Soil cycle and desertification: an urgency for education

Soil, like water and air, is one of the vital resources for the existence of the planet. It is the support of life and is right under our feet and around us. It is urgent to reflect and act on the human treatment that this finite natural resource receives. The role that education plays in taking measures for its protection and conservation through sustainable soil management is therefore indispensable.


In this context, the LPN Training Center organized during February and March three training sessions as part of a Training Cycle on Soils and Desertification - An Urgency for Education. Held online due to the pandemic moment, the actions that are relevant for the purposes of career progression in teaching counted as participants, teachers of all levels of education but also professionals and participants interested in the areas of environment and education.


In the context of capacity building for education on the theme of Soils, the cycle was organized in independent but complementary sessions. Bringing together researchers and specialists on the subject, as well as a set of relevant practices and projects carried out by institutions and schools in the country, knowledge was shared and resources were made available for scientific and pedagogical exploration, providing tools to raise awareness of the importance of Soil and contributing to the improvement of educational practices.


In the first session with the title Current State of the Soils - Trajectories and Future Challenges, Professor Carlos Alexandre introduced us to the topic of what the Soil was, its constitution, of being a non-renewable resource due to its very slow renewal rate (400 years on average to form 1cm of soil). Pointing us to future challenges such as the increase in human population whose welfare seems not to be dependent on this good resulting from its progressive removal in relation to nature, exemplifying the reduction of natural vegetation as one of the indicators of the impact of Man on the Soil being necessary a more sustainable education, management and governance of soil in multiple areas such as urban planning, sustainable agriculture and forestry. Professor Felícia Fonseca explained the anthropic factors in terrestrial systems and carbon storage and that the soil is one of the main reservoirs of carbon on the planet and that uncontrolled fires are a factor in soil degradation, mentioning based on results of field research in NE Portugal that the storage of C is one of the important functions of forest communities and can contribute effectively to mitigate climate change.


Professor Tomás de Figueiredo enlightened us about the problem of Desertification of the Soil, the increase of aridity in the continental territory, the interdependent connection between water and soil, namely the increase of Soil Erosion resulting from fires that reduces the effectiveness of soil protection leading to the loss of Biodiversity and Climate Change.
In the 2nd Panel, Maria de Lurdes Silva (Prado Community Center) presented the Horta do Saber Project carried out in the scope of her master's degree. A strategic project for the sustainability of needy families along the banks of the Cávado River of urban gardens that involved processes of conservation and increased soil fertility, organic farming for educational and cultural purposes, contributing to the insertion of disadvantaged social groups and that won the second best international award for Urban Agriculture in 2015.


It fell to teacher Ana Lúcia Vasconcelos of the School EB23 Dr. Horácio Bento de Gouveia - Funchal to present the project awarded by Ecoescolas, on Circular Economy in an Eco-school in Madeira - Organic Garden, Composting and other initiatives demonstrating the excellent actions that some schools develop in the increase of Environmental Education.


In session II - entitled Fertility and Plant Nutrition - teachers Mário de Carvalho, Eugénio Sequeira and researcher Paula Fareleira focused on aspects related to soil conservation, the importance of organic matter in soil functions and the essential role of organisms (maintenance of the structure, cycle of ni "utrients, crop bioprotection, degradation and pesticides). Professor Mário de Carvalho highlighted the problem of soil mobilization that leads to loss by erosion, highlighting several examples, as did Professor Eugénio Sequeira.

Paula Fareleira highlighted the role of bacteria as plant growth promoters giving an overview of how these soil microorganisms associate with plants and influence their performance, also addressing the importance of adopting practices that promote their proliferation and biodiversity.

The presentation of the schools was given by the teacher Paula Canha from the Odemira School Grouping, who mentioned some excellent project work developed with students on the issue of soils, mentioning some practical activities on soils that can be done in regular classes, despite the theme not appearing clearly and significantly in the high school programs.


Teacher Cristina Cardoso from Alto de Azambuja High School showed what was accomplished in the scope of the training/project "Let's Take Care of the Planet" to keep the school space clean; create a school garden and start a Botanical Garden.

In session III on Degradation Protection, Remediation, and Soil Regeneration techniques and practices for soil conservation, remediation remediation, and soil regeneration were presented in which teacher Cândida Rocha mentioned organic waste production and the most suitable waste treatment technologies, namely the organic valorization of giving back to the soil what it gave us and Professor Erika Santos mentioned some techniques for the recovery of contaminated soil, using technosols and phytotechnologies, namely the recovery of mine soils through, for example, bacteria that associate with the roots of plants capable of growing in contaminated land.


In the 2nd panel Alice Nunes, researcher at the Center for Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Change, Faculty of Sciences, University of Lisbon, presented the projects of regeneration of the Montado, namely the development of a predictive model of potential natural regeneration and monitoring and evaluation of the success of reforestations that involved the preparation of ebooks - about Good practices for reforestation, Manual of good practices for soil and water conservation and the Plan for Adaptation of Mértola to Climate Adaptation.

Finally, Dayana Andrade presented the "Synthropic Gardens in Schools Project", conceived in 2018 and carried out in 5 public schools in the Municipality of Mértola. The experience reported tested the pedagogical potential of syntropic agriculture, integrated with the perspectives of ecological literacy and critical pedagogy, in the implementation of school gardens with children between 7 and 10 years old. and that resulted in: award in the National Sustainability Contest of the Galp Foundation; and a publication in an E- Book.

All this knowledge and relevant practices evidenced in this Soil Cycle had an active participation by the participants who asked several questions enriching the debates in each session that had a very satisfactory evaluation.


Every day we tread on a very vulnerable natural resource, an increasingly vulnerable asset that sustains life. The European Union's Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 highlights that it is essential to intensify efforts to protect soil fertility, to increase organic matter, to identify and restore degraded soils, The increase of actions under the theme of soil through the experimental teaching of science and actions in the field, with its more effective insertion in school curricula and programs, as well as the development of more instructive and motivating educational practices to bring children and young people closer to nature are essential for a more sustainable and prosperous future.

All these innovative approaches and projects that teachers brought us suggest the excellent work developed by schools and the incentive to carry out initiatives and projects related to school green spaces inside schools as well as in outdoor spaces empowering students for an active citizenship in order to comply with the Agenda 2020 for Sustainable Development Objectives, the National Strategy for Environmental Education, National Strategy for Nature Conservation and Biodiversity and National Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change.

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