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Wednesday, 14 January 2015

The International Year of Soils

By Bob Aston

Healthy soils are critical for global food production and provide a range of environmental services. In recognition of the importance of soil, the United Nations (UN) declared 2015 as the International Year of Soils. The launch of the International Year of Soils took place in December 5, 2014 during the celebration of the first official UN World Soil Day.
The International Year of Soils (IYS) aims to be a platform for raising awareness and understanding of the importance of soils for food security and essential eco-system functions. It is hoped that enough momentum can be generated to bring soils on as many agendas as possible thus promoting the sustainable management of this essentially non-renewable resource.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has been nominated to implement the IYS within the framework of the Global Soil Partnership and in collaboration with Governments and the Secretariat of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.
Some of the objectives of the IYS include; To achieve full recognition of the prominent contributions of soils to food security, climate change adaptation and mitigation, essential ecosystem services, poverty alleviation and sustainable development and to promote effective policies and actions for the sustainable management and protection of soil resources.
An agriculture officer collecting a sample of soil for analysis
Other objectives include; to sensitize decision makers about the need for robust investment in sustainable soil management activities aiming at healthy soils for different land users and population groups and to advocate rapid enhancement of capacities and systems for soil information collection and monitoring at all levels.
According to FAO, healthy soils are the foundation for food, fuel, fibre and even medicine. FAO approximates that 33 percent of the global soil resources are degraded due to erosion, compaction, soil sealing, salinization, soil organic matter and nutrient depletion, acidification and pollution.
Soil is the largest pool of organic carbon, which is essential for mitigating and adapting to climate change. Despite this there appears to be an alarming gap between recognition of the importance of soils and their appreciation and protection.
In Kenya, the yields of food crops per acre are on the decline partly due to continuous farming without adequate soil nutrients replenishment. This indicates the need for better soil management practices.
Soil is the most valuable and widespread natural resource which supports agricultural based livelihoods. However, there is a general decline in land productivity due to declining soil fertility.

In February 2014, the National Accelerated Agricultural Inputs Access Programme (NAAIAP) in collaboration with Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) released a report on soil suitability evaluation for maize production in Kenya. The report indicated that Kenya has 25 major soil groups based on soil properties which are as a result of the interaction between climate, topography, parent material, organisms and time.
NAAIAP undertook to carry out soil sampling, analysis and interpretation of 9,600 samples spread over 164 sub counties in an exercise funded through the Enhancing Agricultural Productivity Project (EAPP) financed by European Union through World Bank.
The report indicated that some of the factors affecting soil in Kenya included; Continuous mining of soil nutrients by crops without adequate replenishment, inappropriate farming practices such as lack of crop rotation and cultivation down the slope, soil compaction due to mechanization, land degradation due to erosion of fertile top soils, continuous use of acidifying fertilizers by farmers, inadequate knowledge on crop requirements and soil characteristics, inadequate use of farm inputs and blanket fertilizer recommendations.
Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN) through Laikipia Rural Voices, Joto Afrika and Baobab publications will take an active role in promoting the cause of soils in 2015. This is an important year for paving the road towards a real sustainable development for all.
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