Soil is essential for the environment, playing a central role in preserving biodiversity, supplying food, securing clean water and mitigating climate change. However, over farming and poor agricultural practices, coupled with factors, such as forest clearance, are increasingly leaving once fertile soils infertile. Soil degradation poses a threat to farmers’ livelihoods as well as to the world’s food supply. Observed each year on 5 December, World Soil Day marks the importance of soil for a sustainable future.
The IAEA, through its technical cooperation (TC) programme, plays an important part in global efforts to protect this essential resource. By using isotopes, the IAEA helps countries gain vital information about the condition of soil, which can help them to improve soil management practices, and enhance soil health and productivity. Isotopic techniques can be used to determine the rates of soil loss, track the movement of water and nutrients in the soil, and estimate soil erosion. Policy-makers can use this data to formulate viable soil conservation policies to protect and even recuperate soil.
Working with UNCCD
Isotope techniques are an effective tool to tackle land degradation and preserve healthier soils. To ensure that this technology reaches its potential users and beneficiaries, the IAEA forms partnerships with organizations that pursue similar goals, leveraging the expertise and experience of each organization to optimize long-term benefits. In April 2013, the IAEA signed a Practical Arrangement with the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). The Arrangement supports collaboration in the use of nuclear technologies to strengthen the assessment of soil erosion and monitor improvements over time.
Under the agreement, the organizations cooperate on training and capacity building initiatives, which aim to address challenges related to desertification, drought and land degradation through nuclear techniques.
The agreement allows the IAEA to maximize the impact of its TC projects in the area of soil management and to benefit from the unccd insight into land conservation needs and potential. In turn, it has helped 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.
In September 2013, the IAEA took part in the UNCCD’s 11th Conference of the Parties (UNCCD COP11) where a team of IAEA experts presented the IAEA’s activities in sustainable land management and optimization of resources. Showcasing success stories and projects in Africa, the IAEA highlighted the importance of accurate soil data for sustainable soil management and explained how nuclear techniques can be used to provide it.
Soil erosion from water is the most serious and extensive form of soil degradation in Uganda. Poor agricultural practices, deforestation, vegetation burning and removal of soil cover, have led to soil erosion and consequent decrease in soil productivity.
In 2007, the IAEA initiated a TC project to help Uganda evaluate the condition of the soil and determine the erosion rates to develop an appropriate action plan to protect soils. Throughout the project, the IAEA worked closely with national and international partners to provide erosion information to the policy makers as well as disseminate it among the public, farmers and other staff. Awareness creation events and community meetings were organized to engage general public interest. In addition, the TC project helped to train scientists and techniques as well as procured a useful field sampling equipment to allow for effective collection of samples.
As a result of the project, Uganda will be able to consider soil and water conservation practices in their policies. Several land management specialist positions have been establish at each Agro-Ecological Zone (AEZ) to ensure that these policies are implemented appropriately. In addition, promotion activities on soil and water conservation practices helped to raise awareness among Uganda’s citizens, who are now equipped with better knowledge on how to sustain soil quality through better management practices.