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The ABC of Soil Literacy - Evidence from Ghana, South Africa and Zimbabwe

Johnson, K.L.; Philip, D.; Engels, C.

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C. Engels


Climate change and soil health are intimately linked, as reflected in the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 15. Land degradation is responsible for a significant proportion of all global greenhouse gas emissions (WGII, IPCC, 2007), thereby significantly contributing to climate change. At the same time, the recognised impacts of climate change take various forms, all of which directly impact soil health, such as those caused by heat (wildfires and droughts) or wind and water (hurricanes and floods). In 2018, the lives and livelihoods of 39 million across the globe were affected by climate change (United Nations: Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2020a). Taken together, this constitutes a vicious circle between soil degradation and climate change with detrimental results. The equal importance of combating climate change and securing soil health as global challenges is represented by SDG13: “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts” (United Nations: Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2020a) and SDG15: “Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems” (United Nations: Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2020b). More broadly, healthy soils are the key cornerstone for all 17 SDGs (United Nations, 2008). Therefore, understanding the attitudes, behaviours and competencies that drive individual interactions with soil, including factors that promote or harm soil health, is crucial to inform policy responses that aim at facilitating sustainable interactions with soil by future global citizens and farming communities. This report is the first to establish the concept of soil literacy, to provide approaches to its measurement and to report estimates of its levels in the population of school children in three African countries: Ghana, South Africa and Zimbabwe. It defines soil literacy as a combination of attitudes, behaviours and competencies required to make sound decisions that promote soil health and ultimately contribute to the maintenance and enhancement of the natural environment.


Johnson, K., Philip, D., & Engels, C. (2020). The ABC of Soil Literacy - Evidence from Ghana, South Africa and Zimbabwe. [No known commissioning body]

Report Type Project Report
Acceptance Date Sep 24, 2020
Online Publication Date Sep 24, 2020
Publication Date 2020-09
Deposit Date Sep 24, 2020
Publicly Available Date Oct 14, 2020
Publisher Durham University
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Publisher: Durham University
Type: monograph
Subtype: project_report


Published Report (2.8 Mb)

Copyright Statement
Durham University gratefully acknowledges impact funding received
from the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).

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