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The Launch of the Global Soil Partnership (GSP)

The Launch of the Global Soil Partnership at FAO Headquarters, Rome, Italy, September 2011

By IBI Board Member Marta Camps Arbestain

A major meeting was organized last September by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in collaboration with the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, to launch the Global Soil Partnership (GSP). The main objective of this meeting was to discuss the terms of reference of the GSP with FAO member countries and key stakeholders to obtain reactions and recommendations on the way forward towards the establishment of this partnership. The meeting lasted three days and was attended by participants representing soil institutions from all over the world, as well as associations, project leaders, FAO permanent representative/country delegations, and civil society organizations. Mr. Alexander Müller, Assistant Director General (ADG) of FAO Natural Resources Management and Environment Department acted, as the secretary of the meeting.

The keynote speakers were Dr. Amadou Boubacar Cisse (Minister of Planning, Republic of Niger), Dr. Luc Gnacadja (Executive Secretary of UNCCD), Dr. Pia Bucella (European Commission-DG Environment), Dr. Corrado Clini (Global Bioenergy Partnership), Prof. M.S. Swaminathan (MS Swaminathan Research Foundation), Mr. Alexander Müller (ADG, FAO), Dr. Pedro Sanchez (Columbia University/CIAT), Dr. Jochen Flassbarth (President of the Federal Environment Agency, Germany); Dr. Martin Yemefack (President of African Soil Science Society), Dr. Neil McKenzie (Director Australian CSIRO), Dr. Mohamed Bakaar (Global Environment Facility), Dr. Ania Grobicki (Executive Secretary of the Global Water Partnership), and Prof. Klaus Töpfer (Executive Director of the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies).

Brief regional statements were presented by key organizations and institutions working on soils: Asia was introduced by the Chinese Institute of Soil Science, Europe by the European Commission, Latin America by EMBRAPA, North America by the NRCS-USDA, Oceania by Australian CSIRO (by Dr. Mike Grundy and co-authored by Dr. Allan Hewitt from New Zealand) and Sub-Saharan Africa by the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa. The research needs specific to each region were presented.

During the three-day meeting there was very active discussion among attendees and organizers. There was unanimous support for the GSP and for the urgent need for action (the fact that we have reached a “peak soil” was mentioned several times). There was a general agreement on (i) the need for policy makers to recognize the importance of soils; (ii) the need for a common language, terminologies, methods, a universal soil classification as a basis for cooperation; (iii) the need to focus on soil (although framing efforts should be within a broader context); (iv) the need for an agreement on technical standards; (v) the need to ensure that all main land uses are included; (vi) the need for a finer resolution of maps; (vii) the need to promote education for the next generation of soil expertise; (viii) the need to link technical and policy areas; and (ix) the value of FAO to initially coordinate the GSP’s development.

The way forward and next steps were presented by Mr. Pasquale Steduto (FAO) at the end of the meeting and are as follows:

  1. A Technical Working Group, coordinated by FAO will develop sound zero draft terms of reference for the GSP. This will be well structured and balanced, considering regional as well as national partners and FAO and its decentralized offices. It will identify priority actions, targets, and resources needed for an initial work plan and potential lead and collaborative partners for specific pillars. It will also develop a business plan, and financial and communication strategies.
  2. An Open-ended Working Group will be established through FAO Governing Bodies in accordance with FAO procedures. This will consider the establishment of the Inter-governmental Panel on Soils (IPS).

The documentation of the meeting is available on the FAO website at:; Click here for the full documentation of the meeting provided by FAO