As 2015 draws to a close, so does the International Year of Soils. Research on soils is a critical pillar of CIAT’s work, as Center staff demonstrated throughout the year, in a global campaign that put soils at the forefront of issues ranging from food security and climate to biodiversity and water.

Finishing off the year in style, soil held the spotlight during the recent climate change negotiations in Paris. Numerous side events hosted by CGIAR, the governments of France and Germany, and others at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held earlier this month put soil at center stage, identifying ways to make agriculture a part of the solution to climate change.

4 pour mille

The “4 pour mille” Initiative, launched by France as part of the Lima-Paris Action Agenda, for example, seeks to increase soil carbon by 0.4% (4 per thousand or “pour mille” in French) per year to offset atmospheric carbon emissions. A partner in this initiative, CGIAR announced a 5-year proposal supported by a strong research agenda developed jointly by French research institutes, CIAT, and sister CGIAR centers and research programs. The proposal seeks to promote the adoption of locally adapted farming methods to not only sequester carbon but also improve crop productivity, soil health, and particularly its water retention capacity (see blog post by Frank Rijsberman).

CIAT’s Deborah Bossio (third from right) took part in a panel discussion at a COP21 side event

CIAT’s Deborah Bossio (third from right) took part in a panel discussion at a COP21 side event

The 2015 Global Landscapes Forum (GLF): From Lima to Paris

Held alongside COP21, GLF too gave soil a prominent place on its agenda. Exactly a year after its launch at GLF 2014 in Peru, Initiative 20×20, led by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and supported by CIAT, took stock of progress during a discussion forum, “From Pledges to Practice,” which brought together investors and national, regional, and international stakeholders.

The initiative initially aimed to restore 20 million hectares of degraded land in Latin America by 2020. But surprisingly, it has already secured more ambitious commitments to restore 27.7 million hectares, with investments amounting to US$730 million from the private sector (read more on WRI blog).

CIAT’s Deborah Bossio presented Center projects underway in seven countries of the region and explained how they are helping governments set priorities and ensure equitable benefits from land restoration initiatives.

CIAT’s Deborah Bossio presented Center projects underway in seven countries of the region and explained how they are helping governments set priorities and ensure equitable benefits from land restoration initiatives.

Large-scale land restoration initiatives, however, will be hard pressed to deliver on expectations and ensure equitable benefits unless they are also informed by a gender perspective on land tenure and rights. Given renewed relevance by the historic climate change accord reached in Paris last week, land rights and tenure are vital for ensuring that women gain access to the resources they need to support themselves and their families, so as to improve their resilience to climate change variability.

Unsurprisingly, evidence shows that women are more likely to invest in their land if they have more secure tenure and rights. Today’s stark reality, however, is that only 28 countries give men and women the same legal rights to land. Clearly, more needs to be done.

A high-level panel session, “This Land is Our Land,” brought this issue to the forefront at GLF. It was organized jointly by the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems, CIAT and IFPRI, with support from the CGIAR Gender and Agriculture Research Network.  As one speaker declared, “Land rights are human rights. . . . You cannot exclude women from governance, from growing food; it’s undemocratic.” Representing the full spectrum of actors from donors to research centers and grassroots organizations, the panelists reinforced the perspective that improving women’s land rights not only creates enabling conditions for land restoration but also paves the way for equity and improved livelihoods for all (read more on gender.cgiar.org).

2015 was an important year for soils. There is little doubt that soil has earned its place in the climate change and sustainable development agenda. As the International Year of Soils winds up, let’s maintain the momentum and ensure that sound soil science and data are available as needed to tackle global challenges. With new project opportunities unfolding from key partnerships in Colombia, Denmark, France, and Germany, CIAT stands ready to do its part in 2016 and beyond to cultivate change and ensure a secure future for us all.

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