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Highlight April 2013

Soil Atlas of Africa unveiled

The European Commissioner for Climate Action, Connie Hedegaard, presented the JRC’s new Soil Atlas of Africa at the European Commission and African Union Commission College-to-College meeting in Addis Ababa on Friday 26 April.  The Soil Atlas of Africa is the latest in a series of soil atlases produced by the JRC, which are essential references for a non-renewable resource that is fundamental for life on this planet.

The Soil Atlas of Africa, the first of its kind, uses striking maps, informative texts and stunning photographs to present the diversity of soil across the African continent. It explains what soil is, where it comes from, the unique characteristics of soils in Africa, the services soil provides to society and the environment, and how soil resources are affected by human activities. With its stunning full-colour maps and illustrations, it explains why it is so important to preserve this precious natural resource. The Atlas was produced by the JRC in collaboration with the African Union, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the African Soil Science Society and soil scientists from Africa and Europe.

Some members of the Editorial Board at the 2009 Africa Soil Science Society Conference in Cameroon

The aim of the atlas is to raise awareness at all levels, from politicians to the general public, of the significance of soil to life in Africa. With its stunning full-colour maps and illustrations, the atlas explains the diversity of soil across the African continent and explains why it is so important to preserve this precious resource. It analyses the major threats to soil and presents the steps needed to protect soil resources.

Africa has some of the most fertile land on the planet, but much of it is in a fragile state, often lacking in essential nutrients and organic matter. Up to 98% of all calories consumed in Africa originate from African soil resources. Deserts and drylands comprise 60% of the land surface of the African continent, and much of the remaining land is made up of old, highly weathered soils which require special treatment in order to be of use for agriculture. Population growth and urbanisation, coupled with conflicting economic challenges (cultivation of cash crops for export, biofuel production, biodiversity conservation, mineral extraction, carbon sequestration), increase the already heavy pressure on the land.

The Soil Atlas of Africa will be the basis for a pan-African assessment on the state of soil resources to be launched at the conference of the African Soil Science Society in Kenya in October.

Physical copies of the book will be available through the EU Publications Office towards the end of May 2013. 

On Thursday 18 April, the European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, presented a copy of the Soil Atlas of Africa to Derek Hanekom, the South African Minister for Science and Technology.

Some key facts presented in the Soil Atlas of Africa

  • Organic matter in the soil can store more than ten times its weight of water, which reduces risk of floods and protects underground water supplies.
  • Africa's soils store about 200 gigatonnes of organic carbon - 2.5 times more than contained in the continent's plants.
  • Tropical rainforest soils are not naturally fertile but need a constant supply of organic matter from natural vegetation. Deforestation breaks this cycle.
  • Over half of Africa's land surface is characterised by sandy soils (22%), shallow stony soils (17%) and young, weakly developed soils (11%).
  • Many of the soils of Africa are severely degraded by erosion and excessive nutrient depletion. This explains the low productivity of African soils, which is mainly due to a lack of plant nutrients that is not adequately replenished by artificial fertilisers. On average, African farmers, due to rural poverty, are able to apply only 10% of the nutrients that farmers in the rest of the world return to the soil.

Click here to view a short video that gives a taste of the what the Soil Atlas of Africa contains.  


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