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Symposium 2014

Losing Ground

The Challenge

From a human live perspective soil is not a renewable resource. It takes hundreds of years for just a few centimeters of lost soil to renew itself. Healthy soil provides plants with nutrients and water. Healthy soils are the basis for achieving food security around the world. But instead of respecting the vital role of fertile soil for global food security, decision makers often underestimate the importance of healthy soils. Soil is finite. Degradation processes such as erosion or desertification are causing the worldwide agriculture area to diminish.

Mineral fertilizer—especially nitrogen—is often the short term response to food insecurity. But the idea that more fertilizer will produce higher yields is far too simplistic. On the contrary: industrial agricultural production is a major cause of lower soil fertility and rising soil degradation worldwide. Inappropriate soil management causes long time soil losses which will undermine food security in the long run.

The session aims to debate the necessary political support for sustainable soil management policies. It aims to highlight best political practices as well as the challenges for soil protection.

How can soil fertility and soil quality be increased in order to improve food security and create resilience? Which role does synthetic and/or organic fertilizer play to increase soil fertility? Who profits from fertilizer subsidies and how do fertilizer subsidy programs affect national budgets? Are governments, international organizations, and development banks implementing the right political decision to avoid soil degradation? What does successful political support for sustainable soil management look like? What can we learn from good examples of sustainable soil management (e.g. Tegray, Ethiopia)?

    Proposals

    Proposal
    Symposium 2014

    It will be better for us: an international convention on the soil protection

    In the past few years, soil degradation has begun to become a more specific part of the international debate on environmental matters. From a human live perspective, soil is not a renewable resource. ...

    In the past few years, soil degradation has begun to become a more specific part of the international debate on environmental matters. From a human live perspective, soil is not a renewable resource. Soil is the basis of terrestrial biodiversity. Soil is the basis of all terrestrial food sources, and, arguably, marine food sources. Degradation processes such as erosion or desertification are causing the worldwide agriculture area to diminish. It takes hundreds of years for just a few centimeters of lost soil to renew itself. Inappropriate soil use lead to the soil degradation and it is hard to renew the

    Polity, Academia, Business, Civil Society
    Proposal
    Symposium 2014

    Losing ground

    A discussion on sustainable soil management is timely. On 5 December of this year we will celebrate World Soil Day and the International Year of Soil will start. We should take the opportunity to high ...

    A discussion on sustainable soil management is timely. On 5 December of this year we will celebrate World Soil Day and the International Year of Soil will start. We should take the opportunity to highlight the importance of soil for human wellbeing and ecosystem services. At the international level, the FAO has established the Global Soil Partnership (GSP) in support of the adoption of sustainable development goals for soils. The GSP has identified five main pillars of action Promote sustainable management of soil resources for soil protection, conservation and sustainable productivity Encourage investment, technical cooperation, policy, education awareness and extension

    Polity, Academia, Business, Civil Society

    Background Paper

    Background Paper
    Symposium 2014

    Is Healthy Soil the Low-Tech Solution to Climate Change?

    In her book The Soil Will Save Us, writer Kristin Ohlson interviews farmers, soil scientists, and agronomists and concludes that the low-cost, low-tech solution to climate change may be directly under ...

    In her book The Soil Will Save Us, writer Kristin Ohlson interviews farmers, soil scientists, and agronomists and concludes that the low-cost, low-tech solution to climate change may be directly underfoot—in healthy soil. Crops have an enormous capability to sequester carbon, she writes, but only if the soil is made to thrive with a mix of no-till farming, cover crops, and livestock grazing. Gabe Brown, a farmer and rancher in North Dakota, has been practicing this sort of agriculture for decades—and says it can be successful just about anywhere. (Read an excerpt from Ohlson's book here.)

    Listen to: Is Healthy Soil the Low-Tech Solution to Climate Change?

    Podcast Aug. 22, 2014 | Produced by Christopher Intagliata, Senior Producer, Science Friday

    Polity, Academia, Business, Civil Society
    Background Paper
    Symposium 2014

    Fertile Soils - Fundamental in the Struggle against Hunger and Climate Change

    When experts, politicians and stakeholders discuss global challenges such as achieving food security and combatting climate change, they fail to consider one of the most vital resources of all: soils. ...

    When experts, politicians and stakeholders discuss global challenges such as achieving food security and combatting climate change, they fail to consider one of the most vital resources of all: soils. And no wonder - the multiple functions of soil are not exactly obvious at first glance. And: It takes hundreds of years for a few centimeters of lost soil to renew itself. Despite the enormous losses involved, soil degradation often occurs so slowly that it takes more than a single human lifetime for its effects to become noticeable. It is high time for rethinking and urgent acting! Protection of soils has to be a political goal as much as the fight against hunger and protection of the climate.

    Polity, Academia, Business, Civil Society

    Virtual Library

    Virtual Library File
    Symposium 2014

    A soiled reputation Adverse impacts of mineral fertilizers in tropical agriculture

    With food prices high and nearly a billion people going hungry, calls are getting louder for big, rapid increases in food production through agricultural intensification. And what better way to grow m ...

    With food prices high and nearly a billion people going hungry, calls are getting louder for big, rapid increases in food production through agricultural intensification. And what better way to grow more food than by adding fertilizer? Especially in Africa, where yields are low and the demand for food is high?

    The African Development Bank regards higher fertilization as one of the most promising ways to boost agricultural production and achieve food security. The Bank even talks of a “fertilizer crisis” in the continent, and calls on national governments to take immediate measures to overcome it. The “African Fertilizer Financing Mechanism”, based at the Bank since 2007, encourages and supports the production and distribution of fertilizer.

    But the idea that more fertilizer will produce higher yields is far too simplistic. On the contrary: industrial agricultural production is a major cause of lower soil fertility and rising soil degradation worldwide. The improper and disproportionate use of chemical fertilizers drives this trend. This study opposes the Bank’s recommendations and offers a critical analysis of fertilizer subsidies. Instead, it focuses on various aspects of soil fertility. This is because the nature of soils in the tropics and subtropics present enormous challenges that must be faced when including fertilizer in a comprehensive soil management strategy. That is the only way to improve soil fertility and, ultimately, to rise yields.

    Fertile soils are among our most important resources worldwide. Healthy soils store water, are home to a large share of biodiversity, and store carbon. Fertilizer subsidy programmes ignore the challenges and potentials of agriculture that conserves the resources on which it depends. Only healthy soils will be able to meet the food requirements of nine billion people in the future.

    Virtual Library File
    Symposium 2014

    Assessing Global Land Use - Balancing Consumption With Sustainable Supply

    Since its inception, UNEP’s International Resource Panel (IRP) has focused its efforts on bridging the gap between science and policy to generate sustainable, effective and realistic solutions to ch ...

    Since its inception, UNEP’s International Resource Panel (IRP) has focused its efforts on bridging the gap between science and policy to generate sustainable, effective and realistic solutions to challenges in global resource management. The Panel’s report “Decoupling Natural Resource Use and Environmental Impacts from Economic Growth”, shows that breaking the link between human well-being and resource consumption is both necessary and possible.

    In its first report, Assessing Biofuels: Towards Sustainable Production and Use of Resources, the IRP Working Group on Land and Soils raised serious concerns about the environmental impacts of land use change induced by the growing demand for biofuels. In this second report, Assessing Global Land Use: Balancing Consumption with Sustainable Supply, the working group provides a comprehensive global assessment of increased pressures on natural resources from food, fuels and fibre, identifying the main drivers and providing innovative, practical options to mitigate their impacts.

    There is a growing recognition that the complexity of today’s resource management challenges calls for trade-off analysis and integrated solutions and this report responds to this call. A central question answered by the authors is the extent to which global cropland can expand to serve the growing demand for food and non-food biomass, while keeping the consequences of land use change, such as biodiversity loss, at a sustainable level.

    Under business as usual conditions, the growing demand for food and non-food biomass could lead to a gross expansion of cropland in the range of 320 to 850 million hectares by 2050. Expansion of such magnitude is simply not compatible with the imperative of sustaining the basic life-supporting services that ecosystems provide such as maintaining soil productivity, regulating water resources, sustaining forest cover or conserving biodiversity.

    The report finds that gross expansion of croplands by 2050 could be limited to somewhere between 8 per cent and 37 per cent, provided a multi-pronged strategy is followed for meeting the food, energy and other requirements of the global economy. Such a strategy would need to increase efficiency levels across the life cycle of agricultural commodities and also in the use and re-use of land-based resources.

    Virtual Library File
    Symposium 2014

    Towards integrated governance of land and soil: Addressing challenges and moving ahead.”

    Soils support human wellbeing and provide indispensable ecosystem services, such as water regulation, biodiversity conservation and carbon storage, the latter of which is essential to the mitigation o ...

    Soils support human wellbeing and provide indispensable ecosystem services, such as water regulation, biodiversity conservation and carbon storage, the latter of which is essential to the mitigation of climate change (Lal et al. 2007). Moreover, soils are the basis for food security. The state and the functioning of soils are intrinsically linked to decisions regarding the management and use of land. Over the last 50 years, available cropland has fallen from 0.45 ha/per capita to 0.25 ha/per capita (FAO 2011). Adding up to this dramatic trend, soils are increasingly deteriorated by different forms of human induced degradation, e.g. erosion, contamination and sealing.

    In order to tackle these problems, ways must be found to coordinate the great variety of roles and uses of soils and land as two explicitly interdependent phenomena. This task is demanding as the issues at stake play out at various dimensions, times and scales. It is therefore not surprising that soil related problems are presently addressed as if they were disconnected from their social causes, in particular those that belong into the realm of land governance. The soil sciences accordingly tend to have little consideration for questions regarding the social drivers of soil degradation or the political coordination of contested soil uses. The few existing initiatives for global soil conservation include attempts for international governance but regularly underemphasize that the overexploitation of soils is often rooted in local property right disputes, insecure tenure or inequitable land distribution. Vice versa, in the contemporary discourse on land governance – with its strong focus on the local political economy of land - there is hardly any reflection on the global nature of soil related uses and functions. Moreover, in this latter field of thought there is hardly any consideration for implications that derive from the physical characteristics of soils. The disconnection between the associated academic fields and their polarized discourses represents a severe limitation if we aim for a critical debate on how a joint coordination of the uses of soil and land can look like in the future.