ABC Rural Online

By Alex McBratney and Andrea Koch

Soil security refers to the maintenance and improvement of soils worldwide so that they can continue to provide food, fibre and fresh water, contribute to energy and climate sustainability and help to maintain biodiversity and protect ecosystem goods and services.

It is a realisation that soil has an integral part to play in addressing the major existential issues facing the world today, and in fact 'soil security' is, and has to be recognised as, one of those issues.

When an international coalition of scientists got together to form the Soil Carbon Initiative, convened by the United States Studies Centre and the Faculty of Agriculture and the Environment at the University of Sydney in early 2011, they realised that carbon may be part of a solution to climate change but 'soil security' itself is the keystone issue.

Since then discussion has widened in an attempt to bring policy on soil security in line with that on food and water security.

A one-day meeting was held in Washington DC in September 2011, and in April 2012 the Australian government held a workshop on soil security at the UN in New York in relation to the Rio+20 negotiations.

It was hosted very ably by the Australian Ambassador to the UN, Gary Quinlan.

Neil McKenzie, Rattan Lal and Alex McBratney spoke.

The University of Sydney held a one-day symposium on this topic in July, which was very well covered by the media.

Speakers included Rattan Lal and Johan Bouma.

A short symposium was organised during Global Soil Week in Berlin in late November, at a meeting organized by the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Potsdam, Germany, and its international partners

Our colleague Robert Hill, former environment minister and UN ambassador, has been integral to the organisation of all of these meetings.

The first global conference on soil security is tentatively planned for April 2014.

A paper explaining the concept further has been submitted to a global policy journal.

Soil security is more than simply soil quality or soil health and currently research is focussing on its scientific, economic, social and policy dimensions and how they can be quantitatively evaluated.

The Australian government has played a key role in bringing soil security to world attention.

Both Kevin Rudd and Bob Carr, as foreign ministers, have been briefed on the subject.

Prime Minister Gillard appointed ex-Governor-General Michael Jeffrey as the official national advocate on soil, showing that soil policy has reached a level of importance in government circles.

Grass roots movements like Carbon Farmers, have brought soil to the national attention.

We are fortunate at the present time to have advocates of great stature like Michael Jeffrey, Penny Wensley and Robert Hill.

Soil science has been searching for a grand narrative that plays out globally, soil security provides that, and places soil scientists in a key position for contributing to the earth’s future sustainability.

This article was originally published at ABC Rural Online