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IAEA and UNCCD Join Forces to Strengthen Good Soil Management Practices in Dryland Areas

Cropping practices

IAEA soil management projects combat desertification using nuclear technology to support better irrigation and improved cropping practices, and to build understanding of soil dynamics.

Bonn, Germany and Vienna, Austria -- The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) on 18 April 2013, signed an agreement to collaborate in the use of nuclear technologies to strengthen the assessment of soil erosion and monitor improvements over time.

The Practical Arrangement, as it is known, was signed by Luc Gnacadja, Executive Secretary of UNCCD, and Ana Claudia Raffo-Caiado, Director of the IAEA Division of Technical Cooperation Programme Support and Coordination (TCPC), during the eleventh session of the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the UNCCD, which convenes in Bonn, Germany, from 15 to 19 April 2013.

"Land degradation threatens over 1.5 billion people in over 168 countries," Raffo-Caiado said during the signing ceremony.

"IAEA builds country capacities to use radionuclide and stable isotopic techniques to study soil erosion and land degradation problems. These capacities are essential for soil conservation, land use planning and decision making," she added.

Gnacadja said, "this practical cooperation with the IAEA will help Parties to the Convention to gain access to technical support on the application of isotopic and nuclear techniques to assess the soil and water status and identify hot spots of land degradation."

"And it is a timely cooperation. Last week, scientists lamented the lack of bio-physical data on the rates of soil degradation. This week, representatives of the Parties have shared the capacity challenges they faced in measuring the impact of their activities on change in the land cover. This technology enables willing Parties to transcend such challenges," he said.

Conserving Non-renewable Resources

The Practical Arrangement, which runs until 31 December 2017, aims to enhance the conservation of land and soil resources and thus support poverty reduction and environmental sustainability, while improving the dryland's soil quality and productivity to benefit present and future generations.

Studies suggest that over 20 billion hectares of fertile soil are lost through the erosion of cropland every year and that every 10 years, in the drylands, an area the size of South Africa becomes unproductive just from desertification and drought.

While many of the 195 Parties to the UNCCD have elaborated national action programmes in order to reverse these trends, world leaders agreed in 2012 to strive for a land-degradation neutral world by avoiding further land degradation and ensuring that, where it is inevitable, degrading land is offset by restoring an equivalent amount of degraded land, ideally in the same ecosystem and within the same timeframe.

The leaders also mandated the UNCCD to monitor, globally, land degradation and land restoration in the drylands.

IAEA Technical Support in Preventing Soil Degradation

"With the help of the IAEA and these nuclear techniques, we can improve our understanding of and access to high-quality data on land and soil dynamics. By preventing degradation and rehabilitating degraded land we are protecting one of the world's most vital, almost non-renewable, natural resources, and building the resilience of populations and ecosystems," Gnacadja said.

The Practical Arrangement enables UNCCD Parties willing to participate in IAEA soil management projects to strengthen the scientific basis of the Convention and advocacy by applying the science of radionuclides in efforts to improve land productivity and minimize the impacts of drought.

"The IAEA Technical Cooperation programme in soil and water management uses radionuclides to assess the extent and amount of soil erosion, and the effectiveness of soil and water conservation strategies in retaining water and applied nutrients for food production under both rainfed and irrigated agricultural systems," Raffo-Caiado stated.

"IAEA projects also use environmentally friendly tracer elements to determine optimal placement and timing of fertilizers and water, to identify crop residue management practices and to determine how much nitrogen plants can capture from the atmosphere," she added.

Cooperation is foreseen in the exchange and dissemination of information, participation in relevant scientific networks and activities, and in joint educational and training courses.


(Note to Media: We encourage you to republish these stories and kindly request attribution to the IAEA)