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World Soil Day 2020: IAEA & FAO lay the groundwork to ‘Keep soil alive, Protect soil biodiversity’

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World Soil Day

Soil, the ubiquitous living resource beneath our feet, is alive with organisms that work in a coordinated effort to sustain life on Earth. These organisms help soils store carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while also providing a home for up to 90 per cent of all living organisms at some point in their lifecycles.

On this World Soil Day, the IAEA joins the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in its campaign – Keep soil alive, Protect soil biodiversity – to highlight the importance of conserving this indispensable resource and fighting the loss of soil biodiversity.

“Soil biodiversity is vital to soil health, which ultimately affects the health of our ecosystems and livelihoods,” said Lee Heng, Head of the Soil and Water Management and Crop Nutrition Subprogramme at the Joint FAO/IAEA Programme of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture. “Healthier soils enable the efficient and increased production of higher quality foods.”

The IAEA, in collaboration with FAO, contributes annually to about 50 technical cooperation projects and leads five coordinated research projects toward improving soil management and soil health, including in drought-prone areas. “At our laboratory in Seibersdorf and with partners around the globe, we develop and validate a range of isotope and nuclear techniques to monitor the interactions of soil, water and nutrients for their efficient use,” Heng said. “Jointly with FAO, the IAEA helps countries strengthen capacities to improve soil management practices that support crop production and the preservation of natural resources.”  

Since 1995, experts from more than 90 countries have benefitted from support by the IAEA and FAO in the use of nuclear techniques related to soil health and management. The stories below provide examples of the impact of this work.

Benin increases soybean production, enabling exports, using biofertilizers and isotopic technology

Poor soil fertility meant low yields and insufficient income for soybean farmers in the West African nation of Benin. With support from the IAEA and FAO, researchers at the University of Abomey-Calavi in Benin produced a biofertilizer that contains microorganisms to enhance the productivity of soil and stimulate crop growth, while making soybean production environmentally friendly. As a result, soybean production has increased from 57 000 tonnes in 2009 to 222 000 tonnes in 2019. Click here to read the full article.

Nuclear-based study shapes guidance to help farmers control soil erosion in Madagascar

In Madagascar, about one third of the island’s land resources are degraded – mostly due to erosion, according to FAO. Erosion does not only deplete the soil, but at the same time, it impacts ecosystems and their biodiversity. With assistance from the Joint FAO/IAEA Programme, scientists from the country’s National Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology used an isotopic technique to evaluate soil erosion and advised farmers on practices to not only slow down erosion but also maintain soil health. Click here to read the full article.

With the right soil conservation techniques, identified with the help of nuclear technology, farmers in Madagascar are able to protect their land from soil erosion. (Photo: M. Gaspar/IAEA)

Fallout radionuclides validate traditional soil conservation method in Tunisia

In Tunisia, some of the country’s most fertile soil is removed by erosion. Reversing this trend requires conserving the soil and applying isotopic techniques. A project with the support from the IAEA, in partnership with FAO, has been using fallout radionuclide caesium-137 as a tracer to measure the rate of soil erosion and to validate the efficiency of conservation methods. Click here to read the full article.

Tunisian research team in the field; traditional soil conservation ridges are visible in the background. (Photo: Mansour Oueslati and Gdiri Amira/National Center for Nuclear Sciences and Technologies of Tunisia)

Irrigation scheduling, salt management improve crop production under saline conditions

Soil salinity is a major global challenge impacting soil health and hindering agricultural sustainability. Salinity problems can occur naturally but can also be induced through human action, such as irrigation. The IAEA, in partnership with FAO, completed a coordinated research project to explore ways to improve crop productivity through water and salinity management with the help of nuclear and related techniques. Read more about the project.

Salt-affected soil is a widespread phenomenon in many countries, affecting crop production. (Photo: M. Zaman/IAEA)

Read more about the impact of the IAEA and FAO’s work in soil and water management.

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