FAO chief Jacques Diouf on Wednesday warned that pressure on the world’s soil resources and land degradation were threatening global food security.
Diouf called for “a renewed international effort to assure sufficient fertile and healthy soils today and for future generations”.
He was speaking at the start of a three-day meeting of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to launch a new Global Soil Partnership for Food Security and Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation.
“Soil is an essential component of the world’s production systems and ecosystems,” Diouf said. “But it is also a fragile and non-renewable resource. It is very easily degraded and it is slow, difficult and expensive to regenerate.”
According to the FAO, in Africa alone 6.3 million hectares (15.6 million acres) of degraded farmland have lost their fertility and water-holding capacity and need to be regenerated to meet the demand for food of a population set to more than double in the next 40 years.
Niger’s Planning Minister Amadou Boubacar Cisse warned that “in Africa the exploitation of land is people’s main resource”.
In 1982 the FAO adopted a World Soil Charter spelling out the basic principles and guidelines for sustainable soil management and soil protection to be followed by governments and international organisations.
But Diouf said implementation of the charter by many countries and world regions was slow and “new efforts to implement it must be made as soon as possible”.
Besides helping implement the provisions of the World Soil Charter, the Global Soil Partnership is intended to raise awareness and motivate action by decision-makers on the importance of soils for food security and climate change adaptation and mitigation.
The partnership is also aimed at providing a favourable policy environment and technical solutions for soil protection and management and at helping mobilize resources and expertise for joint activities and programmes.
The Global Soil Partnership will complement the 15-year-old Global Water Partnership initiated by the United Nations Development Programme and the World Bank in 1996 to coordinate the development and management of water, land, and related resources in order to maximise economic and social welfare without compromising the sustainability of vital environmental systems.
The current Horn of Africa crisis, with the ongoing famine in Somalia, is the most severe food security emergency in the world today, the FAO has said.
Besides issues of insecurity and governance, the crisis is caused to a large extent by inadequate soil and water management policies and practices.
The Rome meeting is expected to start work on an Action Plan on sustainable soil management to develop synergies between partners and bring together work currently being done separately on soil survey, assessment and monitoring, soil productivity, soil carbon, soil biodiversity and ecology and soil and water conservation