Thursday, July 19, 2012

"Why aren't we talking about soil?"

Sydney University's Soil Security Research Symposium 2012 broke new ground (pun intended) for such gatherings. The core concept was Soil Security through Soil Carbon Sequestration. New windows to solutions were delivered by three overseas professors: 1. Prof. Cornelia Flora, a rural sociologist from Iowa State, said 'people suffering poverty and distress pass on their suffering to the soil'. (I heard a farmer say recently: "Debt makes people do bad things to soil.") 2. Prof. Rattan Lal told us that 1 in every 7 people in the world are food insecure. This is due to rise rapidly. A global effort to return soil carbon to somewhere near earlier levels could resolve this issue. 3. Prof. Johan Bouma from Wageningen University, the Netherlands told us that "every soil type has a story to tell", about how "she" reacts to management, and "we are privileged to articulate these stories". Prof. Bouma describes soil security as a 'wicked problem' - meaning it has many dimensions and many stakeholders with contrary expectations. There is no single solution apparent. The theme of a Q&A-like session was "Why aren't we talking about soil?" - and the challenge was how to raise 'soil security' to a policy-level. The professors teetered on the edge of advocating activism. Prof. Bouma said there was too much talk - 'metababble' he called it - but refused to agree to an activist role for the scientist because "We have our reputations to protect." "We can be the intermediary between the soil and land and the public." To get to  the policymaker level we need to engage the public. "Policymakers listen to those whose ideas they agree with." (More reports to come.)

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