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ICTs for Soil Management, reflections of the World Soil Day 5 December

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The 5th of December 2017 marks the World Soil Day and the Global Soil Partnership has dedicated the following theme, “Caring for the Planet starts from the Ground”. This motivated me to think about how ICTs are used in soil management .

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is celebrating this event in the sidelines of its council meetings. For more information about the celebrations see here

To agriculture, soil is an important resource and healthy soils sustain the natural ecosystems – which include both animal and plant productivity.

Yet, worldwide there has been an increase in soil degradation due to a number of causes such as inappropriate soil management practices, population pressure, climate change, land degradation, and over use of chemicals.

In 2015, FAO celebrated the International Year of Soils, and its importance was aptly reiterated, "The multiple roles of soils often go unnoticed. Soils don't have a voice, and few people speak out for them. They are our silent ally in food production." José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director-General. 

ICTs for efficient soil management

In agriculture, soils are very important, as healthy soils allow for various agricultural practices. ICTs support the collection and monitoring of soil information which is important to inform farming practices.

To collect this data, remote sensing technologies have been used. Remote sensing is any process that collects data about an object from a remote location (Meena and Singh, 2012). The data is collected and interpreted. The most popular data being:-

  • Aerial photographs – these are images collected from photographs above the Earth’s surface on either planes, or other aircraft. Soil quality and vegetation can be accessed from aerial photographs. Such photographs can also reveal, water logging, low nutrients, vegetation cover and type and salinity which has an effect of the type of farming to be conducted. 
  • Satellite imagery – Satellite images have also been a good source of soil data and information. A good use case of how satellite data has been useful for soil and land management can be seen in the Somalia Water and Land Information Management, land management. More information here 
  • Geographic Information Systems (GIS) - GIS combine computer cartography with database management software. These tools capture, store, analyze, manage and present data that is geo/location referenced. With a combination of soil testing and soil quality assessment GIS systems can produce comprehensive knowledge on soil quality indicators.

Drones and Soil management

The ‘new kid’ on the block are drones, and these have proven to be effective in collecting aerial information. The advantage of drones from their predecessor technologies is that they can provide multiple low level birds-eye pictures and mostly come with software programs which can produce 3-D maps.

This allows easier soil analysis which is essential for example for planting, drainage and irrigation. There are still more opportunities for technologies to be used in soil management and assessment.

Tell us how you are utilizing technology for managing soils.