Experts point ways to better crops and farmer incomes

The first One Earth Root and Soil Health Forum

A new annual event examines root and soil health’s importance for food security, livelihoods and
climate resilience and marks the launch of a community for root and soil health action.

The first One Earth Root and Soil Health Forum took place on March 1. Over 800 people attended to discuss how to
unlock the potential of better soil and root health to help transform food systems. The Forum brought together
experts from farming, international organizations, NGOs, academia and the public and private sectors. Together they
called for collective action in science and technology targeting the early stages of plant growth.
The main emphasis this year was on Africa, which has around 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land.

However, parallel workshops focusing on Turkey, the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa and South Africa enabled tailored
discussions in regional languages. Plenary keynote speakers were Erik Fyrwald (Syngenta Group CEO and Chairman
of the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture) and Dr. Ismahane Elouafi (Chief Scientist at the UN Food and
Agriculture Organization).

Erik Fyrwald underlined that “everything starts with soil. It is the foundation of productive farming practices – with
healthy soil, you can have healthy plants, healthy people and a healthy planet. By acting on soil health through
regenerative agriculture practices, we are acting on climate change, biodiversity loss and food security, as well as
improving farmer livelihoods. The One Earth Soil and Root Health Forum helps an international community shift
towards achieving this – together.”

Dr Ismahane Elouafi noted that “healthy soils are the foundation for agriculture, as they provide 95% of our food.
Soils also provide fuel, fiberand medical products, and play a key role in the carbon cycle, storing and filtering water,
and improving resilience to floods and droughts.”

 

 

Speaking on the opening panel, Michael Misiko, Africa Agriculture Director of The Nature Conservancy, noted that
“climate change is inseparable from the life and health of our soils and the roots that must thrive within them.”
Underlining the importance of awareness raising action, Dr. Abdelfattah Dababat (Senior Scientist, Country
Representative for Turkey, CIMMYT) underlined that “growers basically do not recognize soil/root health to be a
problem.

Most of them are not aware of the root rot diseases and soil health issues in their fields, affecting their
yield. This is why the term “hidden enemy” applies perfectly. Root and soil health management is therefore, not
practiced and those yield losses are simply accepted.”

 

Speakers also underlined the link between soil and root health and the long-term economic productivity and the
welfare of societies. Other points raised included technologies measuring soil health and their role in enabling
informed decision-making by farmers and scientists. The importance of empowering smallholders and enabling
access to modern technologies was also underlined as was the importance of public-private sector collaboration in
achieving this.

Speakers in the opening panel were Dr. Michael Misiko (Africa Agriculture Director, TNC), Mandla Nkomo (Managing
Director for Southern Africa, Solidaridad), Prof Richard Sikora (Former Head Soil-Ecosystem Phytopathology,
University of Bonn) and Steve Maund (Head CP R&D Sustainability, Syngenta).

The panel was moderated by Redi Tlhabi (member of the UN Global Journalists Corps, author and award-winning broadcaster).
Speakers in the concluding panel were Dr. Abdelfattah A. Dababat (Senior Scientist, Country Representative for
Turkey, CIMMYT), Debisi Araba (Managing Director, African Green Revolution Forum), Yemi Akinbamijo (Executive
Director, Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa), Azariah Soi, (President, African Seed Trade Association) and Luc
Henry (Seedcare Head AME, Syngenta). The panel was moderated by Neva Sadikoglu-Novaky (Business Sustainability
Lead at Syngenta).

The different parallel sessions covered

i) solutions for soil borne diseases in protecting and enhancing root health,
ii) supporting smallholder farmers to improve the health and fertility of their soils and the opportunities for public
and private sectors to engage, iii) no tillage technologies and seed treatment for soil and root health and iv) the state
of nematode soil pest pressures. The negative impact of conventional tillage systems include soil erosion and carbon
emissions. The importance therefore of no tillage technologies was analysed.

 

Health underfoot: why roots and soil are important
Around 95% of the food we eat grows in the earth.

However, more than one-third of the world’s soils are degraded; without
rapid action, this figure could rise to 90% by 2050. Soil erosion decreasesthe water, nutrients and root-space available to plants.
Healthy roots enable better use of nutrients and water. They help produce more shoots and leaves from each seed, enabling
farmers to produce more food and soil to capture more carbon. Healthy roots also help tackle soil erosion. Soil and root health
help mitigate climate change. More carbon already resides in soil than in the atmosphere and all plant life combined. Studies
show that there are 2,500 billion tons of carbon in soil, compared with 800 billion tons in the atmosphere and 560 billion tons
in plant and animal life. Healthier soil can store even more. Healthy plants with good roots capture further carbon from the
atmosphere.

The Forum was organized by Agventure, Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa
(ASARECA), African Seed Trade Association (AFSTA), Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), International Maize and
Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), Rizobacter, Seed Co Limited, Syngenta Seedcare, the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable
Agriculture, Solidaridad and The Nature Conservancy (TNC).

 

 

Source: soilroothealth.com
Contact for further information: neva.sadikoglu-novaky@syngenta.com

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