Healthier soil: better harvests!

Less water, less fertilizer, less fuel and fewer pesticides. That will be the positive result for farmers throughout the world if they make smarter use of their soil. Optimal water management for sustainable agriculture starts by improving the soil.

That is the message of the side event ‘Incentives for sustainable agriculture and the role of smart soil and water information' at the 25th meeting of FAO's Committee on Agriculture, last September in Rome.

Wasting scarce resources

Peter Prins (Senior Adviser Water & Agriculture NWP) was one of the speakers at this event: "It is hard to see poor farmers, using the little money they have, buy expensive fertilizer and chemicals that are properly not used. Due to unsustainable methods, the resources are flushed away by rainwater and irrigation systems, ending up polluting the groundwater or rivers". A healthy soil is the basis for securing the livelihood of farmers and their communities. Sustainable soil management is also essential in order to meet the global food requirement against the backdrop of a growing world population and climate change.

Spongy soil

Farmers can improve the soil with simple measures such as cultivating green cover crops or grass. This will increase the amount of organic matter in the soil, which will then act as a kind of sponge by retaining water. This will mean that farmers require less irrigation water and have fewer problems with soil erosion. Downpours will also be less likely to result in floods. According to Prins, smart soil management is not only beneficial to farmers but also leads to a balanced distribution of water throughout the seasons in entire river basins.

Information requirement

Healthy soil starts with proper care for the valuable natural properties of the soil, such as its ability to retain moisture, purify and enhance soil fertility. To achieve this, farmers need, above all, good, cheap and easily accessible soil tests, knowledge and information.

About the conference

The 25th meeting of the Committee on Agriculture (COAG25) took place on 26-30 September 2016. The side event ‘Incentives for sustainable agriculture and the role of smart soil and water information' took place on September 29 and was organised by the Global Soil Partnership (GSP) and the Netherlands Water Partnership (NWP). The Global soil partnership presented its Voluntary guidelines for sustainable soil management, NWP launched its campaign on Water & agriculture and FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) presented its project on ecosystem services.