2015 The International Year of Soils

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May 2015

In this bulletin:

Healthy soils

The multiple roles of soils often go unnoticed. Soils don’t have a voice, and few people speak out for them. They are our silent ally in food production” (José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director-General)

In proclaiming 2015 The International Year of Soils, the United Nations aims to bring together the results of research and farmers’ experiences to show how factors that affect soil health have far-reaching consequences.

Soil degradation currently affects 25% of the global land mass. At Wageningen University Professor Wallinga and his team are working on developing ways to define and quantify soil degradation so that effective policies can be developed to maintain soil fertility and encourage sustainable land management practices. Read more

Professor Wallinga is also scientific chair of the second Wageningen Soil Conference, which will be held in August 2015. Soil scientists will meet with researchers and policy makers from over the world to discuss the importance of sustainable soil management.



Soil conservation at farm level

Agrodoks are a series of Agromisa publications on small-holders agriculture and aim at people who work directly with farmers in the South. Each provides a theoretical background on a particular topic and then explains its practical applications extensively.
The Agrodoks reviewed below deal with the ways in which soil fertility can be managed in a sustainable way.


Agrodok 2: Soil fertility management

Rienke Nieuwenhuis and Laura van Schöll (2007 revised)

The Agrodok draws on material from an earlier edition on green manures. A revision was made because it became clear that green manures could not be dealt with separately, because they are an important element in integrated soil fertility management, especially when combined with the application animal manure.
This Agrodok also provides information about chemical fertilizers, but the authors warn that these will not maintain the necessary levels of soil fertility in the long run. If farmers only use artificial fertilizers they will face increasingly serious problems of soil degradation.
Where weathered, extremely nutrient-poor soils, such as those found in some tropical areas, affect production the authors suggest an integrated approach and show how this can be achieved.


Agrodok 8: Preparation and use of compost

Madeleine Inckel et al (2005)

The Agrodok provides the reader with the most recent insight into why composting is essential, how compost can be prepared and applied in tropical and subtropical areas. It gives a simple description of the processes that take place in the soil during composting and there are practical suggestions on constructing a compost heap. A selection of compost methods and applications are given to illustrate the reasons why compost should be applied and how this should be done.


Agrodok 11: Erosion control in the tropics

Hil Kuypers et al (2005)

The authors introduce the problem of erosion control by emphasizing the need to recognize erosion at an early stage. Currently, every minute an estimated 10 hectares of agricultural land is lost to erosion worldwide. While the seriousness of the problem differs from country to country local differences must also be taken into account. This handbook describes the factors that cause and influence erosion and describes the measures that can be taken to conserve the soil. There is also an extensive reference section that can be used by those facing locally specific erosion problems. Wind erosion is not dealt with in this handbook although erosion caused by so-called mass movements (earthquakes, landslides and mud streams) are discussed because these are often related to water erosion.


Agrodok 13: Water harvesting and soil moisture retention

Justine Anschutz et al (2005)

This Agrodok has been written for agricultural extension workers who work with farmers in (semi) arid areas where rainfall is infrequent but intense and surface run-off heavy. As a result water shortages, eroded soils and low yields are major problems. The authors describe how this rainwater can be harvested and the techniques that can be used to stimulate infiltration, how to reduce evaporation and encourage better soil moisture retention. Farmers working in sub-humid zones can also benefit from the soil moisture conservation techniques described.
The handbook has many clear and practical illustrations.



Agrodoks: Special offers!

Get 4 for the price of 3! Until 31st of December 2015.
The reviewed Agrodoks in this bulletin, Soil fertility management, Preparation and use of compost, Erosion control in the tropics and Water harvesting and soil moisture retention have a special package price of €30, instead of €40.

Order here for this offer in English and here for French

New Agrodok! Edible insects in Africa
This Agrodok shows where to find, how to collect and prepare 10 different insect species. This way Agromisa aims to contribute to the use of edible insects as part of nutrtious diets. The new edition is available in both English and French.

Order now! Before 30 June 2015 at the reduced price of €12,50 (Normal price €15)


Further reading

Of particular interest is the March edition of Farming Matters from ILEIA: Soils for Life. Case studies are used to give a comprehensive account of farmers’ experiences with agro-ecological approaches for building up sustainable soil fertility.

Also recommended is the very good abstract of the first Wageningen Soil Conference in 2011




How to order

If you would like to order Agrodok(s), please send an email to or order through our website.

They are available in English, French and some in Portuguese and Spanish.
The price per booklet is € 10 (No.1 - 50) and €15 (no. 51 and above), excluding postage.
The whole series – 53 titles that are of direct relevance to those working in or with the small-holder agricultural sector - can be ordered in a package for €380, excluding postage.

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