New global soil database can help tackle climate change, food insecurity – UN

New global soil database can help tackle climate change, food insecurity – UN

A scientist measures the soil humidity
A new database on the world’s soils offers insights that can be helpful in addressing climate change and food production, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

A new database on the world’s soils offers insights that can be helpful in addressing climate change and food production, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

“The more information we have about soil properties, the more we can evaluate the quality of our natural resources all over the world and their potential to produce food now and in future scenarios of climate change,” Alexander Muller, FAO Assistant Director General for Natural Resources and Environment Management, said.

FAO says the information in the database can contribute to improving knowledge on current and future land productivity as well as the present carbon storage and carbon sequestration potential of the world’s soils.

It can also help identify land and water limitations, and assist in assessing the risks of land degradation, particularly soil erosion risks.

Based on the soil database, FAO has produced a global Carbon Gap Map which helps identify areas where soil carbon storage is greatest and the physical potential for billions of tons of additional carbon to be sequestrated in degraded soils.

FAO notes there is growing interest in finding ways to increase carbon sequestration in soils, which are large carbon reservoirs. The chemical and physical properties of soils also help to determine how well a soil will perform as a filter of wastes, as a home to organisms, as a location for buildings and as pool for carbon, noted Mr. Muller.

FAO soil expert Freddy Nachtergaele added that soil characterization data are a key piece of the picture of how an ecosystem works. “Soil properties also tell us whether the soil has the potential to store enough water to keep plants growing through a drought or to withstand a flood,” he said.

“Farmers’ knowledge of soil properties also forms the basis of managing fertilizer application efficiently thus reducing avoidable nutrient losses to the environment,” he added.

FAO and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis combined recent regional and national updates of soil information worldwide and incorporated the FAO-UNESCO Soil Map of the World into a new Harmonized World Soil Database (HWSD).

The European Soil Bureau Network, the Institute of Soil Science of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and ISRIC World Soils also contributed to the information.