2015 International Year of…

2015 is the international year of soils and light.


Image: Wikimedia Commons.
Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Ever since 1959/60 with ‘World Refugee Year’ we’ve seen all manner of ‘International Years of’ (IYO). These global ‘observances’ are endorsed by the United Nations, an international organisation established after the Second World War and whose noble and worthy objectives include maintaining international peace and security, promoting human rights, fostering social and economic development, protecting the environment, and providing humanitarian aid in cases of famine, natural disaster, and armed conflict. Developing the notion that global problems require global solutions and action – and few issues are more pressing and global than food security – 2015 is the IYO (or on…) Soils (or IYS at it is officially abbreviated). If you wonder what the connection between soils and food is, then the former is the rooting medium that supports (both literally and nutritionally) the great majority of human’s staple crops – whether cereal (e.g. ricewheatmaizesorghum), legumes (e.g. chickpeaslentilssoybean) or tubers (e.g. sweet potatocassavapotato). Quite simply, without soil we wouldn’t be able to grow the plants to feed Man or the animals he eats. But it has to be the right kind of soil, with sufficiency of the 17 nutrients essential for plant growth and development, minimal levels of harmful compounds such as heavy metals or salts, and with enough freshwater to help sustain plant life. In many areas of the world such suitable soils are diminishing resources as a result of phenomena such as desertification and salinisation (the latter ironically often a consequence of irrigation by human intervention). Recognising the central importance of soil to food security – and doing its bit to engender a Brown Revolution*, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations has been nominated to implement IYS 2015, with the aims of increasing awareness and understanding of the importance of soil for food security and essential ecosystem functions. We wish them well in that worthy endeavour. But there’s more! For 2015 is also the IYO Light and Light-Based Technologies (IYL 2015). Although this IYO is much more about raising awareness of how optical technologies promote sustainable development and provide solutions to worldwide challenges in energy, education, agriculture, communications and health, amongst the thousands of words devoted to this ‘event’, but almost as an after-thought, it does dedicate 78 words to the most important light-related phenomenon of photosynthesis when it considers light in nature (alongside rainbows, sunsets and northern lights…). So, two IYOs with strong plant themes (even if the photosynthetic pre-eminence of light is somewhat ‘hidden under a bushel’).. But until we have an International Year of Plants, we’ll have to make the most of The Fascination of Plants Day 2015 on 18th May (2015)


* This is but one of a many-hued spectrum of agriculture-related revolutions (which includes the mid-20th century’s better known Green Revolution), but which is distinct from the other brown revolutions pertaining to leather or cocoa production in India.


[So that you can be ready before the next IYO happens, here’s advance notice that 2016 is the IY of camelids (camels, llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, and guanacos), and pulses (the edible, dried seeds of members of the legume family, e.g. beans, lentils). And to whet your appetite for IYS 2015, five fascinating facts about soil can be found at the CropLife website – Ed.]