Soil and Land Initiatives Seek to Spur Action Across SDGs
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The Land Portal Foundation, the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the Global Land Tool Network (GLTN) launched a weekly blog series promoting land monitoring and information sharing for the SDGs.

Seven Latin American countries launched a project to measure the organic carbon contained in their soils as part of a regional climate change adaptation and mitigation strategy.

Researchers at the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), a CGIAR research center, concluded that micronutrients could boost crop yields in Africa by more than 25%.

Australia presented the first “report card” on actions to implement the Revised World Soil Charter.

September 2017: Recent research and initiatives undertaken by UN agencies, governments and NGOs highlight the links between soil health and the achievement of development goals and priorities related to climate change, agriculture, gender, biodiversity and poverty. Among them, the Land Portal Foundation, the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the Global Land Tool Network (GLTN) launched a weekly blog series promoting land monitoring and information sharing for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Under the auspices of the Global Soil Partnership (GSP) of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), regional and country-level activities are underway to boost soil monitoring capacities and data sharing for sustainable soil management.

In the first featured post under the new blog series titled, ‘Land and the Sustainable Development Goals,’ Jeffrey Sachs, SDSN Director, describes land use as “the most important bridge between the SDGs,” noting that land is at the heart of poverty eradication, food security, gender equality, water management, decent work, sustainable cities, ending climate change, and protecting biodiversity. Calling for new approaches to land-use planning, he highlights the launch of a study known as FABLE (Food, Agriculture, Biodiversity, Land Use, and Energy), which aims to enhance interactions among agronomists, foresters, conservationists, hydrologists, and climate scientists, as well as with the communities whose lives they impact. [Land and the SDGs Blog]

This theme is taken up in a Working Paper published by the FAO’s Land and Water Division, which explores current and emerging needs in land resource planning (LRP) for food security, sustainable livelihoods, integrated landscape management, and restoration. The paper argues that the juxtaposed challenges of population growth, demands on limited resources by diverse actors, land degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change require the rational use of resources to sustain and enhance productivity and maintain resilient ecosystems. Noting the need for an updated set of integrated landscape management tools and approaches, the paper presents the results of a survey of LRP tools and approaches that led to the establishment of the FAO’s Land Resources Planning Toolbox to help decision-makers and land users put sustainable land management into practice. [Publication: Land Resource Planning for Sustainable Land Management]

During the 4th Regular Meeting of the South American Soil Partnership, held in Montevideo, Uruguay, in August 2017, seven countries launched a project to measure the organic carbon contained in their soils as part of a regional climate change adaptation and mitigation strategy. One of the main objectives of the project, which is being undertaken in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Uruguay, is to release national soil organic carbon maps and work on a harmonized regional soil map by the end of 2017. By supporting countries to build their national soil information systems, the project aims to contribute to improved local decision making and to advise farmers and land users on how to restore degraded soil, tackle environmental challenges, increase yields and raise agricultural productivity. The project also seeks to strengthen the Latin American Soils Information System (SISLAC), as a decision making and policy development tool for the agricultural and rural development sector. [FAO-GSP Press Release on National Soil Information Systems in Latin America]

Reporting on progress at the global level, the GSP highlights ongoing efforts to link up such national and regional initiatives into an overall Global Soil Information System (GLOSIS) to underpin the monitoring of soil- and land-related SDGs, especially indicator 15.3.1 (Proportion of land that is degraded over total land area). The report discusses the planned publication of the first of several GLOSIS-associated products, including the Global Soil Organic Carbon Map (GSOCmap), by the end of 2017, noting this is expected to enhance estimations of soil carbon sequestration potentials, hence contributing to assessing the vulnerability of soil functions under climate change. The report further notes that the related ‘Soil Organic Carbon Mapping Cookbook,’ released in June 2017, offers an overview of SOC mapping procedures and methodologies and guidelines for using conventional upscaling and digital soil mapping techniques.

The GSP report states that, where national SOC maps do not exist or do not conform to the given specifications, the global project also seeks to support countries to produce such maps, including through a series of on-the-job GSOC map trainings at the regional level to improve countries’ technical capacities. [FAO-GSP Press Release on Progress in the Global Soil Information System]

In Africa, a meta-analysis of data from more than 40 peer-reviewed studies by researchers at the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), a CGIAR research center, concluded that micronutrients could boost crop yields by more than 25%. The findings could offer new options for decision makers and land users as degraded soils in some areas are increasingly unresponsive to fertilizers. The study suggests that adding blends of micro and macro nutrients could offer a solution to restore soil functions, while cautioning that more research is needed to find out how, and where, the right nutrients can be applied to increase yields.

Discussing the potential impact of the study, Shamie Zingore, director at the International Plant Nutrition Institute, noted that despite the scattered data that was previously available, a few countries, such as Ethiopia and Mali have started to promote context-specific blended fertilizers to replace lost soil nutrients and realize yield increases over wider areas. He emphasized that the results of the CIAT study should encourage others “to follow suit urgently, and create a unified response to need for tailored fertilizers.” The research project was supported by the USAID Feed the Future’s Africa RISING Program. [CIAT Press Release]

Meanwhile, Australia presented the first “report card” on actions to implement the Revised World Soil Charter, which was adopted by the 39th FAO Conference in June 2015. The revised charter updates principles and actions endorsed in the first version (1981) and aims to inform decision-making at global levels and foster implementation of sustainable soil management at regional and local levels.

Assessing his country’s performance, specifically with regard to the nine action items set out for governments, Australian Soil Scientist Noel Schoknecht highlighted the promotion of sustainable soil management (SSM) and socio-economic and institutional conditions favorable to SSM, especially welcoming the Australian advanced policy framework on contaminants. He awarded the government a “fail” grade for “the lack of a national institutional framework for monitoring, the development of ad-hoc policies and legislation on soils, and the attention paid to the issue of climate change in connection with carbon sequestration in soils.” [FAO-GSP Press Release on Australia Report Card]

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