8 December 2016
WSD 2016 Highlights “Strategic Alliance” Between Soils and Pulses
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WSD2016 highlighted the role of pulses in unlocking the full potential of soils to support food production, store and supply clean water, preserve biodiversity, sequester more carbon and increase resilience to a changing climate.

The continuity between the International Year of Soils 2015 and the International Year of Pulses 2016 was highlighted by the launch of the flagship FAO/Global Soil Partnership publication, ‘Soils & Pulses: symbiosis for life’ at various events, including ‘Landscape Day’ at the UN Biodiversity Conference.

5 December 2016: More than 140 events took place on five continents to celebrate World Soil Day (WSD) 2016, under the theme of ‘Soil & Pulses, symbiosis for life,’ raising awareness of the importance of pulse crops to human and soil health.

World Soil Day is celebrated annually on 5 December. The 2016 celebrations conveyed continuity from the global focus on soils in 2015, which was designated the International Year of Soils (IYS 2015), and the International Year of Pulses in 2016 (IYP 2016).

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivered a message to mark the Day during a WSD 2016 kick-off event on 2 December 2016, at UN Headquarters in New York, US. He called for greater attention to the pressing issues affecting soils, including climate change, antimicrobial resistance, soil-borne diseases and contamination. Ban also highlighted the role of pulses in unlocking the full potential of soils to support food production, store and supply clean water, preserve biodiversity, sequester more carbon and increase resilience to a changing climate.

The WSD 2016 kick-off event was co-organized by the Permanent Missions of Lesotho, Thailand and Turkey, in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). The event also paid tribute to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand in recognition of his lifelong work on soils and sustainable soil management, with special celebrations hosted by the Government of Thailand also taking place at FAO headquarters in Rome, Italy.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes soils as crucial resources in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with seven out of the 17 SDGs containing targets and indicators that address soil preservation, management and restoration.

In a practical demonstration of the Day’s theme, the internationally acclaimed Chef Ron Pickarski, founder of Eco-Cuisine and whose recipes feature in the FAO Publication ‘Pulses: nutritious seeds for a sustainable future,’ showcased various dishes to demonstrate how pulses can provide a consistent source of protein and other important dietary nutrients, while contributing to a more sustainable environment. [UN News Centre Press Release] [FAO Press Release on New York Kick-Off Event]

Further highlighting the synergy between soils and pulses, the flagship FAO/Global Soil Partnership (GSP) publication, ‘Soils & Pulses: symbiosis for life’ was launched. The publication aims to raise awareness among policy makers and practitioners of the various ways in which the “strategic alliance” between soils and pulses forges more sustainable food and agriculture systems. Describing pulses as “architects of soil health,” the FAO report highlights their beneficial characteristics, including: fostering soil carbon sequestration and cleaner water filtration; increasing resilience to drought; providing fodder for livestock; and hosting special soil bacteria that enable the biological fixation of nitrogen, “a natural process that would cost an additional US$10 billion a year in synthetic fertilizers.” The report further notes that the world is currently losing soil 10 to 20 times faster than it is replenishing it, a trend pulses can help offset. The role of protein-rich pulses in addressing hunger, food insecurity, malnutrition and rural incomes, and hence contributing directly to several SDGs is also highlighted.

The FAO/GSP report ‘Soils & Pulses: symbiosis for life’ notes that the world is currently losing soil 10 to 20 times faster than it is replenishing it, a trend pulses can help offset.

The report notes, however, that fully capitalizing on the strategic and tailored use of pulse-soil synergies will require more comprehensive data on soils. It highlights ongoing work by the GSP to enhance the quantity and quality of soil data by establishing the Global Soil Information System, which is also essential to guide monitoring of sustainable soil management. [FAO WSD2016 Press Release] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story: IYP 2016 Events Promote Pulses as “Climate-Smart” Food of the Future]

Landscape Day at the UN Biodiversity Conference, taking place from 2-17 December 2016, in Cancun, Mexico, was co-organized by FAO and Germany’s Institute for Biodiversity and Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research. The discussions included a presentation of three case studies contained in the book ‘Making Sense of Research for Sustainable Land Management,’ which was co-published by the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research and the Centre for Development and Environment of the University of Bern. The seven-year project, which involved more than 600 scientists working on 12 regional projects, tested sustainable land management (SLM) solutions in diverse contexts around the world characterized by a confluence of changing land use patterns, climate change, loss of biodiversity, population growth, globalization and urbanization.

It also investigated stemming the current loss of the equivalent of 12 million hectares of fertile, arable land each year, as estimated by the UNCCD. Researchers used field measurements and modeling to illustrate the impact of specific forms of land use, in addition to developing various scenarios to demonstrate the consequences of climate change and changes in land use at local and regional levels. Among strategies for “sustainable intensification” highlighted in the book are: sustainable cotton production in China; the deployment of non-tillage farming on large-scale farms in Siberia; improved subsistence farming in Madagascar; integrated management of river catchment areas and reservoirs used for hydropower and irrigation in Brazil and Viet Nam; and integrated land and water management in the Okavango catchment area of southern Africa. [Global Landscapes Forum Press Release on WSD2016 at Landscape Day] [IISD RS Coverage of Landscape Day at the UN Biodiversity Conference]

Also coinciding with WSD 2016, the 155th session of the FAO Council formally adopted the Voluntary Guidelines for Sustainable Soil Management, which were finalized by the GSP in 2016 following an extensive consultation process. The VGSSM are expected to support governments and institutions in mainstreaming sustainable development and implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the SDGs. The FAO Council also endorsed the establishment of the Global Soil Information System and supported plans to develop a Global Soil Organic Carbon map by 2017.

Other highlights of the Day included the presentation of the first Glinka World Soil Prize, currently sponsored by the Russian Federation, to Instituto Geografico Agustin Codazzi (IGAC) in Colombia to recognize its leadership and activities contributing to the promotion of sustainable soil management. As coordinator of the Colombian Spatial Data Infrastructure, IGAC trains soil scientists from around the world and has spearheaded the modernization of geospatial technologies in Latin America. The Glinka World Soil Prize honors the legacy of Konstantin Glinka, a renowned Russian soil scientist whose work focused on the geographic distribution of soils. The prize honors notable individuals or organizations who promote sustainable soil management and the protection of soil resources directly impacting the well-being of populations. [GSP Newsletter 10, 2016] [The Voluntary Guidelines for Sustainable Soil Management] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story: GSP ITPS Finalizes Draft Voluntary Guidelines on Soil Management, Plans for Monitoring Soil-related SDGs]

Various other publications highlighting the contribution of healthy soils to SLM were published in the lead up to WSD 2016.

In a chapter of the 2016 Global Food Policy Report titled, ‘Land and Soil Management: Promoting Healthy Soils for Healthier Agricultural Systems,’ the authors presented evidence that unsustainable land management practices are driving the annual loss of 75 billion tons of soil from global cropland, with consequences that go beyond agriculture. To help combat this loss, the chapter suggested practical actions that can improve soil health, including using site-specific sustainable intensification technologies, planting more perennial vegetation, and promoting climate-smart soil and land management practices. [International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) Press Release] [Land and Soil Management: Promoting Healthy Soils for Healthier Agricultural Systems]

FAO has also published diverse soil studies, including the French version of ‘Boosting Africa’s Soils,’ which explores how to improve the productivity of Africa’s nutrient-poor soils through a sustainable soil management framework that allows for more sustainable and resource-efficient production systems. Other recent publications include: ‘Soil Loss Assessment in Malawi,’ which establishes the current rates and trends of soil loss as a baseline for future monitoring of soil loss in the country; ‘Land resources and food security of Central Asia and Southern Caucasus,’ which discusses the current situation with regard to soil resources and land degradation, and explores how to improve the food supply using a systematic approach that encompasses multiple components of the landscape; and ‘The international year of soils revisited: promoting sustainable soil management beyond 2015,’ reviewing some of the key achievements of IYS2015, such as the launch of the World’s Soil Resources report and the inclusion of soil in the SDGs. It discusses how the Global Soil Partnership can continue to consolidate this momentum through a series of actions, programmes and initiatives. [Global Soil Partnership Publications]

World Soil Day was initially proposed in a 2002 resolution by the International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS), with the aim of raising awareness of the importance of soil as a critical component of the natural system and as a vital contributor to human well-being. Under the leadership of the Kingdom of Thailand and within the framework of the Global Soil Partnership, FAO has supported the formal establishment of the World Soil Day as a global awareness raising platform. In 2013, the FAO Conference unanimously endorsed World Soil Day and requested official adoption at the 68th UN General Assembly. In December 2013, the 68th UN General Assembly declared 5th of December as the World Soil Day. Since 2012, the FAO-GSP has led WSD celebration events around the world. [About World Soil Day]

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