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Soils / / Down to Earth: the importance of local land data

Down to Earth: the importance of local land data

The ongoing Global Soils Week in Berlin is a collective process and a knowledge platform for sustainable soil management and responsible land governance worldwide. Every room and hallway buzzes with discussions, from the newest soil science technology to importance of land and soil to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

CIAT brings the discussion back down to touch ground by highlighting the importance of local land data.

Landscape assessments are a vital tool for sustainable development, as they highlight the links between people and nature. They allow planners to assess where in the landscape different development activities should be placed in order to have minimal negative impacts on nature. Soils are at the heart of this, particularly when it comes to assessing the suitability of areas for different types of development.

Good quality, local soil information that reflects the reality on the ground is vital for this type of planning and decision making. Local, “down to earth” data is particularly important for assessing the suitability of areas for different types of farming and giving useful land management recommendations to farmers, land managers, investors and others.

Yet more often than not, modelling and research efforts that lead to land management recommendations for landscape planning do not make use of quality local soil data (if they include soil data at all). This can lead to flawed recommendations.

At the same time, management recommendations for sustainable development will only lead to action on the ground if they can actually be implemented.  Recommendations need to be carefully tailored to local settings to avoid the danger of not being relevant or feasible.

Quality, local soil and land data can help us to understand the trade-offs and find the sweet spot where people’s needs meet environmental integrity.

 The devil is in the detail: Understanding the realities of land management in Malawi

Communities that may appear similar at a broad scale in reality face very different challenges on the ground. Planning for and investing in sustainable landscapes must take this into account.

In four communities in Malawi, we asked each community how they use their landscape, the natural resources they rely on and their perceptions of the state of their land and resources.

Through participatory mapping we show how the diversity of communities impacts potential recommendations for sustainable land management and directions of future investments. It is an iterative process of gathering, analyzing, sharing good quality local data, putting it to use and gathering feedback to improve it.

The role of local soil data in landscape planning for ecosystem services in Tanzania

Ecosystem service assessments to support local decision making on sustainable land management interventions should consider using local datasets in order to make more robust and relevant recommendations.

In Northern Tanzania, CIAT is working with local communities and decision makers to determine how to sustainably intensify farming systems.

CIAT models and presents the results of ecosystem service assessments clearly illustrate how coarse data presents a completely different picture of what is happening on the ground in comparison to finer scale “down to earth” data.

For example, Global datasets underestimated annual runoff by 23%, which could mask the severity of the impacts of runoff. This includes underestimating the runoff that can increase soil erosion and could lead to higher sedimentation in streams.

This data is being used to model how changes in management practices might result in changes in ecosystem services, such as water quality, and identify those practices that will have the most benefits for the farmers, downstream users, and the environment. This information is being shared with local decision makers to make the case for more sustainable farming practices.

Find us April 22 at Global Soil Week in the Wolverine room at lunch


The UN has declared 2015 as the International Year of Soils to raise awareness of the urgent need to protect the resource that feeds and waters us. Find out how CIATs global soils research team of soil scientists, ecologists and anthropologists are working with partners to protect and restore this vital resource





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November 2017
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  • Julius Kinjabe: I wish to have my one acre land under soybeans this season. I am in Bungoma (Bumula). please advice. reply to jkinjabe@yahoo.com
  • Hellen Chege: #Talk soil When carrying a soil test on a given farm that has different section(tree zone, backyard e.t.c) should the soil sample be mixed or are they treated differently?
  • erichj: Clean Biomass cooking is no small thing. The World Bank Study; Biochar Systems for Smallholders in Developing Countries: Leveraging Current Knowledge and Exploring Future Potential for Climate-Smart Agriculture http://fb.me/38njVu2qz has very exacting analysis of biomass usage & sources, energy & emissions. Also for Onion farmers in Senegal and Peanut farmers in Vietnam. A simple extrapolation made from the Kenya cook stove study, assuming 250M TLUDs, (Top-Lite Up Draft) Cook Stoves for the roughly 1 billion folks world wide now using open burning. A TLUD per Household of 4, producing 0.52 tons char/Household/yr, X 250M = 130 Mt Char/yr Showing sequestration of 130 Million tons of Biochar per year, could be achieved just from cooking. In terms of CO2e, these 250M Households reduce 825M Tons of CO2e annually. The cascading pulmonary health benefits for woman & children is the very thick icing on this 0.825 GtCO2e Soil Carbon Cake.
  • Getabu: I am searching for soya beans which matures less than four months. please let me know where to get them and contacts of the sellers. reply to rainbowrural@yahoo.com thank you. meroka
  • chrispin okumu: Our group partners with N2Africa in western kenya.https://www.facebook.com/pages/Livelihood-Environment-Agriculture-Food-LEAF-project/415038845239972?ref=hl