AgriLife Today

By Kay Ledbetter

The general public may not be as tied to the land as they once were, but scientists want them to see more than “dirt” when they view the precious commodity of “soil” and be a part of its future protection.

A recent meeting of the 2015 Global Soil Security Symposium brought scientists, policy influencers, investors and citizens together at Texas A&M University in College Station to start the process of developing an international soil security policy.

Whether it is needed to filter nutrients, produce biomass, grow raw materials for food and fiber, or secure carbon, the soil is a valuable natural resource that needs to be maintained in order to allow for sustainable production, said Dr. Cristine Morgan, Texas A&M department of soil and crop sciences professor and a co-chair for the event.

Soil capability can be limited by erosion due to natural causes such as wind and water, or human forces such as building and surface sealing, Morgan said.

“Soil security requires maintenance and improvement to produce food, fiber and fresh water; to contribute to sustainable energy production; adapt to climate changes; and to maintain biodiversity, human health and function in ecosystems,” she said.

Soil security, like food security, has a number of dimensions that interact with environmental, social and economic components, according to a report released from the event.

Soil conditions reflect human management and how that alters or enhances the soil functions.

“Much of the focus on soil condition is associated with agriculture, but functions of soil not linked to agriculture — urbanization, mining and nature preserves — are equally important,” Morgan said.

The assessment of soil condition is commonly associated with measurement of the soil’s organic carbon as an indicator of improved condition, however, improvements in soil condition or function may not always be reflected by changes in organic carbon.

Those concerned with achieving soil security recognize that attainment involves scientific, economic, industry and political engagement to effectively and credibly inform policy and legal frameworks and implement appropriate actions, according to the report.

Those attending the symposium outlined the following goals in the area of soil condition:

  • Reduce soil nutrient depletion by 50 percent by 2030.
  • Increase water capture by 20 percent by 2030.
  • Increase carbon content of agriculture-based topsoil by 20 percent by 2030.
  • Reduce soil losses to the tolerable soil erosion rate for 90 percent of managed soil by 2030.

The group determined aesthetic consideration can drive the general population to appreciate and understand the relevance of soil.

“We hope that participatory learning by managers and experiential learning at schools can have the potential to change mindsets on soil value and management,” Morgan said. “Intergenerational equity is a strong human driver of soil security.

“The soil health concept provides an effective means of connecting the importance of sustainable soil management by soil managers with the broader community,” she said. “And, it provides the means to help build recognition by society of the important role that soil managers play in maintaining soil function for the production of food, fiber and other ecosystem services.”

According to the report, a 90 percent awareness and understanding of soil security among the general public by 2030 was set as a major goal in the area of connecting society to the soil. Toward achieving this goal, more specific objectives may include the following:

  • Integrate soil security policy with agricultural policy in nations that are net exporters of food by 2020.
  • Establishment of community gardens in 90 percent of primary schools globally, supported by a learning curriculum, by 2020.
  • Increase the area of agricultural soil managed by those with soil management certification by 50 percent by 2030.
  • Engage 0.1 percent of the population to nurture and connect their values with securing soil by 2030.
  • Increase the use of practices focusing on soil aesthetics into strategies to secure soil by 100 percent by 2030.

The group sought to tie in economics by suggesting natural capital should influence 90 percent of the lending decisions by 2030; and soil management accreditation should be incorporated into 90 percent of environmental stewardship branding or labeling of products by 2030.

While there are national arrangements, international policy around soil security so far has been missing, the report stated. However, with the approximately 85 people from 14 countries and 40 institutions meeting in this round of discussion, and other meetings planned, that is expected to change.

The discussion will continue with a focus of developing dialogue among land managers, multidisciplinary scientists and policymakers at the 2016 Global Soil Security Symposium in Paris.

Over the next year, a quantitative framework for assessing each of the dimensions will also be developed. Also, those who want to achieve global soil security will continue to increase awareness through conservation, a book on global soil security that will include the talks shared at the first symposium, and continued conversations within and between governments.

The symposium was jointly organized by Texas A&M University, the University of Sydney, the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney and the Soil Science Society of America. It represents the International Union of Soil Science’s contribution to the International Year of Soils.

The symposium was supported by the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Soil Science Division and Texas A&M AgriLife Research. Governmental bodies and organizations represented included the Australian Government, USDA, the European Commission and the Industrial Safety and Environmental Protection of France.

This article was originally published at AgriLife Today