Healthy soils and family farming go hand in hand
As 2014 drew to a close, the world transitioned from the International Year of Family Farming to the International Year of Soils. Organised by the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the UN (FAO), the International Year of Family Farming aimed to raise awareness of the global importance and challenges faced by the 500,000 family farmers around the world.
Recognition for family farmers
As an organisation that has been working with smallholder family farmers for more than 10 years, we understand the important role they play in the fight against poverty and climate change. It’s therefore been encouraging to witness a shift in attitude by the international community towards family farmers during the last year.
We have seen greater recognition of the fact that family farmers are vitally important to global food systems and sustainable poverty reduction at local level. Rather than viewing smallholders as a burden to the environment and economic development, support is being offered for conservation farming projects, helping farmers to protect the environment while producing enough food and adapt to the effects of climate change.
Soils are the foundation of family farming
The International Year of Soils now aims to increase understanding of the critical importance of soil for food security and ecosystems. The good news is that the International Year of Soils will keep the focus on poor family farmers, especially those in rural drylands, where soil degradation is at its worst.
The FAO estimates that a third of all soils worldwide are degraded, due to expanding cities, deforestation, unsustainable land use, pollution, overgrazing and climate change. In drylands, drought and desertification transform 12 million hectares of land into new man-made deserts each year.
The guardians of soil
Once land is degraded to such an extent, it can take decades to regenerate. Despite these shocking facts, soil is not a topic that is often talked about.
Farmers, as the guardians of the land, play a crucial role in conserving soil. The techniques and tools they use have a great impact on the health of soil ecosystems and food security.
That's why Excellent Development supports farmers with agricultural activities that promote healthy soil: Covering soil with crop residues, terracing land, planting trees, zero grazing, using organic composts, intercropping, and planting nitrogen-fixing crops.
We will be keeping a close eye on the International Year of Soils and hope that the importance of healthy soils will be recognised and trigger real action for the benefit of those who suffer most from degraded land.
We must manage soils sustainably. There are many ways to do this. Crop diversification which is used by most of the world’s family farmers is one of them: this gives time for important nutrients to regenerate.
José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director-General