On the occasion of this Year’s Global Soil Week, Germany’s “Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit” (GIZ) invited 22 young professionals from India, Argentina, South Africa, Nigeria, Germany and many other places who had at least some educational, practical or professional experience related to soil: in soil sciences, agricultural economics, environmental studies, landscape ecology, social sciences, civil society or art.
The Global Soil Week was a great opportunity for them to network, learn, get inspired and provide their input. “The Global Soil Week is about helping different constituencies to talk to each other and providing a space for dialogue,” said Jes Weigelt, Global Soil Forum Coordinator at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS), one of the institutions supporting the Young Professionals Programme. The other programme organisers were GIZ’s Sector Project to Combat Desertification (GIZ-CCD), World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies (WOCAT), and the global programme “Soil protection and rehabilitation for food security” within the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development’s “One World - No Hunger” Initiative.
For Sibyabonga Myeza, 24, from South Africa, the Global Soil Week was an eye-opening experience. He works for the Environmental Monitoring Group in South Africa and sometimes finds it frustrating that he can only achieve changes in his relatively small working environment. “The Global Soil Week reminded me that my work is part of a much bigger picture,” he said.
Entering the conference bustle
The Global Soil Week was full of new insights for the young professionals. They participated in the regular sessions and also hosted lunches with renowned soil experts such as Rattan Lal from Ohio University, who advised the young generation never to lose their passion.
One of the young professionals, Jasmine Black from Newcastle in the UK, had organised a Lunch Break Forum session. She brought along some material and even different soils for participants to create a future landscape on paper. Black wants to make soil relevant to people. “I see it as a priority for scientists to go out and talk to the public,” she says.
Each young professional will implement an outreach project on soils after the Global Soil Week, focusing on advocacy, art or education. Sohail Ahmad from India, for example, is planning to hold workshops in informal settlements, focusing on the use of manure in urban agriculture. Annabelle Graef is planning a series of photos of soils in Berlin to raise awareness among city-dwellers. The outreach projects of the Young Professionals are part of the awareness campaign „Soil. Sustains life.“ that the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), GIZ and a broad network of German NGOs are jointly working on in the Year of Soils.
Hanspeter Liniger from the WOCAT Secretariat showed the young professionals how to use a WOCAT tool to identify good land management practices. He encouraged the young guests: “Look for good examples: sustainable land management happens all over the world, not only in projects. Many individual farmers have developed very sustainable farming methods.”
“We are ready”
At the Global Soil Week final plenary, the young professionals made a short but impressive appearance on stage. Hannah Steenbergen from the United Kingdom and Sibyabonga Myeza from South Africa told the audience how the Global Soil Week had provided momentum and inspiration for the entire group. “We are ready,” they said, and placed some soil on the stage to show that real soil has to be part of the Global Soil Week. “We are dynamic, creative, and want to dig in.”
Sprouting new ideas
At an open space session entitled “Sprouting new ideas, rooted in old wisdom”, the young professionals participated in an intergenerational dialogue on sustainable land management. Asked for their input to develop innovative approaches for spreading the message, they recommended, for example, to further strengthen the Global Soil Week’s inter- and transdisciplinary approach.
Creativity helps to convey the message, as the presentation of session’s results revealed. A short play about a PhD student and a farmer discussing the best way to apply compost on the field they were jointly working showed in a humorous way how different knowledge and value systems can clash. Another group made everyone stand up and say, in one word, what they love about soil: food, coffee, smell, farming and taste were some of the spontaneous responses from the session participants.
It was this love of soil that the young professionals brought to the Global Soil Week in Berlin. During the five-day programme, this passion grew further, and the young people have a great deal of knowledge beyond the scope of their own studies or work. They plan to take this experience back home, feed it into their projects and make use of it in their new roles as agents for transformation.
Susanne Reiff, Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), Bonn/Germany
More information on campaign „Soil. Sustains life.“