The sustainable management of natural resources in Africa is a formidable challenge yet crucial for the survival of over one billion people! Africa has the capacity to feed itself yet the continent has a history of land developments, often driven by a desire for a quick economic return, that completely ignore the capabilities of the soil to support it. Reliance on inappropriate cultivation practices, a lack of concern about how natural ecological cycles have maintained soil fertility in Africa over millennia and a high level of rural poverty has led to land degradation throughout Africa.
Understanding the evolution of soils and associated vegetation patterns in relation to their use by society is fundamental if we wish to assess fully the impacts of processes driving change in Africa. This applies equally to climate change, population growth and food security.
The evidence for soil degradation and environmental change is apparent in many parts of Africa. For this reason we are pleased to see that the Joint Research Centre (JRC) is taking responsibility to highlight these issues. By building on existing cooperation with researchers from Africa, EU Member States and international organisations, the JRC has used science to bring together people from diverse national and political backgrounds to address a common goal. Given its scientific understanding of the issues, the JRC is carrying out a crucial role in communicating science to the wider society.
This innovative “Soil Atlas of Africa” is intended to be a step towards raising public awareness on the importance and the key role of soil in Africa. The atlas compiles existing information on different soil types in easily understandable maps that cover the entire African continent. While it is intended primarily for the general public, the educational sectors and policy makers, the atlas aims to bridge the gap between soil science and society at large.
Recognising the importance of soil as a nonrenewable resource which provides many critical ecological functions that are crucial to human existence will support the development of protective measures that will safeguard soils for current and future generations.