A whole week of soils

Alberto Orgiazzi, PhD
Martha Dunbar, PhD student
European Commission, Joint Research Centre, Soil Action

No, I am not joking, there is a whole week dedicated to soil: the “Global Soil Week - Losing Ground?”. In a clear and warm Berlin (Germany), the 2nd Global Soil Week (GSW) took place from the 27th to 31st of October. The GSW is an initiative of the Global Soil Forum, which was established by the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) in 2011. GSW is also supported within the framework of the Global Soil Partnership (GSP), launched in 2011 by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and a group of partners with the aim of improving global governance of the world’s soil resources to guarantee healthy, productive soils for a food-secure world.

Global Soil Week was again a major success this year. More than 500 participants from over 70 different countries discussed soil related matters at a Global scale for four days. It was nice to see people from all over the world attending the plenaries all together, dividing into more than 20 different sessions throughout the four days and chatting about soil during coffee breaks.

GSW is not only meetings and discussions, you can also get dirty! There were many stands showing new and unusual uses of soil: from paint colors created from soils to the canvas of sand from deserts and “seedballs” of soil allowing seeds to be spread throughout our cities.

The “nexus” was chosen as a key word of the event and “Losing ground?” was the driving force of the entire week. Many discussions focused their attention on different aspects, not only the physical loss of soil (soil sealing), but also the necessity to not lose more “ground” and begin moving towards a more sustainable management of soil.  Of course, losing soil also means losing organisms living in it, i.e. its biodiversity.

(Right: Global Soil Week attendees get down and dirty, putting a plant on a city sidewalk.  Photo from Global Soil Week website's photo gallery)

A delegation of the Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative (GSBI) attended GSW and had the great opportunity to co-host the session titled “Get it, Use it, Improve it: Global Soil Information”. Even if this sounds a bit enigmatic, the mission of the session was clear: debating the necessity (and urgency) to reach uniformity in handling soil data. We are all studying soil, yet we often use different parameters and tools, leading to difficulties in comparing results and drawing reliable conclusions. Also the surveys on soil biodiversity require standard procedures in order to obtain more valuable outcomes.

The session was well chaired by Ronald Vargas (FAO) and divided into two parts. The first part was dedicated to discussing the importance of having a global and standard system to collect and analyze soil data (a full list of speakers and presentations is available at the above link to the session’s program). The second part was organized by the GSBI. Dr. Fatima Moreira (Federal University of Lavras, Brazil), Dr. Philippe Lemanceau (INRA Dijon, France), Dr. Luca Montanarella (EC JRC, Italy) and Dr. Alberto Orgiazzi (EC JRC, Italy) had the honor of representing the Initiative.

Fatima introduced the GSBI and the GSB-Assessment, Philippe stressed the importance of studying soil biodiversity at a large scale by showing the good example of the European project ECOFINDERs, Alberto presented (for the first time at an official event) the GSB-Atlas and Luca moderated the final discussion. Participants responded positively to our inputs; particularly concerning the Atlas. Specifically highlighted was the importance of distributing it as widely as possible (e.g., translation into as many languages as possible and use of new e-tools) in order to make it one of the main means of raising awareness of soil biodiversity across the general public.

"Sure, there is still a lot of work to do, but we have the strong feeling that the path we took is the right one."

Despite the fact that the delegation of “soil biodiversity people” was quite small, we saw a great and ever-increasing interest in this important issue. We think that the presence of GSBI was important and confirmed that it is high time for soil biodiversity to be included in all future discussions in order to achieve sustainable implementation of soil management strategies. Sure, there is still a lot of work to do, but we have the strong feeling that the path we took is the right one.

Finally, a couple of personal wishes for the next GSW (by the way, we wrote these comments in the final evaluation sheet and hope they will listen to us):

  • To have a more significant attendance of soil scientists. I think that decisions need to be taken with the contribution and support of research.
  • To make the event open to the general public. People need to be involved in order to understand the beauty and fascination of soil and its (bio)diversity.

Last thing left to say? See you at the 3rd Global Soil Week in 2014!!

(Above left: GSBI's Luca Montanarella signs his name on the event banner in soil paint.  Photo from Global Soil Week website's photo gallery)