Within the framework of the "Global Soil Partnership", the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) has continued to advocate for the recognition of the importance of soils for achieving food and nutrition security.
Soils have the vital importance of the world, being the basis for almost 95% of world's food productivity and the filter of water, without which life on earth is not possible.
This natural resource is also a major storehouse for carbon and the regulator of emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, which is fundamental for regulating climate.
However, their level of degradation is alarming, in a world with continuous growing population and population pressure on scarce resources.
Accordingly, the conservation and responsible management of soils is thus central to the mandate of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to help eliminate hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition.
Nurturing and unlocking the full potentials of soils requires universal implementation of sustainable soil management to contribute to increased food production, nutrient content, adapting and mitigating climate change.
'Indeed, the Sustainable Development Goals identify the need to restore degraded soils and improve soil health,' remarked Jose Graziano da Silva, FAO Director General.
In a comment ahead of the celebration of the 2017 World Soil Day, which falls on 5th December, the FAO Director-General, said: 'Soils are the foundation of food production and many essential ecosystem services'.
Caring for the Planet starts from the Ground
This year's theme for the World Soil Day is: "Caring for the Planet starts from the Ground".
It has been proven sufficiently that sustainable soil management contributes to increasing food production, enhancing the nutrient content of food, and adapting to and mitigating climate change.
The conservation and responsible management of soils is thus central to FAO's mandate to help eliminate hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition.
The UN is making a greater recognition of the essential contributions of soils to agriculture and food production, as well as their crucial ecosystem services, further pledging to implement plans, and act to make the world's our soils the bedrock of agricultural production, food and nutrition security.
Each year, since 2012, 5th December is recognized by FAO Conference and the United Nations General Assembly as World Soil Day.
Recognizing the importance of soils, the International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS), in 2002, made a resolution proposing the 5th of December as World Soil Day.
This day is aimed to celebrate the importance of soils as a pivot and critical component of the natural system and as a vital contributor to the human life and wellbeing through their contribution to ensure food, water and energy security and their role in preserving biodiversity loss and mitigating climate change.
In this regard, FAO, with full support of its country members, as expressed during the 144th FAO Council, 11-15 June 2012, made a request to the United Nations General Assembly to recognize 5th December as World Soil Day and to institutionalize its observance.
FAO at the forefront of promoting sustainable soil management
In view of its importance and supported by the Global Soil Partnership, FAO decided to celebrate for the first time the World Soil Day on 5th December 2012, under the theme 'Securing healthy soils for a food secure world', to help place soils at the top of the agenda for Sustainable Agriculture development and Food and Nutrition Security worldwide.
The Official approval by the FAO Council and UNGA to celebrate the World Soil Day was made in 2014. FAO is at the forefront in the development and implementation of sound programmes toward sustainable soil and fertility management.
At Regional level, under regional initiative two, efforts are made to promote sustainable soil and fertility management in Sub-Saharan Africa and to gain strong recognition of the importance of healthy soils by the African Leaders.
' We must seize the opportunity to very widely look into all aspects of the soils including their conservation, management and fertilization using simple, cheaper and innovative approaches which the soil scientists as well as other soil users can adapt at different levels in Africa and the coming years, we are ready to implement what he said and plan and act to make our soils the bedrock of agricultural production, food and nutrition security' Bukar Tijani, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa, said in a message to African soil professionals and practitioners.
The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and FAO established this awareness mechanism, the World Soil Day, to awaken and unleash the conscience of the world population that soils are the support of life on earth and the mean of survival of humanity and alert on the their continuous degradation leading to the loss of their vital functions. For the same reasons, the year 2015 was declared the international year of soils.
The theme of this year is well aligned with the willing and wish to protect and preserve this invaluable resource. Some figures in hand are alarming: On a global scale, it is observed an annual loss of 75 billion tons of soil from arable land which is estimated to cost about USD 400 billion each year in lost agricultural production.
This loss also significantly reduces the soil's ability to store and cycle carbon, nutrients, and water. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 40% of Soils are currently degraded through erosion, salinization, acidification, compaction, nutrition depletion, chemical pollution and inappropriate fertilization and 12 million of hectares are affected by desertification.
Land degradation in Africa adversely impacts soil nutrients in farmlands thus affecting food security and as a result leads to loss of 3% GDP annually, with a loss equivalent to 9 billion USD.
In a broader context, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted a number of related targets in 2015, aimed at restoring degraded soil and to achieve a land degradation-neutral world and implementing resilient agricultural practices that progressively improve soil.
By Eugene Rurangwa, Land and Water Officer, UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
The opinion expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of the FAO .