Soil matters!

The 78th UNEP/UNESCO/BMU International Short Course on Soil and Land Resources for Sustainable Development just commenced at CIPSEM.


Soils and land form the basis for agricultural development, essential ecosystem functions, food security and hence are vital to terrestrial life on Earth. Soil is, in the time scale of a human lifespan, a non-renewable natural resource. This short course addresses the main concepts of land resources and soil management and their importance for securing the provision of goods and services for people and ecosystems. The training addresses concepts for sustainable land management, taking the water, energy and food security nexus into consideration.

Why soils matter …

Water and soils are limited and endangered resources. It is estimated that at least a quarter of the usable earth surface is affected by strong degradation to an extent which is substantially reducing the potential production of biomass for food, feeding as well as for resources for materials and bio-energy. In the context of an ever-growing world population this is a serious threat. While the world population in the past four decades grew from 3 to over 7.4 billion people, the agricultural area increased by only 8%, mainly through the transformation of forest into arable land. Land consumption through urbanization is further reducing the fertile cultivation area. According to climate projections for the coming decades, rainfall patterns and temperature distributions will also change significantly.


The 22 participants from 19 countries in this short course, which started October 11th,  will deal intensively with the connections between land use and nutrient cycles in the context of water catchment areas as well as at a global level. They will be enabled to develop concepts for soil and water protection as an integral part of sustainable land management.

One of the first stops within the intense 4-weeks programme was the headquarters of the German Environment Agency (UBA) in Dessau. Here experts of the agency introduced the group to topics like land-take, soil protection and monitoring, as well as water reuse in the European Union among other things.


There are 3 more weeks ahead to discuss the value and importance of soil as a vital and finite resource for everybody: policy makers, development planners, soil scientists, agricultural extension officers, students and other practitioners.

photos by UN Photo & Anna Görner (CIPSEM)

Last resort – a visit to the soil cleaning facility in Hirschfeld

During an excursion to the soil treatment facility of the Bauer Resources GmbH we learned what can be done if prevention has failed and in-situ treatment of polluted soil is not an option – and at which cost.

See the image captions for details.

The treated soil can be used for construction, not for food production.

The Dilemma of land use: Bringing Reality to the Classroom

By: Ahmed Said Sulaiman

Making decisions that affect people’s use of land is among the most anxious actions that any progressive society has to deal with. Some of the mainstream arguments claim that the economic needs of the country should always take the priority in determining land use, while others say that indigenous or traditional claims to land use have to be respected. Emphasizing humankind’s stewardship obligations, still others argue that where nature is threatened, the best use of land is excluding human intervention. Even though, the intensions of conservation might be industrious in protecting fauna and flora, its final consequences could also be destructive. For example, if the actions of protected areas impose misery on people especially those who are fully dependent on it for their survival, it is unlikely to succeed in the long run. Well!  What is the best option of using natural resources then? This question seems easy to ask than answered!

As part of unpacking this complexity associated with land use, Environmental Management Class (EM40) led by Dr. Eckhard Auch, performed a simulation game on May 3rd 2017. The role play was based on a case of conservation area located in India (Kaziranga National Park) which was threatened by human encroachment. The intension of the scene was to bring all relevant stakeholders and involved actors to a meeting and eventually make an agreement on issue at stake (eviction of local users). The scene brought reality on the ground to the classroom and provided a lively discussion, arguments and counterarguments among the opposing parties.

Jürgen Habermas, a German Sociologist was right when he said “only by knowing the partner’s real interests (best), a negotiation can achieve best compromises”.   I learned that land use is beyond the affiliation of certain actors. There are other stakeholders (private, civil society and NGOs etc.) who have a say and influence the decisions of every aspect. Hence, making compromises was one of the determinants of reaching success.

However, even with in this role play, the process of making compromise was not smooth either. It was quite challenging to reach a common ground even with in a small group of the same interest let alone confronting opposing parties.

On the other hand, moderation of such kind of meetings needed skillful tactics and attention to the details. For example, the facilitators’ understanding about the culture of the involved community or behavior of individuals is crucial while on the other hand systematically balancing the power of the actors in the discussion process is important factor for reaching a fair consensus.

Overall, being part of this exercise was a valuable brainstorming. It stirred my sense and brought my attention that land use management does not happen in a vacuum – it combines science and society. Though the process is complex per say, if well designed and managed, it can make a tangible progress and lead to a cumulative positive outcome or, in other words a win-win solution.


Ahmed Said Sulaiman is EM40 participant from Ethiopia

Alumni Success Stories: Drip Irrigation in Sudan

Rashid Sirelkhatim Mahgoub attended the CIPSEM Short Course on Soil and Land Resources in 2015. We are delighted to hear about his new work in eastern Sudan:

Rashid is now coordinator at the Talawiet Organization for Development, a local NGO which applies a drip irrigation project developed by the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Agricultural Research Cooperation (ARC). The pilot project showed that the method reduces water use by more than 60% while increasing food yields by more than 40%.

Read more about this promising project, the science behind it and Rashid’s work on the IAEA website.


(Photo: H. Schluttig)

Rehabilitation and recultivation of open cast mining sites

Report by Mamadou Welle

In the frame of the module EM39 Soil & Land Resources an excursion on open cast lignite mining sites was organized on Tuesday 28th Jun 2016. Under the guidance of Prof. Kalbitz and Prof. Michael Haubold-Rosar, participants got the chance to learn more about the challenges of soil management. Besides discovering the impressive landscapes in such areas, we had deep insights in the principles and practices of soil reclamation and rehabilitation regarding water capacity or quality, nutrients status and ecological aspects.

A view of the open cast area (Photo: T. Karp)

It was reminded that soil formation takes time as shown by the geological map of the visited area, where the mining began at the end of the 19th century. The mining process was then explained, from mining preparation and water management to overburden removal and dumping. For instance, it is essential that the deposit is kept free from water in opencast mining. These operations are resources consuming but they are necessary to protect the soil and limit damages in the environment and people`s people health. Even some beneficial effects might derive from such investments as it is the case of recreation areas provided by man-made lakes emerging out of mining activities. The process of lands reclamation was documented with the visit of a former mining area where agriculture and forestry are now back.
For agriculture purposes, the reclaiming measures depend on the types of soil. Plants are selected in a rotation so as to fit to soil fertility. However it is difficult to reach the initial level of soil fertility. For example, it is needed 10 to 20% more seeds in reclaimed lands than in natural sites. Machines damages are also higher there.

Visiting reclaimed agricultural areas (Photo: T. Karp)

The last stage of the excursion was to walk around a forest developing on a former dump site. In the context of forestry the time frame for reclamation is rather longer. A monitoring system has to be set up progressively about the behavior of plants response to this unusual situation. It was indicated that weathering, and stabilization effect of fly ash   can have a positive impact on the growth of trees.  Hot spots of nutrients occur and a typical humus layer formation may be found in this forest.

Evidence of a typical humus layer formation (Photo: T. Karp)

Soil protection and forestry: A visit to the state-owned Massenei forestland, Saxony

Report by Christian Saravia (Guatemala)

Certainly nature conservation and landscape preservation is one of the most important issues for soil protection and forestry management. Our visit to soil protection and forestry at Massenei was on 21st June, the welcomed excursion was introduced by Dr. Rainer Petzold – who works as consultant in soil monitoring laboratory and Toni Eßbach – leader of the forestry service unit.
Historically nature conservation and landscape preservation by the free state of Saxony are of paramount importance for the conservation of the nature and the landscapes, some 40% of the Saxon nature conservation area as well as 25% of the Natura 2000 areas in Saxony are located in the stated owned forest. The objectives are restoration of bog lands, renovation of pounds, meadow maintenance projects, and various species protection.

Introduction by Mr. Eßbach (Photo: T. Karp)

Recreation for forest education and public relations has an incomparable value, by forest owners and foresters to conserve the tourism. The maintenance and development of recreational services geared to the needs of the people are among the central social tasks of the public enterprise. For this reason Sachsenforst organizes guided tours for forest and environmental educations, as well as action days and others events to counter act the effects of the people’s alienation from forest and nature.
In other aspects, one third of Saxony’s land area is forestland and almost 50% of the Saxon forest estate is privately owned. The task of the public enterprise Sachsenforst employs forest rangers with direct responsibility for private and corporate forest owners for giving free advice in terms of forest management options, nature conservation in forest and use of financial aids and many others. For the conservation of the forest 9 million young forest trees such as oak, beech, sycamore maple or silver fir are planted in the forest every year. The reintroduction of silver fir is the largest species protection project in the Saxon forestlands. And hunting plays a key role in the protection both the forest conversion investment and the biological diversity in the forest.
Science and research at the wood and forestry competence centre develops the basic knowledge for forestry decision making process for the management in which develops technical conditions and skills for giving advice and assistance to private and corporate forest owners. The competence center is divided by forest protection, forest genetics, soil monitoring, forest management, forest inventories, mapping and many more.

Water and nutrient cycles in forest ecosystems – an excursion to the Eastern Ore Mountains

Our group of the EM 39 course departed from Weberplatz to the Eastern Ore Mountains. (Altenberg region) at 8:05 am by chartered bus. The excursion was started with an explanation of the day’s activities by Prof. Dr. Karl-Heinz Feger. The excursion has focused on two major topics:

  1. Integrated monitoring in forest ecosystems, biogeochemistry, forest soils and hydrology
  2. Air pollution and forest decline

Our group reached the forest area of Altenberg at 9:00 am where Dr. Henning Andreae from Sachsenforst (Forest Services of Saxony) welcomed us.

Dr. Andreae together with Prof. Feger gave a comprehensive introduction into the forest, including history, coverage, management system, importance of forest ecosystems in general, and ongoing activities etc..

The altitude of the forest is 450 – 905 m asl.  Types of ownership are five, the state owns the largest percentage (49.2%) of the forest. Other owners are quasi-state “Treuhand” (26.9%), private (15.9%), municipal (7.2%) and churches (0.2%).

Then our group entered a monitoring site where 15 rain gauges and other devices monitor and collect scientific data. Annual rainfall of the area is 800 – 1100 mm.

The excursion gave an opportunity to learn about multifunctional forestry and the manifolds functions of forest: landscape conservation (100%), recreation (hiking, cross-country skinning) (28%), drinking water protection (14%), nature reserve (6%) and special soil protection (3%) (Source: distributed handouts). We also got a chance to see close up soil measurement plots and the measurement of seepage water.


After lunch break our group moved to the Kahleberg forest area as an example of ‘Air pollution and forest decline’ which was the next topic of the excursion. There has been severe forest decline in this area due to SO2 air pollution between 1960 and the early 1990s. Air quality and biogeochemical flux measurements at EU-Level-II sites have revealed a considerable decrease in sulfate and H+ deposition since 1990. Later, afforestation has been started in this area. Planted trees of this forest are from different parts of the world.

Afforestation after forest decline from air pollution

Melodious bird songs, the contrast/mixture of sun and rain, careful escorting by Roman and the experienced driver’s driving were the most beautiful parts of the excursion.

Our group on the Kahleberg mountain, overlooking a recovering forest.


Report by Binod Das Gurung (Nepal)

Photos by Binod Das Gurung (Nepal) and Dulip Somirathna (Sri Lanka, 1photo)  






Visit to remediation of former uranium mining sites in Schlema and cultural tour of Sankt Annenkirche in Annaberg- Buchholz

On 30th May, 2016, the CIPSEM EM 39 participants led by Professor Dudel visited two sites in the town of Schlema. The group first toured the Wismut mine water treatment plant. At the plant, flooded mine water contaminated with heavy metals such as uranium, radium and arsenic is treated and then discharged into the Mulde River. Treatment was necessitated by prolonged mining period (1946-1990) that polluted both ground and surface water. The participants then toured by bus to the mine dumps/slug heaps. Remediation started in 1991 and was funded to the tune of more than 6 billion Euros by the German Federal government. Most of the remediated slug heaps are now covered with trees and grass. One of the remediated sites has been converted into a golf course.

The trip ended in style with a cultural tour and listening to organ music at the Sankt Annenkirche in Annaberg- Buchholz. A female church guide gave a brief history of the church built in 15th century initially Catholic but later changed to Protestant since the 16th century.


Report by Isaac Hokonya (Zimbabwe) and photos courtesy of Binod Gurung (Nepal) and Isaac Hokonya (Zimbabwe).

200 years of forest science in Tharandt

What are the main threats to soil functioning? What are the causes of soil degradation and salinization? What are the impacts of land use change and climate variability on watershed hydrology? What do you know about REDD+ in detail? What is the relationship between forests conservation and climate change mitigation? And how are the relations with developing countries towards those topics?

These questions and more where discussed by a group of outstanding researchers and scientists in Tharandt; the second eldest forestry faculty in the world since 1811.In addition; back at CIPSEM we had a brief introduction to some of ongoing research projects in Ethiopia, Peru and Bolivia as a joint collaboration platform in the context of climate change adaptation and rural development.We are grateful to Prof. Kalbitz, Prof. Kapp, Prof. Krabel and the PhD Students (Maxi Domke, Marolyn Vidaurre, François Jost and Hosea Mwangi) for giving the participants a practical insight into some key aspects of their research fields and methodological orientation by sharing their field experiences with CIPSEM.

Because of its comprehensive stock of temperate woody plant species, we also visited the Botanical Garden in Tharandt


.by Hiba Mohammad (Syria)