Main content area

Framing soils as an actor when dealing with wicked environmental problems

Bouma, Johan, McBratney, Alex
Geoderma 2013 v.200-201 pp. 130-139
anxiety, biodiversity, business enterprises, case studies, climate change, cost analysis, ecosystem services, energy, environmental law, environmental sustainability, interdisciplinary research, issues and policy, research programs, risk, soil, soil management, stakeholders, Kenya
Many studies convincingly document the importance of soils when dealing with the global environmental sustainability issues of today, such as food, water and energy security, climate change, ecosystem service delivery and biodiversity protection. Even though international agencies have supported the claims by the soil science community, recent strategic environmental reports hardly mention soils. Soils need to be “re-framed”, realizing that most issues are land-related. This includes introduction of the concept of “Soil Security”, including elements of safety, risk and anxiety, and the metaphor of soils as a possible “keystone” connecting the various environmental issues mentioned above. In addition, there is a need for active participation in interdisciplinary research programs, while particular opportunities can be found in transdisciplinary programs actively involving stakeholders and policy makers striving for connected value development. Soil scientists can be effective “knowledge brokers” (Extension 2.0, in which participatory joint learning replaces linear knowledge transfer in traditional extension). Current developments in the policy arena, with more focus on participatory rather than top-down approaches in environmental regulations also offer particular opportunities for soil science. Effective framing does not need more diagnostic studies nor alarming declarations or conceptual action plans, but should focus on the presentation of specific case studies demonstrating the l role of soils when confronting the major environmental issues of today. Benefit/cost analyses are essential to demonstrate that good soil management often represents good business. The “Green Water” study in Kenya is presented as an example of this approach.