Global Symposium on Soil Biodiversity

soil biodiversity quote

Keynote speech by the UNCCD Executive Secretary Mr. Ibrahim Thiaw


Distinguished guests,

Dear friends and colleagues,

I would like to thank FAO and Director-General Qu Dongyu for the kind invitation and for our cooperation as we kickstart the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.

Dear friends,

I asked a colleague what he suggests I talk about at the opening of this Global Symposium.

He went on to ask me when was the last time I had an opportunity to speak about :

Bacteria! Fungi! Protozoa! Arthropods!

and even Worms!

Not to mention, he said, the Other Soil Invertebrates and Vertebrates …and of course, the Plants that provide them all food in the form of organic matter.

It reminded me of late Dr. Charles E. Kellogg who once said:

“There can be no life without soil and no soil without life; they have evolved together.”

It is no wonder that scientists like Dr. Kellog have always considered soils the “factory of life”. These factories represent as much as a quarter of the world’s biodiversity. One quarter of the variation in life on Earth, from genes to organisms to communities.

Under our feet is an extraordinary community of organisms working in a remarkable coordinated effort to bring the fertility to our soils that all food, fodder, and fiber depend on.

  • These organisms bring structure to our soils, helping sequester carbon, contributing to climate regulation
  • They store and purify water, helping mitigate drought
  • They control pest outbreaks, and even provide life-saving medicines
  • These organisms, in their extraordinary abundance and variety, are at the core of all ecosystem services – to all of nature’s contributions to people.

And yet, over 33% of the Earth's soils are already degraded and 90% could become degraded by 2050.

That is three short decades away. Three short decades, when soil formation is a process of centuries!

If you allow me an analogy: this means that the workforce of the factory of life is also down 33%, and at risk of layoffs hitting 90%!

When we consider what the COVID-19 pandemic has done – and is continuing to do – to the global workforce and the global economy, you can understand why this issue is crucial.

Dear friends,

Though not easy, this problem can -and must- be solved. And the Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification are adamant about the fact that land is part of the solution.

First, land has the power to accelerate all the Sustainable Development Goals. If we can keep land in balance, we can keep food, water, energy, carbon, and nature in balance as well.

Ensuring soil biodiversity means carbon in the soil rather than the atmosphere, and where there is organic carbon, there is life.

Second, prevention is better than the cure. Which is why soil conservation and sustainable land management are equally very important.

Dear friends,

All of our best efforts at prevention are still not be enough. This is why we join FAO and UNEP and all other partners in scaling up the impact of individual and collective action trough the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.

The Decade is also a call of action, at scale, to steer the recovery towards a safer, more sustainable, and inclusive path to build back better from the COVID19 pandemic.

It is because restoring land is a fast-acting solution.

Restoring land can close up to 90 per cent of the agricultural yield gap, leading to an extra USD 1.4 trillion in agricultural production.

The Decade aims to prevent, halt, and reverse the degradation of ecosystems. This is the response hierarchy of Land Degradation Neutrality which is integral to SDG Target 15.3. Addressing all levels of response is also the basis of the new G20 Initiative on Land Degradation.

It is fully compatible with the climate change and biodiversity plans.

Dear friends,

Protecting the biodiversity of soils means ensuring the factory of life is running at full capacity, creating new jobs. This will require leadership from the highest levels of government, the continued well-coordinated efforts of scientists and the land managers who must put the science and policy to work.

You who are this week – as I understand it, 4000 strong – you know how important soil biodiversity is. And I can sense your sleeves are already rolled up for the work ahead.

I wish you success in your deliberations and look forward to helping countries put your outcomes into practice.

Thank you.