Effective action is required to tackle soil degradation for our food security and sustainable development. Moujahed Achouri, Director of FAO Land and Water Division hosting the Global Soil Partnership sheds light on the efforts being made on an international scale on addressing sustainable soil management.

Soils constitute the foundation for healthy food production and thus contribute to food security globally and locally. There is an urgent need to address soils’ sustainable management for feeding a growing population that is expected to reach 9.5 billion people by 2050.

In response to these challenges, a new body, the Global Soil Partnership (GSP) was put in place in 2012 by FAO and its members. It acts as a major vehicle to catalyse effective and concerted actions against soil degradation and promote sustainable soil management as a priority in relation to food security.

The mandate of the GSP is to improve governance of the planet’s limited soil resources to guarantee healthy and productive soils for a food secure world and boost the provision of other essential ecosystem services, in accordance with the sovereign right of each State over its natural resources.

Why the Global Soil Partnership?

Soils constitute the foundation for food production and thus contribute to food security locally and globally. Despite the critical role that soil plays in people’s lives, there is an alarming increasing degradation of soil resources due to inappropriate management practices. Recent findings show that one third of our global soils are facing moderate to severe degradation, affecting the productivity of one billion smallholders whose livelihoods depend on natural resources.

There is an urgent need for concerted efforts to ensure worldwide sustainable soils management, key to food security but also in order to face the challenges of climate change and competing demands over this resource. FAO’s “State of the Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture” (SOLAW, 2012) estimates that on average only a 0.20 ha of arable and productive land will be available per person in 2020 compared to 0.43 ha in 1960. By 2050, only 0.10 ha may be available if soil degradation is not significantly reduced.

It’s exactly why, to address these concerns and respond to these challenges, that in 2012 FAO established the Global Soil Partnership, with the aim to advocate and promote sustainable soil management at all levels.

Sustainable Soil Management and GSP

The area of productive soil is limited and under increasing pressure from intensification and competing uses to satisfy demands of growing populations for diverse products: from croplands, to forests and pastures/rangeland, from settlement and infrastructure to raw materials. If soils are degraded, they are very difficult and costly to restore or rehabilitate within a human time frame. Therefore, sustainable soil management is simply a must.

Sustainable use of soils has been defined by the new World Soil Charter as: “Soil management is sustainable if the supporting, provisioning, regulating, and cultural services provided by soil are maintained or enhanced without significantly impairing either the soil functions that enable those services or biodiversity”.

In this respect, the GSP is designed to raise awareness, contribute to the development of capacities, build on best available science, and facilitate the exchange of knowledge and technologies among stakeholders for the sustainable management and use of soil resources.

While there have been numerous regional and international projects, initiatives and actions in the past, the GSP aims to provide an international governance body to advocate for soils with a unified voice, coordinate soils’ related initiatives among partners, and ensure that knowledge and soil’s recognition are appropriately represented in the global dialogues and decision making processes.

The GSP is organised around 5 main pillars of action:

1. Promote sustainable management of soil resources;

2. Encourage investment, technical cooperation, policy, education awareness and extension in soils;

3. Promote targeted soil research and development focusing on identified gaps and priorities;

4. Enhance the quantity and quality of soil data and information; and

5. Support harmonization of methods, measurements and indicators for sustainable soil management, with a national validation that takes into account the differences of production systems and ecosystems.

The GSP’s 5 pillars of action “strive to achieve a land degradation neutral world in the context of sustainable development” as agreed by the Rio+20 outcome document, as well as the “zero hunger challenge” proposed by the United Nations. Sustainable management of soil resources contributes directly and indirectly to all 3 Rio Conventions (UNFCCC, CBD and UNCCD) in terms of sustainable soil management, soil fertility and productivity, soil carbon fluxes, and soil biodiversity.

Opportunities to embrace

Soils, which have been overlooked for some time, are now under discussion in global agendas and are being given greater attention. The 5th December has been recently declared by the United Nations General Assembly as “World Soil Day” (WSD) while 2015 has been designated “International Year of Soils” (IYS2015) under the framework of the Global Soil Partnership. There is therefore, real momentum for a collaborative and effective action towards achieving sustainable soil management at country, regional and global levels, thus improving food security.

The IYS is to be a major platform for awareness raising. Its key objectives are:

  • To achieve full recognition of the prominent contributions of soils to food security, climate change adaptation and mitigation, essential ecosystem services, poverty alleviation and sustainable development;
  • To promote effective policies and actions for the sustainable management and protection of soil resources;
  • To sensitise decision-makers about the need for robust investment in sustainable soil management activities, to ensure healthy soils for different land users and population groups;
  • To catalyse initiatives in connection with the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) process and Post-2015 agenda;
  • To advocate rapid enhancement of capacities and systems for soil information collection and monitoring at all levels (global, regional and national); and finally
  • To create full awareness of all stakeholders about the fundamental roles of soils for human life.

Every activity that national governments, international organisations, academic institutions, NGOs, civil society and general public will carry out in connection with the WSD and IYS will play a role in mobilising the global community to take action towards sustainable soil management. A formal launch event of the IYS will be organised during the 69th session of the UN General Assembly on 5th December 2014 in New York to coincide with the first official World Soil Day.


Moujahed Achouri

Director, Land and Water Division

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations




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