50x2030 gathers experts to strategize on improving soil health data in agricultural surveys

The 50x2030 Initiative invited experts and stakeholders with various data needs, tool development experience and research or policy aims to virtual Soil Sessions meetings from 2-4 November. The Soil Sessions aimed to identify priority research areas on soil health monitoring and innovative technologies that have the potential to transform the way soil data is collected in agricultural surveys.

The meetings were the launch of a line of research under the Methods & Tools Development component of the Initiative, which aims to identify, validate, and support the scale up of improved methods of data collection in survey operations. As part of the broader Methods & Tools agenda, this line of research sets out to tackle critical gaps in high-quality, high-resolution soil data integrated with household and farm surveys, particularly through the identification and validation of scalable objective measures of soil health. Soils are at the root of agricultural productivity, yet high-quality data on soil health is rarely collected in agricultural surveys. Instead, researchers and policy makers often rely on (i) geospatially-derived soil maps that may not be of sufficient spatial or temporal resolution, or on (ii) subjective indicators of soil health, which have been shown to be weakly correlated with true measures.

Discussions during the Sessions revealed the breadth of uses for soil data, the many data gaps, and the technological opportunities for addressing those gaps. Progress was made in identifying the priority metrics for monitoring soil health (pH, soil organic carbon, and texture) and homing in on the available tools and critical survey design features for consideration in the methodological validation stage (such as soil depth and temporal resolution). 

Nearly 40 participants attended, including representatives from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, the World Agroforestry Centre, CGIAR Standing Panel on Impact Assessment, the University of Illinois, Ohio State University, iSDA Africa, OpenGeoHub Foundation, Land Potential Knowledge System, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the University of Nottingham, and the three implementing agencies of the 50x2030 Initiative (the World Bank, FAO, and IFAD).

The 50x2030 soil research agenda builds off previous work of the World Bank’s LSMS (such as this guidebook) and other actors. The next phase of work will be focused on identifying the tradeoffs of the various tools for measuring the priority metrics, for each specific use case (e.g., agricultural productivity, sustainable agriculture and climate, nutrition, etc.). Following this assessment and identification of the tools and approaches to be tested, a detailed concept note with the design of a methodological study will be developed, likely in combination with other lines of 50x2030 research on climate and non-labor inputs. 

Read a summary of the Soil Sessions here.