International Year of Soils
News Feature- "Healthy soil…healthy, productive agricultural sector"

 

Did you know that 2015 has been declared the International Year of Soils (IYS) by the 68th United Nations General Assembly?

Soil is that part of the earth’s crust where plants grow and is the end product of chemical, physical, and biotic activities interacting over time. It is considered to be the “skin of the earth”

Though often not given high priority, healthy soils are important to the health of our plants and food. Indeed, healthy plants and food require several inputs to ensure healthy growth and production. In addition to water, sunshine and fertilisers, farmers need good fertile soil on which to grow their crops.

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For the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, soil plays a pivotal role in the quest towards food security and maintaining biodiversity.  It also impacts climate change and is the foundation of agricultural development and ecological sustainability.

 “We recognize that soil is often taken for granted, data from FAO indicates that 95 per cent of the food that we eat comes from the soil,” says Joan Brown Morrison, head of the Agricultural Land Management Division (ALMD) of the Ministry. She further explained that Jamaica has been losing fertile soil each year due to heavy rainfall, overuse, and unsustainable agricultural practices.

In emphasizing the importance of preparation of the soil, Brown Morrison said farmers need to know how to prepare the land and which crops to plant in order to  help to maintain the fertility of the soil. “We can tell you the soil type, what nutrients are in the soil and what you need to add to the soil to increase its organic content, Brown Morrison stated.

It has been estimated that less than one per cent of registered farmers have their soil tested to determine the nutrient status before planting crops.  The Agricultural Land Management Division intends to change this trend over the next 3 years.

Soil has various key functions that are important for agriculture, the environment, nature protection, landscape architecture and urban applications. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, soil is the basis for food, feed, fuel and fibre production. It is the reservoir for at least a quarter of global biodiversity, and therefore requires the same attention as above-ground biodiversity. Soil also plays a key role in the supply of clean water and resilience to floods and droughts.

The maintenance or enhancement of global soil resources is essential if humanity’s need for food, water, and energy security is to be met, the FAO report stated.

In keeping with IYS, the Ministry aims to intensify its soil health assessment programme in order to evaluate the status of soil degradation and to change the trends of unsustainable farming practices. Best practices in soil health are needed to help farmers and other stakeholders understand the chain of cause and effects that link farm decisions to ultimate productivity and health of crops and livestock.

Through the ALMD, which has responsibility for providing technical advice on all the lands suitable for agriculture, the Ministry provides technical advice on soil fertility, nutrient management and fertilizer application. Analytical testing services are provided by the Soil Health, Plant Tissue and Water Activities Laboratory.

In celebration of the IYS and to increase awareness of the importance of the soil for food security, nutrient cycling and sustainable development, several activities have been earmarked by the soil technocrats.  These include meetings with various stakeholders, a poster competition for high-school students under the theme “Healthy soil, healthy lives” and a seminar on World Soil Day on December 5, 2015.

Remember, at the root of a healthy and productive agricultural sector is good, healthy soil.