Flavours From Our Soils – World Day to Combat Desertification

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IMG_5212To celebrate World Day to Combat Desertification and the International Year of Soils, an event entitled “Flavours From Our Soils” was held at the University of Bern on 17 June. The event was organized by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), the Swiss Federal Office for Agriculture (FOAG), Agroscope, the Centre for Development and Environment (CDE), and the World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies (WOCAT). The communications team of the Initiative for Land, Lives, Peace (ILLP) participated in the event.

Attendees were welcomed by an address from Mr. Yves Guinand of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. Mr. Guinand introduced the event and explained that the organizers had invited women farmers to serve as panelists because the SDC is mainstreaming gender in development work, and because women are the backbone of agricultural production in the developing world. Mr. Guinand also explained that the products featured at the event, rooibos tea and wine were both products of drylands. He reminded the audience that 2 billion people worldwide live in drylands, and that the SDC was specifically targeting these people. IMG_5213

The welcome address was followed by a presentation on “A global perspective on the value of soils” by Mr. Ronald Vargas Rojas, of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Mr. Rojas highlighted that soils are alive and performed an array of services that were invisible. Hence the FAO had launched an education campaign to raise awareness of the importance of soils. The FAO stressed that soil was a non-renewable resource, because it takes many years to restore degraded soils. Mr. Rojas explained the drivers, types, and consequences of soil degradation around the world. He also shared that there are sustainable soil management policies. He noted that the FAO was pushing for soils to be included as part of the Sustainable Development Goals that will be agreed upon later this year. Mr. Rojas also reiterated the importance of investing in soils to generate job opportunities. He concluded by noting that it was important keep the momentum on soils going past 2015, the International Year of Soils.

The next presentation was on “Examples of sustainable land management in the Mediterranean region” by Gudrun Schwilch of the CDE. Ms. Schwilch highlighted that desertification was an insidious catastrophe, even for European farmers. She noted however that sustainable land management could stop desertification. She also shared examples of sustainable land management practices such as seeding without plowing. Sustainable land management however required adequate financial support. Ms. Schwilch concluded that desertification threats demand a response. Humans may be the cause of desertification, but humans can also provide a cure. She reiterated the need to support sustainable land use an act of solidarity that benefits us all. IMG_5215

The presentations were followed by a WOCAT video on the principles of sustainable land management featuring testimonies from farmers. The farmers shared examples of best practices, such as constructing terraces to prevent runoff of topsoil, and planting trees to reduce wind erosion of the soil surface. The farmers also highlighted how sustainable land management increased their agricultural yields and resulted in greater economic and food security for themselves and their families. The successful farmers were now sharing their knowledge with their neighbors and local communities.

Participants then had an opportunity to visit an interactive exhibition about the diversity and functions of soils. WOCAT researchers had constructed models illustrating the water retention capacities of different soils and the impact of soil degradation. There was also an opportunity for rooibos tea tasting. The communications team of ILLP engaged the interest of young researchers in the Caux Dialogue on Land and Security.

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The communications team also reconnected with former participants of last year’s Caux Dialogue on Land, Lives, Peace.

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