Blog Posts Martti Esala Agriculture, Food, Forestry, Garden

Year 2015 was nominated by the United Nations as International Year of Soils. For the science community such a nomination can be seen as recognition the value of soils, their science and people working with them. It was also a great opportunity to tell the public about the value of soils and their functions.

In Finland, we had two main events to use this opportunity. In June we arranged the public opening of new soils exhibition in Luke’s Elonkierto Park in Jokioinen. The exhibition was open until September with some special activities in the children’s agricultural exhibition Mansikki.

Another main activity was the celebration of the World Soil Day on the fourth of December in Helsinki. This activity was arranged by an expert group chaired by the Ministry of Environment. We organized a seminar in the Think Corner of the University of Helsinki with some presentations about soils broadcasted as a videostream to the web. The main event was a cocktail party where we presented our Declaration of the Soil Day to the Minister of Agriculture and Environment. It highlighted four important aspects of soils and it was signed by 27 institutes and organizations.

  1. Soil feeds fields and forests. It is the foundation for vegetation that grows and is cultivated for human food, animal feed, fibre, fuel and medicines. Soil impacts the quantity and quality of the food produced and it recycles the nutrients contained in dead plants and animals back to be used by other living organisms.
  2. Soil is the habitat for a diverse range of living organisms, which represent a fourth of the total biological diversity of our planet. A spoonful of healthy soil contains more living organisms than there are people on the Earth. These living organisms are a measurable and partly yet unknown genetic reserve that can be utilized e.g. for developing new medicines.
  3. Soil is the skin of the Earth, with a role to play in climate change mitigation and adaptation. It produces greenhouse gas emissions, mainly as a result of farming activities, and it is a key factor in the carbon cycle as it functions as an important carbon reservoir.
  4. Soil is a huge filter and storage element for water, as it stores and filters water for the needs of plants and humans and protects against floods and drought. The status of our water bodies depends a great deal on nutrients and contaminants coming from the lands.

We managed to organize quite a good selection of events to highlight this thematic year. Of course the whole year could have been filled with various events. One problem was raising the funding for the activities, but this was overcome the  famous Finnish “talkoot” activities (a typical Finnish way of working volutarily together, a concept as typical for the Finns as “sisu” or guts). Thanks for all those who took the lead to organize these events.

As an experience from this year there remains the question, how to popularize something that is not easily seen by human eyes, that is not raising as big emotions as young ice hockey champions, but is still extremely important for our existence. We did not get many hits in the media. Still we have to keep up our efforts to tell the public about the secrets of soils.

But how to do this like they do in nature films showing the life on African savannas or in the deep seas? Who could be our David Attenborough or Jacques Cousteau? The education of soils should be started from children’s books or teaching materials for schools, where the new tools like e-learning can give new opportunities. We must continue our work telling about soils like every year is a Year of Soils.

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