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Submitted by Johanna.Martinez on June 17, 2011 - 12:04

How can we better  utilize the Soil that we know as Mother Earth? How can we offer the more than 9 billion people that will inhabit the world by 2050 better living conditions with reduced hunger, disease and deprivation?  Can we solve these challenges satisfactorily in the immediate future? The answer is “we had better” and the solution has to take root in, and grow from, the Soil.

Soil is the living skin of the earth. Soil sustains us, support us, feed us and protect us; but we have failed to protect our soils and they are under constant assault in most parts of the world. Our lives and well-being depend upon taking appropriate urgent actions, globally, locally, and individually. There is an increasing realization that problems cross borders, so solutions also must cross borders, but soil information rarely cross borders effectively and it must begin to do so if critical issues are to be successfully addressed.

What is

The project represents an ambitious effort by soil scientists from all corners of the world to make one particular contribution to the grand challenge of saving the world.  This contribution is in the form of an effort to compile and distribute a consistent global database of information on functional soil properties at a level of detail far in excess of anything presently available.  This global collaborative effort is producing new, harmonized soil information that will support consistent and effective decision making at scales from farm fields to nations, continents and the entire globe.

We have better and more consistent information about soils of Mars than we have globally for the soils that we rely on to feed us, filter and transmit our water, support our buildings and roads, grow our forests and provide homes for plants, animals and most living things. It may be difficult to believe in this age of globalization and standardization that it can be challenging to impossible to compare soil information from one location in the world effectively with that from another country or continent, but this is our current reality.  When nations attempt to compare information on such things as total national carbon stocks, extent of land and soils suitable for supporting food production and population growth or extent and location of areas under threat from degradation, they are often talking apples and oranges due to incompatible and inconsistent national soil data sets.  But that is the good news, in this project, soil scientists from around the world are finally coming together to share their data and expertise to produce a new compilation of soil information that will be complete, consistent, current and correct. For that purpose a Global Consortium has been formed consisting of most of the major national and regional centres of excellence in soil information and agricultural development in the world.

This consortium is leading an effort to compile a consistent and complete database of information on key soil properties at a very fine spatial resolution of 100 m for the entire globe. This effort not just will put Soil Science at the level of other disciplines such as meteorology, oceanography, ecology, hydrology and others in defining international standards allowing local datasets to be comparable and exchanged, globally, but  in addition it will be freely available at no cost and with no restrictions on access and use.
This new soil information will be linked to applications and models that make explicit and effective use of the data to produce, for example, recommendations for improved soil management or comparisons of total carbon in storage in soils in different countries or regions.  Consider that yields of crops in Africa need to double or triple in the next decade in order to provide sufficient food for the anticipated growth in population. This can be done, but achieving increased yields will only happen if correct nutrient sources are applied in the correct locations and times and under correct and sustainable management practices. Knowing what to do where requires knowledge about the soil properties and the response to different management practices of soils with different attributes.

These are precisely the derivables of this project:  key soil attributes that describe soil moisture, soil nutrient capacity, soil depth, the level of acidity and alkalinity, salinity, soil density and soil texture (the proportions of clay, sand and silt in a soil). This information will be presented as a 100 m grid of soil property values for the entire world reported for 6 depths down to a maximum depth of 2 m, where applicable.

How can this project contribute to the issues that affect humanity?

Food production:  we face the challenge of how to feed an ever increasing population; expected to exceed 9 billion by 2050. A new global soil information system will support informed and effective management of soils to increase food production while preserving and enhancing  ecosystem functions.  Current practices and crop yields must be improved, especially in the rapidly growing region of Africa, or there  will simply not be enough food to feed everyone.

Climate Change:  Soil is the largest carbon sink in terrestrial ecosystems. Soils store more than three times as much carbon globally as forests and other above ground vegetation. The world has mobilized to monitor and preserve the carbon stored in forests but has inexplicably overlooked the opportunities to maintain and increase storage of carbon in soils. This system will support quantification of carbon stocks in soils in a single, globally consistent and comprehensive way. It will  encourage and facilitate efforts to monitor levels of carbon sequestration in soils and this information can be used to help to mitigate climate change.

Water scarcity:  The efficient and sustainable use of water is a critical challenge in a world of increasing population and environmental degradation. Adoption of sustainable and “water friendly” management of soils is essential for addressing impending crises of both water scarcity (drought) and excess water (flooding and erosion). The soil information in this system will support improved modelling of water runoff and storage and will feed into other programs and procedures that promote improved “water friendly” management practices.

Biodiversity: Soils provide the foundation for the ecosystems that house terrestrial biota. So protecting and enhancing soils is often a vital first step in preserving biodiversity. Healthy and diverse soils drive many of the vital functions of ecosystems such as furnishing food and filtering water.

Energy: plant-based biofuels have achieved increased prominence in some quarters, as a way of mitigating climate change while seeking energy security.

This project is a public good. It has been demonstrated that there is no commercial market for producing country or region-wide soil maps on a for-profit basis. Normally, production of such maps has been the responsibility of public agencies and organizations. This project will require support from philanthropic donors and government agencies in order to  produce and make its data freely  available to all for the benefit of all.
In some parts of the world, such as Europe, USA and Australia the project has increasingly gained the support of key government agencies and participation in the project has been included in national program budgets.

You can define any areas of interest to you in the world and compute its extent in square kilometers (1km² = US$ 2.00). Each donor can decide on the size and location of an area or region for which it wishes to support production of soil information.

For example, the foundation of Bill & Melinda Gates is  supporting the region of Sub-Saharan Africa (24 million kms² ) in an effort to contribute solving the hunger problem in that part of the world.  The European Commission through their Joint Research Center JRC in Italy is actively involved mapping  an area of (24 million kms² ) in the EuroAsia region. Total land area of the world is 148 million km². so we still have a large portion to cover , we are especially looking for donors to support the production of this soil information system in developing countries, which cover more than half of the globe.

How much does it cost?

The project needs budgets for research, training, coordination and operational mapping. In total these have been estimated to require up to US$ 300 million. There are many different ways to contribute to this project and these can be discussed on a case to case basis. Our goal is to create a network of supporters or friends of the project among  governmental and non-governmental agencies, foundations, private sector companies and individuals. Each will be able to contribute according to their interests and capacity. Together we can map the world and create the first truly global and sustainable soil information system.

Where is your money going?

The organizations in charge of implementing the project in each country are the official custodians of soil data and in most cases part of the Ministries of Agriculture or Environment. Our main challenge to revitalize the Soils topic in their agendas to create awareness about the importance of this information to tackle critical global and local issues. Once they adopt the project, we will ensure its sustainability because it can be included it in national programs as it has been the case in some developed countries/continents like the US, Australia or Europe. It is on their interest to monitor the project and control how the money is being invested and producing a return on investment, currently there is also international interest for this topic, but first we need to produce deliverables and that is why we need external funding.

What do you get when you map your part?

  1. Visibility: You will be contributing to increasing agricultural productivity, reducing environmental impacts and improving quality of life in communities where you have a presence. Many applications can be developed on top of this project. For example, a project currently under development in Africa called The Nutrient Manager, will provide a decision support tool  for improved crop production. It will  allow users to scan selected locations (geo-referenced points) to obtain localized soil information, enter this into the system and get feedback  on how to manage that specific parcel for optimized crop production. It will recommend the fertilization or agronomic measures they should take to realize specific gains in grain yields.
  2. Savings: If you are a company in the private sector that produces or uses soil information you will be able to make use of the system to both contribute and archive your own data and to obtain at no cost, the best currently available global data on soil property values for any area of interest to you.
  3. Satisfaction: you will be making your contribution to addressing critical issues affecting humanity such as climate change, food production, water scarcity, biodiversity and energy sufficiency.
  4. Recognition: you will become a friend of the project. All donors and sponsors will be prominently acknowledged on all project communications platforms, materials and products. Your organization can decide  if you want your name to appear on a world map that will identify who sponsored the mapping for any given area . This key map will be linked to a fact sheet that will give further information. This information will emphasize your social responsible contribution to  support the project.
  5. Compensation: You will get a certificate commemorating your generosity, which is also tax deductible (Local law and tax regulations apply).
  6. Information: We are interested in receiving your input and suggestions. We want to hear from you and learn from your ideas and experience. We encourage you to register on our website to receive materials that will allow you to keep track of the project,

You can contact us anytime through our web site or through any of the social networks linked to it to let us know your opinions and ideas.

In November 2008, an $18 million grant has been obtained from the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) to map most parts in Sub-Sahara Africa, and make all Sub-Saharan Africa data available. From this grant there are also funds for coordinating global efforts and for the establishment of a global consortium. Several institutions have assumed a leading role in this effort and have made substantial financial and in-kind contributions.

Our main donors: