Soil Health - Alliance Bioversity International - CIAT

Agri-food systems start with soil 

Soil is alive. The healthier soil is, the better it can sustain plant, animal, and human life.  

Soil health is defined by soil’s continued capacity to act as a vital living system within ecosystem and land-use boundaries.  

While soil management historically focused on nutrient and water provision for crop production, we now recognize how soil regulates water, provides habitats, cycles nutrients, manages pathogens, reduces pollutants, and sequesters carbon. 

Unfortunately, soil’s ability to deliver these benefits has been severely compromised, with 30-60% of agricultural land currently suffering from soil degradation.  

Enhancing soil health is one of the key goals of regenerative agriculture and agroecology. It has major implications for climate-smart agri-food systems. 

Measuring soil health 

As businesses and decisionmakers see soil health as an essential part of more sustainable agriculture, science-based approaches to address the complexity of soils and its interactions within ecosystems for restoration and monitoring are increasingly important. Multiple indicators need to be considered that represent ecological processes and are site-specific. Better understanding the diversity of soil’s biological, chemical, and physical properties helps farmers adopt relevant approaches to nurture soil health and deliver ecosystem services. 

Soil Health - Image 1 - Alliance Bioversity International - CIAT

Restoring Soil Health  

Restoring soil health is key for sustainable intensification and regenerative agriculture in the Global South, while reducing vulnerability of smallholder farmers to climate change. Below are key steps that can enhance soil health: 

  • Minimize soil disturbance 
  • Mulching
  • Cover cropping
  • Crop diversification
  • Agroforestry
  • Minimize use of pesticides
  • Combine organic & mineral fertilizers
  • Livestock integration
  • Contour farming 

Where we work

The Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT collaborates with other research organizations and local partners to boost soil health in many of these areas. By providing evidence for landowners, planners, local and national decision makers, and the private sector, we aim to show how diverse soil properties can bolster ecosystem services. Examples of this include implementing integrated soil fertility management practices in Africamapping soil erosion in Latin America, and training soil biologists in Asia. 

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This application estimates soil loss caused by laminar water erosion by applying the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation (RUSLE) at various time intervals and with a spatial resolution of 30 meters. Different determinants, such as rainfall erosivity (R), soil erodibility (K), slope length and steepness, land cover and land use (C), and management practices (P) are also modeled.

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Our Experts

Wendy Francesconi

Senior Scientist, Theme Leader of Ecosystem Services and Environmental Impacts sub-lever