Managing and protecting soils
Did you know that one day of the year (5th December) is designated as World Soil Day by the Food
and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations? This global initiative stems from the
realisation that, on the one hand, soils and soil management are central to many di erent sustainable
development goals including zero hunger, economic growth, clean water, life on land, and climate
action; while, on the other hand, soil is a finite resource, because soil loss and degradation is not
recoverable within human lifespans and available land per capita is shrinking inexorably.
World Soil Day was marked in UCD last month with
the conference Soils for Society organised by the UCD
School of Agriculture and Food Science in conjunction
with the UCD Earth Institute and the Soil Science Society
of Ireland. The conference received funding from the
Environmental Protection Agency.
Attended by 200 delegates from diverse backgrounds,
the conference aimed at enhancing engagement and
knowledge exchange between universities, public research
bodies, the land-based industries, policy makers, NGOs
and citizens concerned with the importance, manifold
uses, management and protection of soils. Speakers
addressed three broad themes: why are soils important for
society?; how do we manage soils sustainably?; how can
society protect soils?
Presentations illustrated diverse case studies where
understanding of soils and their functions is central to
tackling societal challenges, from agricultural production,
environmental protection, climate regulation and
engineering projects, to archaeological preservation
and sustainability in business. A particularly striking
example for the fundamental importance of soils for
society came from Wolaita Sodo University in Ethiopia,
that is partnered with UCD, where low soil fertility and
soil degradation threaten basic nutrition and livelihoods.
The importance of education was highlighted repeatedly
during the conference and UCD was identified as the
leading provider of soil science education at third-level
in Ireland. In conclusion, a panel discussion distilled
the main themes covered during the day and concluded
proceedings with a call to research, value and protect soils
as part of our natural capital.