership (GSP) secretariat of FAO, feels that sustainable soil management in the region will make way for sustained prosperity.

More about the programme

Participants consolidated AFSP by establishing a steering committee and working groups as per the Regional Soil Partnerships guidelines.

AFSP was launched in early 2013, with events organised in Accra, Ghana and Nairobi, Kenya. During the launch events, participants discussed specific needs according to the countries and priorities for promoting sustainable soil management.

A communiqué on the consolidation of AFSP, AFSP institutional mechanism (including steering committee and working groups) and African Soil Partnership Implementation Plan was developed by the participants.

Incidentally, the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly has declared 2015 the International Year of Soils. The aim is to raise awareness about the importance of soils in terms of food security, nutrition and ecosystem.

Importance of soils

Soils and vegetation go hand in hand. Fertile soil encourages plant growth by providing them with nutrients, acting as a water-holding tank and serving as the substrate on which trees anchor their roots.

In return, vegetation, tree cover and forests prevent soil degradation and desertification by stabilising the soil, maintaining water and nutrient cycling and reducing erosion.
With global economic growth expanding, the demand for increased vegetation cover is also increasing. Animal feed and vegetation by-products such as wood and soils are under tremendous pressure at present. The need of the hour is to manage vegetation sustainably to meet societal expectations.

Soil degradation is the result of poor soil management. The consequent decline in vegetation and its products such as feed, fibre, fuel and medicinal products has an adverse effect on soil productivity, human and livestock health and economic activities.

FAO’s role

FAO has implemented a number of projects related to sustainable production and better soil management. In Burkina Faso, a country in West Africa, the United Nations agency assisted farmers in five farming communities in the moist savannah zone to increase their crop-livestock systems. This was done to improve their livelihood.

In Central African countries, FAO is working towards improving food security by promoting the use and regulation of non-wood forest products. In Asia and the Pacific, FAO is fighting deforestation and degradation by promoting Assisted Natural Regeneration (ANR), a process of regenerating degraded grasslands and shrubs.

Asian scenario

Representatives and scientists from 19 countries in Asia are examining the best practices and challenges people are facing in protecting and managing the region’s soils—the foundation for food production relied on by billions of people.

“Soil is the basis for food, feed, fuel and fibre production and for many critical ecological services,” Hiroyuki Konuma, FAO assistant director-general and regional representative for Asia and the Pacific, said.

“Soil is the reservoir for at least a quarter of global biodiversity, and therefore requires the same attention as above-ground biodiversity, yet the critical importance of soil to our daily lives is often overlooked.”

However, in Asia soil degradation has become a serious problem. The area of productive soil is limited in relation to current technologies and is under increasing pressure of intensification and competing uses for cropping, forestry, pasture/rangeland and bioenergy, to satisfy the demands of the growing population for food, energy production, settlement and infrastructure and raw materials extraction.

“Most of the arable land in our region is already fully utilised, yet by 2050, in order to meet the needs of an additional two billion inhabitants of our planet, we will need to increase food production by at least 60 per cent. In order to do that, we must sustainably manage and protect our soils,” Konuma added.

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