Rothamsted Research

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Soil Fertility

Soil Fertility

Wednesday, 6 May, 2015 -
19:30 to 21:30
Public Meeting

Soil Fertility: Why do we need to protect soils from degradation?


Come and join us at this public meeting to mark 2015 as the International Year of Soils! This event will look at soil fertility and the need to protect soils from degradation.


Professor Sir Gordon Conway Chair in International Development, Imperial College London and Professor David Powlson Sustainable Soils and Grassland Systems, Rothamsted Research will discuss the impacts of global land management on soil quality and fertility, and how soil degradation affects humans and the environment.


The Public Meeting events will be very popular, please reserve your free tickets at:


Professor Sir Gordon Conway

‘No Ordinary Matter: The Challenge of Land Degradation in Africa’

About 26% of the soils of Sub-Saran Africa are seriously degraded. Moreover few donors and few African governments are giving this challenge the attention it deserves. Part of the answer lies in adopting a Sustainable Intensification approach. One component is climate smart soils. Financing soil restoration is not easy.


Gordon Conway is a Professor of International Development at Imperial College, London and Director of Agriculture for Impact, a grant funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which focuses on European support of agricultural development in Africa. From 2005-2009 he was Chief Scientific Adviser to the Department for International Development. Previously he was President of The Rockefeller Foundation and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sussex. He was educated at the Universities of Wales (Bangor), Cambridge, West Indies (Trinidad) and California (Davis).  His discipline is agricultural ecology.  In the early 1960's, working in Sabah, North Borneo, he became one of the pioneers of sustainable agriculture. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2004 and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2007. He was made a Knight Commander of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George in 2005.  He was recently President of the Royal Geographical Society. He has authored The Doubly Green Revolution: Food for all in the 21st century (Penguin and University Press, Cornell) and co-authored Science and Innovation for Development (UK Collaborative on Development Sciences (UKCDS)).  His most recent book One Billion Hungry: Can we Feed the World? was published in October 2012.


Professor David Powlson

‘Organic matter in the world’s soils: what it does and why it is difficult to manage’

Organic matter makes the difference between a collection of mineral particles and a functioning soil. It is largely responsible for giving soil a physical structure that is conducive for root growth and the retention of water. It also acts as a reservoir of nutrients that are gradually released to crops. Unfortunately, agriculture is generally bad for organic matter, leading to a decline compared to soil under natural vegetation. Fortunately, it does not decline to zero but tends to “bottom out” at a level characteristic of the soil type, climate and cropping system. Long-term experiments, such as those at Rothamsted, provide a unique resource for studying these trends. Increasing the organic matter content of agricultural soils is beneficial for soil quality but is difficult to achieve.


In addition to its importance for sustainable crop production, organic matter in the world’s soils contains a vast store of carbon – about twice that in the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Maintaining this large stock of carbon is important for limiting climate change. Clearing additional natural vegetation to create more land for agriculture leads to the release of carbon dioxide, thus making climate change worse.


David Powlson is a Lawes Trust Senior Fellow at Rothamsted Research and Visiting Professor in Soil Science at the University of Reading. His research has focussed on organic matter in soil and the efficient use of nitrogen by crops. He has a B.Sc. in Chemical Sciences (University of East Anglia) and a Ph.D. in Soil Science (University of Reading) and was formerly Head of the Soil Science Department at Rothamsted. Recently he has worked on international projects including research aimed at achieving more rational use of nitrogen fertilizer in China and studies on soil management in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia with CIMMYT (The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre). He is an author of over 130 papers in peer-reviewed journals and a past President of the British Society of Soil Science; in 2006 was elected an Honorary member of the Society for services to soil science research. 



Registration has now closed for this event

Event Organiser: Matina Tsalavouta