Does soil make your heart beat?

Soil usually doesn´t make people jump with excitement. It is not as scary as snakes, beautiful like an orchid or magnificent as giraffes and elephants. Let’s admit it – many people really don´t think soil is sexy. I am not a soil scientist and I have to confess that I find plants more attractive than soils. That shouldn‘t come as a surprise since I am trained as a plant ecologist. Instead of studying soil profiles, I spent eight years studying lovely arctic and alpine plant species in the stunning landscapes of the Swiss Alps, Greenland, Svalbard and Iceland.

Nevertheless, soils are extremely important and actually quite interesting and attractive if I come to think of it. They are full of life. They hold more carbon than vegetation and the atmosphere combined and they reinforce our planet´s life support system. Knowing the importance of soil and its ties with global food security, it is a worrying fact that land degradation is a major global challenge, affecting the life of millions of people, especially in the poorest part of the world.

Last week, an international conference on Soil Carbon Sequestration for climate, food security and ecosystem services was held in Reykjavik. Scientists from all over the world gathered to share their knowledge and ideas as well as thinking of ways to bridge the gap between science, policy and action in relation to soil carbon sequestration – a critical issue in the quest to make a real difference and live in a sustainable world. At the conference, I introduced our work at the United Nations University Land Restoration Training Programme, and how we strive to link science/knowledge, policy and action. The programme offers annually a six-month training course for specialists coming from developing countries faced with severe land degradation. Our aim is to graduate specialists who are able to act on their knowledge, drive actions at local community to policy levels and we hope that our trainees are able to make the critical link between the science, policy and action on return to their home countries. Testimonials from former trainees give us hope that they are able to do so and that our programme is a fruitful platform for learning and sharing ideas on how to combat land degradation and restore degraded land with the multiple benefits for climate, food security and ecosystem services.

Dryas octopetala

Summer has arrived in Iceland. On a hike last weekend in the foothills of a volcano, I saw one of my favourite plant species flowering, the mountain Avens (Dryas octopetala). The beautiful white flower caught my attention and filled my heart with joy. What about the soil, which the mountain Avens could not live without? Yes, it did catch my attention and I can’t wait to dive into the Icelandic volcanic soils this summer with my three year old daughter. Together, we will feel its texture, look at its colour and maybe taste it as well. In addition, I will tell her about its magic – its importance – its biota. Although I am still not convinced that soil is sexy, I do find it fun, exciting, attractive and important. What more can you ask for?

Hafdis Hanna

Some coverage of the conference in the international media:

Inter Press News Network
http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/05/peak-water-peak-oilnow-peak-soil/

Al Jazeera global news network
http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/05/2013531155229173615.html

Reuters Alert Net
http://www.trust.org/item/20130531154627-q1fcy

Jakarta Globe
http://www.thejakartaglobe.com/international/peak-water-peak-oil-now-peak-soil/

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