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FAO appoints two scientists as special ambassadors for International Year of Soils

NEW DELHI: FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva has appointed two scientists to serve as Special Ambassadors for the International Year of Soils and act as champions for better management of the non-renewable resource he calls humankind’s “silent ally.”

Claire Chenu, a French biodiversity expert and professor of soil sciences at Agro Paris Tech University, and Tekalign Mamo Assefa, an expert in soil management and senior government advisor in Ethiopia, will be the ambassadors.

Both have years of experience in the policy making sphere and will participate in events around the world geared at motivating relevant stakeholders to take advantage of the International Year of Soils and help increase public awareness, disseminate technical knowledge and promote effective policies.

Chenu and Mamo offer complementary expertise with their respective specialties in the biological traits of the underground world and on soil’s sustainable management.

Along with her strong academic track record, Professor Chenu is a veteran in navigating the interface between science and policy making. She is Vice-Chair of France’s Scientific Council for Natural Heritage and Biodiversity, an advisory committee to the environment minister in Paris, which recently promulgated national soil policy recommendations, and has advisory roles with similar institutions in Germany and Switzerland. Chenu is also in charge of formulating an agenda for research and eventual transfer to end users of scientific results related to law, sociology, economy, ecology and soil sciences.

Professor Mamo, currently an advisor to his country’s Ministry of Agriculture, holds a teaching position at Haramaya University in Ethiopia. His area of academic expertise is in soil fertility and fertilizers.

Mamo has been engaged in land management and food security issues around the world since 1982, including a long-term national project to improve Ethiopia’s clay soils. He has since 2005 led a watershed development strategy focussing on community ownership that has reversed degradation on about 13 million hectares of land that are currently being given to local landless and jobless rural youth to generate income.

The International Year of Soils

The UN General Assembly declared 2015 to be the International Year of Soils in order to highlight their importance as the foundation of global agriculture.

The world’s soils resources are responsible for 90 percent of food production, provide key nutritional needs and have a critical role both as an engine of biodiversity and as a carbon storage resource.

Globally around a third of all soils are degraded due to erosion, compaction, soil sealing, salinization, acidification, pollution and nutrient depletion caused by unsustainable soil management practices.

FAO has produced a World Soil Map and one of its priorities is to update, standardize and render accessible the world’s knowledge of soil distribution with a focus on its functional properties.

“Healthy soils for a healthy life” is the slogan of the Year and its implementation has succeeded in placing soils back on the international policy agenda. One interesting challenge for the two new ambassadors is to find ways to keep this momentum going beyond 2015.