Interview opportunity on 'World Soil Day' – 5 December 2015

'No food without soil' - More and more arable land is losing its fertility. GIZ is working around the globe to sustainably protect soils - for example in Ethiopia

Worldwide large areas of agriculturally usable soils are being rendered unproductive – because farmers rely on overly aggressive fertilisers, too many animals graze the meadows bare or bushes are chopped down. The Soil Atlas 2015 verifies this: every year these activities result in the loss of some 24 billion tonnes of fertile soil. This year the Soil Atlas was published for the first time by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Potsdam and Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND). 2015 is the United Nations’ International Year of Soils (IYS) and December 5 is World Soil Day. 'We all know we can't live without air and water,' says Johannes Schoeneberger, a sustainable land management expert who works for the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH in Ethiopia. 'But without soil there is no food. And that's why soil conservation is so immensely important.' To sustainably protect agricultural land, GIZ is implementing projects on behalf of the German Government in Asia, Africa and South America.

One example is in Ethiopia, where erosion claims some 30,000 hectares of agricultural land every year. It goes like this: the population grows and demand for food increases, leading smallholders to extend their farming activities higher up the slopes, cutting down the forests on the way to create fields. Originally the hillsides had bushes and trees growing on them which kept the soil in place. Without them, wind and rain erode the topsoil. Water drains off the slopes causing flood damage in the fields of the valleys below.

A growing population also keeps more livestock. Cattle and goats overgraze the countryside. Eaten to the core, the plants can no longer regenerate, again allowing rain and wind to erode the soil. Climate change is also already making itself felt in Ethiopia. More frequent heavy rains and longer dry periods are aggravating the situation. The upshot: soil fertility is on the decline and fields are less productive.

On behalf the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), GIZ is advising the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture as it provides support to smallholders in six regions throughout the country. 'Our goal is to use sustainable management to increase the agricultural yields of smallholders' says Johannes Schoeneberger. GIZ and national experts work with village communities to formulate plans for soil improvement, irrigation systems and rules for livestock keeping. Now for example, farmers keep their livestock in the stable and grow their animal fodder.

Furthermore, all villagers are helping to erect stone retaining walls on the steep slopes to prevent soil slippage. They are also planting trees and grasses to keep the soil in place. In all, small farmers have joined together in over 500 cooperatives, with a view to sustainably managing the protected slopes.

The results are impressive: some 200,000 hectares of formerly degraded land is now being managed sustainably. GIZ is assisting more than 600 villages to improve their soils and water supply. Today these green fields can even be seen on satellite images. Farmers have been able to increase their yield by up to 85 percent and can now sell some of their produce on the local markets, enabling them to increase their income. GIZ's sustainable land management measures have impacted the lives of nearly one million people. Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world. For a long time, one of its major problems was malnutrition.

The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH is a federal enterprise with worldwide operations. We support the German Government in the fields of international cooperation for sustainable development and international education. Through our work we assist people and societies in shaping their own future and improving their living conditions.

Mr Schoeneberger will be available for a telephone interview on Monday 30 November and Tuesday 01 December. If you are interested in speaking with him, please contact the GIZ Press Office.