Soil security - the next global challenge

12 July 2012

The health and quality of soil is critical to industry, humanity and the planet.
The health and quality of soil is critical to industry, humanity and the planet.

Challenges to the health and functioning of our soil pose significant issues for the future of humanity and the planet. To examine the importance of soil, the University of Sydney's Faculty of Agriculture and Environment and United States Studies Centre are holding a research symposium on soil security on Tuesday 17 July, preceded by a panel discussion on 16 July. Both events are open to the public.

The symposium will be officially opened by Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir, Chancellor of the University of Sydney and Governor of NSW, and Professor Ian Chubb, Chief Scientist for Australia and will feature eminent international and Australian experts discussing soil security from a range of perspectives.

"Soil is often forgotten, but as a society we must recognise the fundamental importance of soil and soil carbon for food security and the survival and health of human populations. Soil security is equal to climate change as a global challenge," said Alex McBratney, Professor of Soil Science in the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment and co-convenor of the research symposium on soil security.

"The concept of soil security is a new idea and represents groundbreaking thinking on how soil is managed and maintained in such a way that it can continue to provide essential ecosystem services that humans rely on daily," he said.

"In this symposium, we're approaching soil security from a range of dimensions, including political, social, scientific and economic," said Professor McBratney.

The panel discussion 'Why aren't we talking about soil?' is on the night of Monday 16 July. International speakers and Professor McBratney will dissect the concept of soil security.

Keynote speakers at the panel discussion and symposium are:

  • Professor Edward B Barbier - the John S Bugas Professor of Economics, University of Wyoming, USA, who will discuss the economic implications of soil security, discussing land degradation and the rural poor
  • Professor Johan Bouma - Emeritus Professor of Soil Science, Wageningen University, Netherlands, who will talk about the science of soil security and how it connects to policy
  • Professor Cornelia Flora - Charles F Curtis Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Agriculture and Life Sciences, Department of Sociology, Iowa State University, USA, who will present a sociological perspective on soil carbon management
  • Professor Rattan Lal - Distinguished Professor, School of Environment & Natural Resources, Ohio State University, USA, who will discuss the problems of global soil degradation, and policy around soil carbon management and sequestration

Adjunct Professor in Sustainability at the University of Sydney's United States Studies Centre and co-convenor of the research symposium, Robert Hill says that in terms of immediate effects on human health, soil degradation is a much bigger deal than climate change, yet we rarely hear it discussed in the media or by governments.

"By improving the sequestration of carbon in soil to enhance soil security we can increase production and reduce carbon emissions at the same time. It is a win-win solution," explained Adjunct Professor Hill.

"Globally, we need a coherent soil security strategy that will maintain and improve the world's soil resources to ensure continuity of quality food, fibre and fresh water. Securing soil is critical to achieving energy and climate sustainability, maintaining biodiversity and ensuring the overall protection of ecosystem goods and services."

Panel discussion details

What: 'Why aren't we talking about soil?'

When: 5.45 to 7.30pm, Monday 16 July

Where: Great Hall, the Quadrangle, Camperdown Campus

Cost: Free

Research symposium details

What: Soil Security

When: 8am to 4.30pm, Tuesday 17 July

Where: Lecture Theatre 101, New Law School Building, Camperdown Campus

Cost: $20

Bookings: Register for the research symposium in person at the venue from 8am on the day

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