Soil information, from the global to the local scale, has often been the one missing
biophysical information layer, the absence of which has added to the uncertainties of
predicting potentials and constraints for food and fiber production. The lack of reliable and
harmonized soil data has considerably hampered land degradation assessments,
environmental impact studies and adapted sustainable land management interventions.
Recognizing the urgent need for improved soil information worldwide, particularly in the
context of the Climate Change Convention and the Kyoto Protocol for soil carbon
measurements and the immediate requirement for the FAO/IIASA Global Agro-ecological
Assessment study (GAEZ 2008), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United
Nations (FAO) and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) took the
initiative of combining the recently collected vast volumes of regional and national updates of
soil information with the information already contained within the 1:5,000,000 scale FAO
UNESCO Digital Soil Map of the World, into a new comprehensive Harmonized World Soil
This state-of-the-art database was achieved in partnership with:
• ISRIC-World Soil Information together with FAO, which were responsible for the
development of regional soil and terrain databases and the WISE soil profile database;
• the European Soil Bureau Network, which had recently completed a major update of soil
information for Europe and northern Eurasia, and
• the Institute of Soil Science, Chinese Academy of Sciences which provided the recent
1:1,000,000 scale Soil Map of China.
The completion of this comprehensive harmonized soil information database will improve
estimation of current and future land potential productivity, Giúp identify land and water
limitations, and enhance assessing risks of land degradation, particularly soil erosion. The
HWSD contributes sound scientific knowledge for planning sustainable expansion of
agricultural production and for guiding policies to address emerging land competition issues
concerning food production, bio-energy demand and threats to biodiversity. This is of critical
importance for rational natural resource management and in making progress towards
achieving Millennium Development goals of eradicating hunger and poverty and addressing
the food security and sustainable agricultural development, especially with regard to the
threats of global climate change and the needs for adaptation and mitigation.
This digitized and online accessible soil information system will allow policy makers, planners
and experts to overcome some of the shortfalls of data availability to address the old
challenges of food production and food security and plan for new challenges of climate
change and accelerated natural resources degradation.
Alexander Julius Müller Sten Nilsson.
Assistant Director General Acting Director
Natural Resources Management and
International Institute for Applied Systems
Food and Agriculture Organization
of the United Nations
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