The role of education in sustainable soil management in Turkey

Raising awareness through training and education is crucial to achieving sustainable soil management. If measures, actions and plans are not based on sound education, success cannot be achieved for sustainable soil and land management.

Training under “I’m protecting my future” project. Photo by Fatih Akcan.

Regarding the soil which is a non-renewable resource, and according to the estimates made by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), it is predicted that the amount of arable agricultural land in the world, which was 2 million 756 thousand hectares in 2005, will decrease to 2 million 503 thousand hectares in 2050. Ensuring sustainable use of soils for their continued productivity, understanding, protecting and improving soil ecosystem services and its correlations are essential for sustainable nutrition and the continuity of basic life cycles. In this process, if it is not protected and used sustainably, the land where food begins will irreversibly lose its productivity. Considering that efforts to end hunger in the world are continuing, soils must be managed in a sustainable way in order to feed the increasing population.

In parallel with these developments, "to protect terrestrial ecosystems, to renew and promote their sustainable use, to manage forests sustainably, to combat desertification and to stop and reverse land degradation and stop biodiversity loss" have been included as some of the main objectives in the UN's document titled ‘2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’. Within the scope of this target, it is envisaged to combat desertification, to regenerate degraded lands and soils including areas affected by desertification, drought and floods, and to strive to reach a world free of land loss. Agricultural soil management can only be considered sustainable if field soil health and productive capacity are kept at an optimum to provide ecosystem services. Herewith, raising awareness through training or education is crucial to achieving sustainable soil management for a wide range of stakeholders including student, researchers, farmers, society and so forth.

Soil scientist Prof. Dr. Erhan Akça from Adıyaman University indicated that if measures, actions and plans are not based on sound education, success cannot be achieved for sustainable soil/land management (SSM/SLM). He addressed that for example, for monitoring SSM/SLM related studies if the researcher does not receive any education/training she/he cannot decide the basics of monitoring processes. Beside that, for effective reporting SSM, the reporter should know the terminology. According to Professor Akca, the level of education should first be tailored to the target group, comprising the ‘man on the street’ to the technicians in the field. The second target group should be decision makers. Local politicians in particular since they may make wrong decisions in regions with high population pressure, as they give priority to the will of the voters rather than to environmental priorities.

Soil science should focus on creating innovative curricula

Nowadays, many scientists accept that soil science should focus on creating more innovative curricula to define the changing needs of students of the current century and to meet the future demand for soil/land managers and planners with a strong knowledge of soil. Soil science education is based primarly at the university in Turkey.

Prof. Hasan Sabri Ozturk at Department of Soil Science and Plant Nutrition of Ankara University stated that good SSM implementation certainly requires comprehensive knowledge. He indicates that, “First of all, to analyse the current situation with real and correct data and to identify the problem correctly, a certain level of basic knowledge is absolutely necessary. Similarly, a very technical and wide flow of information is required for appropriate melioration, improvement or preservation of soil ecosystems. The rational and realistic managerial practices will always require education and knowledge on SSM.” He also stressed that although higher education has the great role on SSM and soil conservation, the qualified education is much more important.

It is very important that any good practices for SSM is adopted and put into practice by relevant stakeholders. For this, higher education is necessary, but not for everyone. Even a single person whose knowledge, experience and honesty is trusted can make unimaginable changes and can inspire and motivate others. Not only higher education, but appropriate education according to the circumstances is very important.” In addition to these, Prof. Akca emphasized that higher education should specifically focus on techniques for mitigating, protecting and preventing soil threats that are driving forces of degradation.

International Training on Sustainable Management of Soil and Water Resources, UTAEM İzmir, Turkey. Photo by Murat Goktas.

When we consider the principles of effective SSM training/education, Prof. Ozturk indicates that appropriate training strategies should be planned according to the target groups. It is impossible to train all stakeholders at the same level. For instance, farmers in production can at least be supported by more simple conservation training for sustainable production. However, restoring a degraded ecosystem requires a more specialized and professional context. The main purpose of SSM should be defined very well at first and the most appropriate training should be given to the target audience accordingly. Otherwise, the education below or above the capacity of the people will remain only on paper and will be a waste of time and money. 

According to Prof. Ozturk, the SSM education through different tools including visual and printed materials should be practical, operative and repeated. The majority of people are conservative to change unsustainable soil management practices.  For them, new things or things other than what they know are primarily terrifying at first. In particular, in a fragile ecosystem, you cannot ask a farmer, struggling for life, to do an operation solely based on theoretical knowledge. A long-term and repetitive training in the field is the key issue while visual education such as professional documentaries can be very effective for creating SSM awareness.

Activities raising awareness of soil conservation and sustainable soil management

In addition to soil science education of Agriculture Faculties in Turkey, other institutions that work on soil also carry out different activities on raising awareness of soil conservation and SSM both individually and in collaboration with each other in the country.  For instance, The National Soil and Water Resources Congress with international participation is organized biyearly by General Directorate of Agricultural Research and Policies (TAGEM) since 2010. Besides that, for the past 10 years, the international course on sustainable soil and water resources management has been  performed yearly by TAGEM in İzmir for African, Balkan, Middle East and Asian Countries. During this training, technical knowledge and experiences on SSM are shared with the participants.

In addition, the social responsibility project titled “I’m protecting my future” was carried out between 2015-2017 by TAGEM Soil Fertilizer and Water Resources Central Research Institute in collaboration with General Directorate of Elementary Education of the Ministry of National Education. The aim of the project was to increase rise awareness among students and their environment on sustainable use of soil and water resources. During the implementation of the project, a series of trainings and activities were organized for the preschool and primary school students, teachers and parents of the students. Training on how farmers can manage soil more sustainably were carried out by provincial and district directorates of Agriculture in the Country.

International Training on Sustainable Management of Soil and Water Resources, UTAEM İzmir, Turkey. Photo by Murat Goktas.

As a result, considering the increasing population trend in many parts of the world and the decreasing agricultural lands to feed this population, measures that prevent the loss and quality of soil resources by natural or artificial means should be taken by relevant stakeholders. Achieving sustainable soil management in the field is one of the most important components for this topic. In order for the SSM to be placed in the field, raising awareness of the importance of the issue in all segments of the society is a priority and continuous process, and everyone who works on the soil has an important role and can contribute on this issue.



This article is written based on interviews with Prof. Dr. Erhan Akça from Adıyaman University and Prof. Hasan Sabri Ozturk at Department of Soil Science and Plant Nutrition of Agricultural Faculty of Ankara University.


Dr. Sevinc Madenoglu (TAGEM):


References: Please contact Dr. Sevinc Madenoglu for references.