“The condition of our soils ultimately determines human health by serving as a major medium for food and fibre production and a primary interface with the environment, influencing the quality of the air we breathe and water we drink. Thus, there is a clear linkage between soil quality and human and environmental health. As such, the health of our soil resources is a primary indicator of the sustainability of our land management practices.” (Acton and Gregorich, 1995; from the Report of the International Technical Workshop organized by EMBRAPA-SOYBEAN and FAO, Londrina, Brazil, 24 to 27 June 2002)

Soil organisms contribute a wide range of essential services to the sustainable function of all ecosystems, by acting as the primary driving agents of nutrient cycling, regulating the dynamics of soil organic matter, soil carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas emission, modifying soil physical structure and water regimes, enhancing the amount and efficiency of nutrient acquisition by the vegetation, and enhancing plant health. These services are not only essential to the functioning of natural ecosystems but constitute an important resource for the sustainable management of agricultural systems.

Farmers, governments and scientists are increasingly aware that declining soil fertility is becoming a major concern worldwide, with social, food security and environmental implications. As a result, controlling erosion and improving the management of soil fertility have become major issues on the development policy agenda.

The Convention’s cross-cutting initiative for the conservation and sustainable use of soil biodiversity aims to increase the recognition of the essential services provided by soil biodiversity across all production systems and its relation to land management, to share information, and to increase public awareness, education and capacity-building.

Soil biodiversity intersects on a number of key issues. Soil biodiversity contributes to many ecosystem services and constitutes an important resource for sustainable agricultural production

The Initiative is implemented as a cross-cutting initiative within the programme of work on agricultural biodiversity, through the coordination, and with the technical support, of FAO with appropriate links to other thematic programmes of work of the Convention, particularly those on the biodiversity of dry and sub-humid lands, mountain and forest biological diversity, and with relevant cross-cutting issues, particularly the Global Taxonomy Initiative, and work on technology transfer and cooperation. The Initiative provides an opportunity to apply the ecosystem approach and the Addis Ababa Principles and Guidelines for Sustainable Use.

The initiative for conservation and sustainable use of soil biodiversity was formally established by decision VIII/23, section B of the Conference of the Parties, in March 2006. The initiative sets forward strategic principles and goals, and is built around three objectives and their supporting activities. The mandate for establishing the initiative was provided by decision VI/5. The framework for the initiative was developed through discussions at SBSTTA and at consultation at other events.