Saturday, 15 July 2006

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Soil Issues.

Freddy O. Nachtergaele, Rudi Dudal, and Louise Fresco. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Via delle Terme di Caracalla, Rome, Italy

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) was established on the 16th of October 1945 in Quebec, Canada. It was created as a technical agency of the United Nations to deal with issues of world hunger and agricultural development. Its Headquarters are in Rome, Italy. FAO's mandate is to raise levels of nutrition, improve agricultural productivity, better the lives of rural populations and contribute to the growth of the world economy. FAO activities comprise four main areas related to food and agriculture: (i) Putting information within reach; (ii) Sharing policy expertise (iii) Providing a meeting place for nations (iv) Bringing knowledge to the field. FAO, in its 60 years of existence, has had close relations with the IUSS and Soil Resources inventories, management and planning in particular. A Land and Water branch was created within FAO as early as 1946. The highlights of this branch (later the Land and Water Development Division) included the publication of one of the first Multilingual Vocabulary on Soils (1952), the “Freedom from Hunger” campaign which created the very successful Fertilizer Program (1960). In the same year FAO and the International Soil Science Society launched the Soil Map of the World project. During the nineteen seventies the FAO-UNESCO Soil Map of the World was published and the World Soil Charter, a FAO initiative, adapted by its member nations (1981). In 1977 the Framework for Land Evaluation was published. In 1978 the first results of FAO's Agro-ecological zones study were published and later expanded globally with the assistance of IIASA. During the 1980's much of the earlier work was consolidated and expanded. A major contribution being the harmonization of soil classification and terminology under the ISSS initiative of the World reference Base for Soil Resources and the constant updates of the soil map of the World under the ISSS working group on SOTER (World Soil and Terrain Database). The land degradation assessments undertaken earlier by FAO became the basis for the GLASOD (Global Assessment of human induced Soil Degradation) legend. The nineteen nineties saw a renewed shift in soil attention when the Rio Conference in 1992 launched a process that emphasised participatory approaches in land use planning (Guidelines published by FAO in 1994) and an enhanced attention to sustainable development, rather than a production-focussed approach. In the first years of the new millenium, new problems, such as climate change and the loss of biodiversity, were recognized and a more holistic and interdisciplinary approach dealing with ecosystems rather than soils in isolation became the rule. FAO's Land and Water Development Division has produced numerous benchmark publications. It remains the custodian of thousands of soil maps and a major source of soil information worldwide through its land and water digital media series and web site.

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