The UN General Assembly resolved in 2013 that World Soil Day (WSD) would be celebrated on 5 December each year. The aim of WSD is to raise global awareness about the importance of soil as a critical component in nature and as a vital contributor to human wellbeing.
Each year WSD adopts a theme intended primarily to illustrate the importance of sustainable soil management. The 2016 theme was “Soils and pulses, a symbiosis for life” and this identifies and focusses on nine main threats to soil health and soil functions: acidification, loss of biodiversity, compaction, contamination, salt and sodium, nutrient imbalances, sealing, loss of soil organic carbon and erosion.
An extensive report produced by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in 2015, recognised that global effort needs to be concentrated towards halting the further degradation of soils and restoring their productivity. That report contextualises the intended outcomes of WSD by directing restorative efforts that will result in soils that are already degraded, to retain crucial organic material including soil organic carbon and bioorganic matter. In turn, the FAO report strongly advocated reducing the global use of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers, but, at the same time building up soils deficient in nutrients with soil enhancements that are rich in organic matter. Finally, an understanding and knowledge about the state of the world’s soils and trends in soil conditions would enable regulators and politicians to develop and implement policies and determine priorities of effort targeted towards effective restoration in global soil health.
Building on the intent of WSD to highlight and showcase world-wide efforts towards the restoration of healthy soils, the FAO’s Global Soil Partnership, agreed on the Voluntary Guidelines on Sustainable Soil Management (VGSSM). The guidelines are not intended to provide detailed advice and recommendations on measures to be taken to restore soil health but, they are intended to inform the policy direction and decision-making at governmental and other relevant levels.
Soils and Pulses – The Symbiosis
To promote this year’s WSD theme, the FAO published a booklet entitled Soils and pulses: symbiosis for life. This booklet aims to introduce the reader to the importance of preserving our soil resources by attending to the mutually beneficial (symbiotic) relationship between soils and pulses. This publication forms part of a series of FAO Key Messages that relate to building and enhancing soil health by increasing soil biodiversity, improving soil structure and fertility. The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, in his WSD 2016 Message, also spoke of the importance of the international community working collaboratively to protect and manage soils aimed to enhance soil health and fertility, such as the implementation of the VGSSM. The VGSSM further builds on the key messages of healthy soils contributing to world food security and heightened nutrition levels; mitigating climate change through carbon sequestration; and achieving those outcomes in the context of Sustainable Development.
Emphasising the importance of soil as a critical component of the natural system and as a vital contributor to food security, WSD 2016 was celebrated in a variety of ways. For example, in India, near New Delhi, a large government-owned company undertook mass plantings of new samplings and employees pledged to protect soils as a vital resource. In Nagaland, also in India, soil health cards were provided to small-hold farmers to inform them on low-cost, ‘self-help’ technologies they can implement to enhance their crop production and productivity. In an Australian context, soil scientists and organizations conducted soil science discussions and promoted the day via social media. These activities were supplemented by conducting local events such volunteer tree-planting activities to talk about issues and provide community with education on topics such as soil erosion and preserving soil.