Soil. Dirt. Muck. Hardly the most glamours substances, but essential to life! World Soil Day is observed annually on the 5th December as a means of focusing attention on the importance of healthy soil and advocating for the sustainable management of soil resources.

The 5th December was chosen because it corresponds with the official birthday of H. M. King Bhumibol Abdulyadej, the King of Thailand, who officially sanctioned the event.

For this year, the official poster has the slogan ‘Soils, Where Food Begins’. This is very apt, as the majority of food we eat (other than that from aquatic environments) comes either directly or indirectly from the soil.

To support initiatives and to encourage innovation, there are prizes available – the WSD Award and the Glinka Prize. The WSD Award is to recognise individuals and/or institutions that have made an effort to organize successful celebrations in the framework of the World Soil Day campaign of the previous year, whilst the Glinka Prize is for those who have made outstanding achievements in implementing the principles and recommended actions of the revised World Soil charter. The achievement(s) should contribute to one or more of the 5 pillars of the Global Soil Partnership, which are:

  1. Soil Management
  2. Awareness raising
  3. Research
  4. Information and Data
  5. Harmonization

So, what is soil and why should we look after it?

Soil is a combination of weathered rock and decaying organic matter that is able to support plant growth. The processes involved in soil formation are complex; a result from the combined actions of physical impacts (for example, heating, cooling and freezing); chemical (dissolving the various constituents of the soil for instance) and biological (the influence of earthworms; micro-organisms; plants and so on) and take many years: 3 cm of soil can take 1000 years to form and 10 000 years is needed for a soil to reach ‘maturity’. Conversely, when vegetation is removed, soil can be eroded within 50 years.

Estimates of soil loss vary widely. A figure given some years ago was 75 billion metric tons of soil lost per year. This has been called into question but, even the revised figures are still astounding (35 billion metric tons has been recently put forward).

With an increasing global population, food needs to come from somewhere, and, together with the worries of high levels of artificial fertilizer, pesticide and herbicide use, the need to conserve soil is paramount.

So, how to maintain healthy soil?

There are a number of steps that need to be taken to maintain healthy soil and, thereby, ensuring food supplies are maintained. These include:

  • Retain vegetation coverings
  • Mulch
  • Avoid overwatering
  • Avoid salinization
  • Monitor the acidity / alkalinity
  • Avoid overuse of artificial fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides
  • Avoid over compaction of the soil
  • Rotate crops
  • Use organic manures and fertilizers
  • Undertake proper waste disposal and reclamation to avoid contaminating the soil
  • Cultivate plants that are best suited to the local soil conditions

If World Soil Day encourages you to think a little about the soil and the food that grows in it, then it has succeeded in one of its aims.

To find out more, check out the following websites: