Last week at the United Nations in New York, I joined top USDA officials to celebrate World Soil Day and the U.S. launch of the International Year of Soils, or IYS. Last year, the United Nations General Assembly designated Dec. 5 as World Soil Day and declared 2015 as the IYS to “serve as a major platform for raising awareness of the importance of soils for food security and essential ecosystem service.” Representing the United States were Robert Bonnie, USDA under secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, and David Smith, deputy chief for soil science and resource assessment, with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
Under Secretary Bonnie was one of 10 distinguished guests making presentations on the floor of the United Nations. He emphasized the serious challenges that are facing agriculture and food security, particularly in light of the fact that in the next 40 years, farmers and ranchers will need to produce as much food as they have in the last 500 years to feed a rapidly growing population. He also said that NRCS’ work in soil conservation, soil health and soil science has been integral to the economic and environmental sustainability of agriculture.
Concurrent kickoff events were hosted in Rome, Bangkok, and Santiago. I was impressed to learn that the King of Thailand, His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej, was instrumental in helping declare 2015 as the International Year of Soils, along with the International Union of Soil Science (IUSS), a global union of soil scientists. The IUSS honored the King’s efforts by declaring his birthday, Dec. 5, each year as World Soil Day. His granddaughter, Her Royal Highness Princess Bajrakitiyabha Mahidol, was the special guest of honor in New York, and Norachit Sinhaseni, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Thailand to the UN, presided over the ceremony. It was amazing to witness world leaders coming together to focus attention on soil—the natural resource which is integral to NRCS’ mission! I was beaming with pride as I thought about the invaluable contributions that NRCS has made to soil health and soil science over the nearly 80 years since our agency has been working with farmers to protect and improve soil resources.
My experience at the United Nations was certainly the highlight of my career. While we might not think about the soil underfoot every day, soil is essential to human survival. Soil grows the food we eat, the flowers and trees that surround us, and provides the foundation for the recreational activities that we enjoy.
I am confident that throughout 2015, the International Year of Soils will help raise awareness throughout the international community on the central role of soils in our everyday lives.
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Good to see soils getting the recognition it deserves! NRCS needs to take a stronger role in promoting the use of soils information in land use planning, sustainability planning, and climate change adaptation strategies. In addition, we need to have stronger protection for prime farmland soils when Federal dollars are used for a development project- current regulations like FPPA are weak. Look forward to hearing about more activities in the International Year of Soils!
Soils. A great resource to focus on. Suggest adding "The Soil Will Save Us" by Kristin Ohlson to your reading list. It packs quite an education on the past, present and future of soils management.