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Soil Carbon Advances Could be Key to Improving Food and Water Security

Soil Carbon Advances Could be Key to Improving Food and Water Security

08 December 2014
Rothamsted Research

UK - The Global Advances in Soil Carbon Management recommendations, which have been compiled by a team of international scientists, could have a significant impact on land degradation, food security, water quality and greenhouse gas emissions from land.

The recommendations and a vast background of compiled scientific evidence have been drawn from a two-year international Rapid Assessment Process (RAP) project Benefits of Soil Carbon. The RAP was organised through the Scientific Committee for Problems of the Environment (SCOPE).

The project recruited the wide range of experts, including Rothamsted Research scientists, in order to draw together the fragmented and complex science and policy information on soil carbon and its essential role supporting land ecosystems and human life.

The recommendations, which aim to protect and improve soil carbon levels in soils around the world, have been released on World Soil Day (5 December 2014) – a UN international awareness day which strives to connect people with soils and demonstrate their critical importance in our lives.

Professor Steve Banwart, project co-chair who is from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Civil and Structural Engineering, said: “Soil carbon in the form of organic matter is a huge asset worldwide. Its vital role to support food production and environmental quality is taken for granted.

“There have been significant declines in soil carbon just in the past few decades due to intensive land use. Protecting and improving soil carbon levels in soils around the world is essential for sustained economic development and environmental protection.”

The key recommendations highlighted by the 75-strong project team from 17 countries world-wide include:

  • Stopping soil carbon losses from organic-rich soils such as peatlands and from drylands where soils are vulnerable due to low soil carbon content
  • Promoting soil carbon gains through active soil management in agricultural lands that have experienced historical losses of soil carbon,
  • Greatly expanding soil and land management from local scale decisions to increased national and international actions to deliver large-scale benefits worldwide.
  • Reducing the fragmentation in policy for soil and land management, which is often scattered between government sectors for agriculture, environment, energy and water resources.
  • A global research effort to increase soils carbon content, quantify the soil improvements and to adapt improved soil carbon management to land and climate conditions around the world.

Project co-chairman Professor Elke Noellemeyer, from the National University of La Pampa, Argentina, said: “Conventional agriculture often harms soil carbon levels but there are many practical ways that are used to improve soil carbon in farmland. These practical steps need to be expanded and adapted to local conditions worldwide.”

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