COAG25: Sustainable agricultural water use starts with improving the soil
Less water, less fertilizer, less fuel and less pesticides. This positive outlook looms for farmers worldwide who take better notice of the status of their soil. Optimal management of water resources begins with improving the soil. This will be the central message at the side event Smart soil and water information of the 25th meeting of FAO’s committee on agriculture.
The side event takes place in Rome, Italy, on 29 September and is organised by the Global Soil Partnership (GSP) and the Netherlands Water Partnership (NWP).
The Global soil partnership will present its Voluntary guidelines for sustainable soil management, NWP will launch its campaign on Water & agriculture and FAO will present its project on ecosystem services.
Good soil, less water
The Committee on Agriculture of the UN's Food and agriculture organization (FAO) entered into its 25th meeting in Rome earlier this week. This meeting specifically addresses the integration of
land, water, agriculture, forestry and fisheries.
By taking an integrated approach the COAG-committee hopes to stimulate the innovation that is needed in the agricultural sector to increase the global food production and be able to erase hunger by 2030.
According to senior adviser Peter Prins (right on top photo in Vietnam) at the Netherlands Water Partnership (NWP) a more integrated approach on improving soil conditions and sustainable use of water resources, holds much potential for innovation.
"Good soil conditions have a tremendous effect, not for the farmers that need less water, but also to balance the availability of water in dry and wet seasons in a whole river bassin", Prins assures.
Prins will be one of the experts to give a presentation on the side event on Smart soil and water information.
Simple field tests
For Peter Prins it all boils down to encouraging farmers worldwide to do a few simple soil tests.
“It is hard to see poor farmers, using the little money they have, to buy expensive fertilizer and chemicals that is not absorbed, flushed away by rainwater and irrigation, only ending up polluting the groundwater or rivers”.
According to Prins farmers should be more concerned about the physical, chemical and biological conditions of the soil.
In 2008 the FAO published the Visual soil assessment field guides as a basic tool for farmers to gain better insight in the conditions of their soils.
"It turns out however that farmers do not conduct these simple field tests. They are advised to use a certain amount of fertilizer per hectare, regardless of the chemical conditions of their soil", Prins notices.Tillage-induced soil erosion in developing countries can entail soil losses exceeding 150 t/ha annually and soil erosion, accelerated by wind and water (photo: R. Jones/FAO/19376)
More organic matter
Soils can easily become compacted, Prins continues to explain. Compacted soil can cut crop yields as much as 50 percent due to reduced aeration, increased resistance to root penetration, poor internal drainage and limited availability of plant nutrients.
"By using green cover crops or grass, the organic matter in the soil can easily be increased. This has several advantages", according to Prins.
"The soil can hold more water so the farmer can produce the same crop with less irrigation. Another advantage is the reduction of soil erosion as there is less bare land. Not to mention the effect on the whole river basin. As the farm land can absorb more rainwater there will be less floods and subsequently less need to construct large straight drainage canals to quickly get rid of huge amounts of storm water."
Compaction can also be a result of heavy machinery that is used by farmers on their fields. By ploughing only the top, a hard layer remains in the sub soil. "This prevents roots to grow deeper but also for the groundwater to raise up to the roots. So it would be better to break those layers by ploughing a little deeper."
Read more about the session on 29 September on the special website of the 25th COAG meeting.
Read also on this website
● FAO and Unesco-IHE aim to improve water management in Near East and Africa with remote sensing, 2 December 2015
● Stockholm World Water Week 2015: More crop per drop with satellites measuring water productivity, 26 August 2015
● Kenyan farmers supported for better access to 'smart water' products and services, 15 June 2016
FAO - Committee on agriculture
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