“Soil has to be the engine of economic development, use them, improve them and restore them”: Prof. Rattan Lal grants interview

A bit of background information about Prof. Lal Prof. Rattan Lal is a professor of Soil Science in the School of Environment and Natural Resources at the Ohio State University, USA. He has been involved in several activities both in research and teaching. He is a member of the U.S National Committee on Soil Science of the National Academy of Sciences (1998-2002) and (2007-to date). He is the lead author of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. Read more about him at http://senr.osu.edu/facview.asp?id=382 Student reporter : What would be your take home message to someone who is not present here at the Tropentag 2011 conference? Prof. Lal : Several things depend on soil such as food security, water quality, climate change, production and biodiversity. Many ecosystem services which depend on soil are jeopardized because of poor soil management. Taking soils for granted has been the cause of many serious problems and we should avoid it. Student reporter : How can we achieve good production on marginal soils? Prof. Lal : “Marginal soils provide marginal living and they provide marginal services” when soils are poor, the people who live on them are poor, the environment they create is marginal and this somehow creates a viscious cycle. Marginal soils should be left for nature conservancy to restore themselves. Society should utilize the best soils under the best possible managment conditions. That is to say “Use the best and leave the rest for nature conservation”. Many people are concerned if there are soils of good quality in Africa and Asia, well I say yes there are, marginal soils were not always created marginal, they have been made marginal by people through land misuse and mismanagement. Such soils should be restored before they are used again and hence soil restoration to improve the quality of marginal soils should be a high priority issue at global scale. One positive thing is that the UN Convention to Combat Desertification in Bonn is focused on improving and restoring Marginal soils. Student reporter : Is it the best strategy to match different production activities with different soil types? Prof. Lal : We have a land capability classification system (a good guideline for soil management) which shows that different soils are good for different production types. For example, soils on sloping lands are not good for food production and perhaps should be used for permanent culture like perennial crops. However, several techniques have come up over the last 50 years on sustainable soil management and if these are adopted, we can manage soils for a long period of time without jeopardizing the quality. Student reporter : What is your impression about Climate Change? Is it a reality or a myth? Prof. Lal : I do not know by myself whether the climate change is happening or not but we know for sure that Green House Gas concentration in the atmosphere which impacts climate change has drastically gone up. Carbon dioxide concentration has increased from 280 parts per million to almost 400 parts per million now. The Nitrous oxide concentration and concentration of methane have all gone up tremendously since the last 150 to 200 years and so they do have radiative forcing impact on the climate. As a result of this, the frequency and intensity of certain extreme events such as drought, huricanes, storms and extreme temperatures have gone up resulting in a change in hydrological balance. With each 1 degree centigrade change in temperature, the bioclimatic zones begin to change by about 100 – 150 km. Whether climate is changing or not, the important thing is for us to be prepared and adapt to the change so that we can be ready for any eventualities. Soils are crucial to adaptation and management. One way or the other, whether it is food security, whether it is climate change, whether it is biodiversity, soils are at the centre of all of those. Soils have to be the engine of economic development and at the same time improvement of environment. The future of human civilization depends on soils and we should not take them for granted, we should use them, improve them and restore them. Student reporter : If you were on the elevator with United Nations secretary general for a minute, Mr. Ban Ki- moon, what would you ask him? Prof. Lal : Soil should be on the agensda for the Rio+20 2012 United Nations conference on sustainable development as a focus point. The reason is that the Millenium Development Goals will not be met by 2015 if soils are not taken seriuosly by governments, the international community and developmental organizations. Student reporter : Thank you Prof. Lal for your time and enjoy your time at Tropentag 2011. Prof. Lal : You are welcome and have a good time too.


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