Need for national soil policies for developing countries - some facts

As a soil scientist working for more than 25 years, I am very much concerned with soil protection and conservation. In this process, I started collecting information related to national soil policies of different countries. To my surprise I could not get a well defined national soil policy for any one of the developing country?

A developing country can be defined as , that country which has a relatively low standard of living, an undeveloped industrial base, and a moderate to low Human Development Index (HDI) score and per capita income, but is in a phase of economic development.

Usually all countries which are neither a developedcountry nor a failed state are classified asdeveloping countries. The United Nations Environmental Programme held two meetings of the consultants in 1980 and 1981 developed a document on ‘world soil policy ‘ which was approved and endorsed by the governing council of the UNEP for implementation. Later on the FAO, in November 1981 launched a programme on‘world soils charter’.

While delivering a key note address at the plenary session on ‘world soil policy’ at 12th International Congress of Soil Science at New Delhi during 8-16 February, 1982 Dr.J.S.Kanwar, the then president, ISSS, said that “we should have a national soil policy to bring deteriorated soils back to normal production and to prevent any soil degradation and to save, improve and utilize our soils to their highest potential”. Since then nothing has been done in most of the developing countries.

In October, 2000 the 2nd IUCN World Conservation Congress (WCC) at Amman, Jordan, passed the soil resolution, calling on the IUCNELP to prepare guidelines for national legislation and policy to assist states to manage their specific soil degradation problems and to investigate the format for an international instrument for the sustainable use of soils. Later, at the 16th WCSS in Montpellier in August 1998, which was attended by me , the IUSS established a working group on International Actions for the Sustainable Use of Soils(IASUS). The IASUS efforts resulted in the publication of ‘Soils on the Global Agenda’. This working group suggested for the establishment of an Intergovernmental Panel on Soils, a proposal already taken up by the UNEP. At the 17th WCSS in Bangkok in 2002, IUSS adopted a ‘World Soils Agenda’. Several documents, conventions and agreements with particular reference to soils exist at the international level.

To quote a few:

  • Frame Work Convention on Climate Change - FCCC
  • Convention on Biological Diversity - CBD
  • Convention to Combat Desertification - CCD
  • Global Environment Outlook - GEO4
  • International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology Development - IAASTD
  • Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - IPCC
  • Millennium Ecosystem Assessment - MA etc.
  • The world Commission on Environment and Development - WCED
  • UN Conference on Environment and Development - UNCED
  • Convention on the Conservation of Biological Diversity - CCBD
  • Commission on Global Governance - CGG
  • Rio Declaration on Environment and Development - UN
  • Agenda 21 - UN

The FAO, WRI provides country assessment on quantity of arable land and other indicators for national and global assessments. The FAO/UNESCO soil Map of the World, which is now digitally available provides for the first time a digital data base of global soil resources. FAO’s Land and Water Development Division have produced numerous benchmark publications. It remains the custodian of thousands of soil maps and major source of soil information world wide. European commission developed a ‘Thematic strategy on soil protection’. Developing countries does not have a comprehensive soil protection system like the EU, to tackle the various aspects of soil management.

The Rural Development Institute, USA have conducted field research and advised on land reform issues in 37 countries in Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Some of the developing countries including India have National land use policies which are quite different from soil protection policies of developed world.

In India the National Land Use and Conservation Board is the highest policy planning and coordinating Agency for all issues concerning the health and scientific management of country’s land resources. The basic objectives of the Board are to formulate and implement the National Land Use Policy, to prepare perspective plan for country’s land resources, make overall review of the progress of implementation of on-going schemes and programs relating to the land resources, sponsor studies, organize seminars, workshops etc. and also to launch awareness campaign for conservation of land resources in the country. The policy direction and guidelines are being issued from time to time to check the diversion of good agricultural land to non-agricultural uses, preparation of State level perspective plans for land resources conservation and implementing the National Land Use Policy outline etc.

A comprehensive national soil policy should include: climate change, Biodiversity, GM crops, Biogeochemical cycles, carbon credit, land use and land cover change, urbanization, industrialization, river linking, geogenic pollutants,  ecosystems, agriculture, forests, animals, gender issues, land rights, application of interdisciplinary knowledge, prevention and management policies, soil threshold values for pollutants, standards for soil quality, military activity and other human induced activities and economics etc. National soil policies can be a part of environmental protection laws of the countries.

Most of the developing countries have the laws related to air and water pollution control and protection of biodiversity but not on soil protection directly. There are no comprehensive laws to protect the soils in developing countries due to urbanization and industrialization etc.An estimated 45%of the world’s population still makes their living primarily from Agriculture, depending directly on the land for their income, status, and security. Hence there is a need to develop national soil policies by these countries.

Most of the National Soil Science Societies in developing countries plays a limited role currently, with little engagement with the key professional and social issues that confront the soil sciences. There is a need for all National Soil Science Societies in developing countries can be reformed to learning and partnership based innovation systems approach enabling professional excellence, field level technology utilization, along with substantial policy and donor support.

Finally I take this opportunity to appeal, all the national soil science societies, scientists, policy makers and administrators in the developing countries to prepare a comprehensive soil protection policy of their own to suit their needs with the help of IUSS and this can be incorporated into respective environmental laws of the country for easy implementation.

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