Soil Atlas of Africa

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Highlighting a forgotten resource?

Picture credit: Tjeerd Wiersma / Flickr

A team of international experts has drawn up the first ever Soil Atlas of Africa, using striking maps, informative texts and stunning photographs to answer and explain what makes the soil of Africa special. The Soil Atlas of Africa supports the Global Soil Partnership of FAO and the final declaration of the Rio+20 meeting towards reversing and reducing global soil degradation.

Using state-of-the-art computer mapping techniques, the Soil Atlas of Africa shows the changing nature of soil across the continent. It explains the origin and functions of soil, describes the different soil types that can be found in Africa and their relevance to both local and global issues. The atlas also discusses the principal threats to soil and the steps being taken to protect soil resources. More than just a normal atlas, it is the first such resource to help farmers, land managers and policymakers understand the diversity and importance of soil and the need to manage this key resource through sustainable use.

The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre initiated the project, in collaboration with the African Union (AU) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), bringing together soil experts from Europe and Africa to produce a publication, aimed at the general public, decision makers, politicians, teachers and even scientists in other disciplines, that raises awareness of the significance of soil to human existence in Africa.

The Atlas was introduced at the AU and European Union Commission College meeting in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia (April 25-26th, 2013)  by EU Commissioner Hedegaard (Climate Action) on behalf of the European Commission President José Manuel Barroso.

At its heart is a series of annotated maps that show, for the very first time, the diversity of soil characteristics across the African continent in a manner that is comprehensible to the layperson. At present, there is a marked lack of current, consistent and comparable data on soil resources and trends across Africa. There is little coherence between countries, which makes the quantitative evaluation of changes in soil state and functions almost impossible. The lack of data also hampers efforts to develop indicators to measure the situation.

The Atlas calls for a four-pronged approach to the soils of Africa:

– an improved knowledge base to facilitate effective policy development and decision-making relating to the most appropriate use of terrestrial resources through a harmonised assessment of the state of soils and associated threats to identify areas at risk of erosion, decline in nutrients and organic matter, salinisation, acidification, compaction or landslides.

– the maintenance and development of soil education components at all levels of education should also be a priority. Without a trained scientific base, the collection of relevant soil information will be impossible.

– the establishment of measures to assess the impacts of current policies and land use practices on soil quality in areas such as agriculture, waste, urban development or mining, and to ensure the sustainable use of soil and its functions, together with action programmes to deal with the main issues of local concern.

– support to facilitate the networking of soil scientists and land use experts from all parts of Africa. Such a move would help to improve information exchange and develop a more comprehensive knowledge base to underpin sustainable soil use policy development and practices

Physical copies of the book will be available through the EU Publications Office towards the end of May 2013.

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