HomeNewsDiplomatic NewsFAO Asia-Pacific honours sustainability champions on World Soil Day 2023, but urges...

FAO Asia-Pacific honours sustainability champions on World Soil Day 2023, but urges more action is needed

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Bangkok, 5 December 2023 (TDI): The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) today acknowledged two important global awards granted to experts working to preserve and enhance soil health in the Asia-Pacific region, while calling for further action to safeguard soils vital for our survival.

The intrinsic interplay between soil and water, essential for sustaining life on Earth, faces a critical threat in the Asia-Pacific region. The escalating trend of soil degradation, fueled by unsustainable management practices, poses a severe threat to ecosystem services, endangering the production of 95 percent of our region’s food and jeopardizing the livelihoods of millions. With over three-quarters of the world’s most populous region grappling with water insecurity, the soil-water nexus emerges as indispensable in addressing the challenge of feeding billions.

While pressure on this nexus is increasing, reversing the degradation is still possible. This message was reiterated at the World Soil Day event ‘Soil and Water: A Source of Life’ organized by the Land Development Department (LDD) of the Royal Thai Government at the Khao Hin Sorn Royal Development Study Center in Thailand today.

Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, of Thailand, an FAO Special Goodwill Ambassador in Asia-Pacific, presided over the event, highlighting the crucial role of soils in ensuring food security. Emphasizing the urgent need to address looming threats to soil health and water scarcity, Her Royal Highness encouraged decisive actions and the implementation of improved water management systems across the region.

In his opening remarks, Jong-Jin Kim, the Assistant Director-General and FAO Regional Representative for Asia-Pacific, emphasized the non-renewable nature of soils. He highlighted the need for adopting integrated, sustainable policies and practices to enhance the productivity, sustainability, and resilience of soils to achieve an agrifood systems transformation. Kim stated, “This approach aligns with FAO’s commitment to better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life for all—leaving no one behind and contributing to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”

FAO RAP delegate at World Soil Day
FAO RAP delegate at World Soil Day
FAO’s prestigious awards elevate Asia-Pacific’s regional commitment to healthy soils

Today, FAO announced the winners of two prestigious global awards – both in the Asia-Pacific region.

The eighth Glinka Prize was awarded to Laureate Professor Ravendra (Ravi) Naidu from Fiji for his outstanding achievements in advancing soil management practices and raising awareness of soil degradation. Notably, this marks the first time the Glinka Prize has been awarded to the Pacific region.

Meantime, the King Bhumibol World Soil Day Award was won by the Soil and Fertilizer Society of Thailand, recognizing the society’s exemplary work in promoting sustainable soil management practices in the region. Sponsored by the Kingdom of Thailand, the Award acknowledges the lifelong contributions of His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, who significantly improved the quality of lives for millions through sustainable soil management.

Core challenges of an interconnected system

Essential for food production, ecosystem functioning, and human well-being, soil and water demand proactive preservation measures. In Asia, where some of the most fertile yet fragile soils on Earth are found, threats to soil health arise from unsustainable soil management practices, urbanization, population growth, and climate change. These factors collectively contribute to degradation processes, including soil erosion, the depletion of soil organic carbon, salinization, sodification, nutrient imbalance, and soil contamination.

The health of the soil and the quality and availability of water are interconnected. Healthy soils contribute to water availability in agriculture by effectively storing and retaining water. This role becomes increasingly crucial, especially in rainfed croplands, which constitute 80 percent of croplands globally. The misuse of agricultural inputs, such as pesticides and fertilizers, significantly contribute to soil and water pollution. When combined with inadequate irrigation and drainage practices, this misuse can lead to salinization, further exacerbating environmental concerns.

The conservation of soil and water resources is imperative not only for agricultural sustainability but also for climate change mitigation and adaptation. By sequestering carbon, healthy soils act as potent carbon sinks, playing a significant role in global climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts.

Integrated approach to soil and water management

One of the main messages from today’s event is that the Asia-Pacific region must adopt sustainable and integrated soil and water management practices, encompassing the efficient use of quality water, the sustainable use of fertilizers and pesticides, appropriate irrigation methods, improved drainage systems, controlled pumping, and the monitoring of soil and groundwater salinity levels. These measures aim to preserve and improve the status of soil and water resources, assisting local communities in adapting to and mitigating the impacts of climate change while providing them with sufficient and nutritious food.

Call to action for collective responsibility

Action is needed urgently, Kim added. “Soil and water rely on each other, and that’s critical to feed a hungry world. Here, in the Asia-Pacific region, some 90 percent of our freshwater is consumed in agricultural activities alone, considerably more than the 75 percent used by agriculture, on average, worldwide. Yet, more than three-quarters of the Asia-Pacific population is now grappling with water insecurity. Much of this has been caused by mismanagement of our water and soil resource,” Kim said.

Addressing the challenge of soil degradation and water scarcity requires collaboration across sectors and raising awareness among stakeholders for the sustainable and integrated use of these resources, Kim pointed out. Key actions include training initiatives, technology transfer, and comprehensive data collection and analysis to improve soil and water management and monitoring. Additionally, fostering increased collaboration between policymakers and other stakeholders is essential for effective implementation and for increasing investments.

World Soil Day 2023 calls for a united effort to safeguard the Earth’s lifeline – soil and water – ensuring a sustainable future. Drawing inspiration from prestigious awards like Glinka and King Bhumibol, the Asia-Pacific region aims to lead in sustainable and integrated soil and water management, setting a global example. Implementation of these strategies is crucial for a future where healthy soils ensure an abundance of nutritious food for all. FAO works with Member Nations to promote soil health as a key component of human health, animal health and environmental health, urging continuous collective action beyond World Soil Day on 5 December.

*This is a reproduction of the original press release issued by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on 5 December 2023.

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