Integrated Land Management to Ensure Future Soil and Water Security

  • 2018/06/09     Bologna, Italy

    Image: Lulu Zhang/UNU-FLORES

    By Cornel Dick, Intern, Communications and Advocacy

    In face of the pressing issue of sustaining a growing world population on a limited area of arable land in the decades to come, soil and land are critical resources that need to be conserved and managed with the utmost possible efficiency.

    To this end, if humankind wants to ensure its future on planet Earth, we need to manage our land sustainably to ensure soil and water security.


    This was the main message at the Soil-Water-Security (SoWaSe) 2018 ESSC International Conference, convened by the European Society for Soil Conservation (ESSC) at the Pallazo Vespignani in Imola, Italy. Taking place from 6–8 June under the theme “Soil and Water Security: Challenges for the Next 30 years!”, 60 participants – including soil scientists, educators, and policymakers – from 30 countries celebrated ESSC’s 30 years of activity and, pivotally, shaped the guidelines for the next 30 years of dealing with water and soil security.

    Starting with lessons from the past through to the challenges and opportunities for the future, the conference proceeded in four main sessions (see conference website for details). UNU-FLORES researcher Dr Lulu Zhang and UNU-FLORES PhD researcher Parvathy Chandrasekhar from the Soil and Land-Use Management Unit presented in the session “Soil and Water Management in a Changing Environment”.

    Dr Zhang pointed out that the single-function-oriented use of plantation forests, without proper structure management and payment, imbalances soil and water security in ecological restoration. This means, that – adhering to that logic – the issues of soil and water security are seen as a trade-off to each other. Efforts for one could jeopardise efforts for the other.

    Image: Parvathy Chandrasekhar/UNU-FLORES

    To avoid this, Zhang maintained that incentives need to be put in place to encourage a balanced approach: payments for ecosystem services should include the motivation for farmers to manage forests for ensuring sufficient water while, at the same time, conserving the soils.

    Ms Chandrasekhar showed that the incorporation of dynamics of soil hydraulic properties in models improves our modelling results and enables better management of our natural resources. The presentations of both our researchers raised lively discussions about the topics.

    In the end, to address the pressing issues concerning water and soil security, one main follow-up challenge now will be to merge excellent knowledge with advanced technology that advances sustainable land management. However, this will need a major rethink in making policy, doing science, and developing the economy.

    Further Reading

    Zhang, Lulu, (2015). North-west China Water Supply Impacted by Vegetation

    Yu, Miaozi, Zhang, Lulu, Xu, Xuexuan, Feger, Karl-Heinz, Wang, Yanhui, Liu, Wenzhao and Schwärzel, Kai, (2015). “Impact of land-use changes on soil hydraulic properties of Calcaric Regosols on the Loess Plateau, NW China.” Journal of Plant Nutrition and Soil Science, 178(3), 486-498.