Bringing soils back to life – a conversation with Deborah Bossio

18 August, 2015 by  (comments)

After decades of neglect, in part due to the long term nature of soils research and the short term nature of development funding, soils research is on the brink of a renaissance as the world starts to recognise just how vital the ground beneath our feet is.

Few are more enthusiastic about it than Dr. Deborah Bossio, the Area Director of Soils Research at CIAT. In an interview recorded as part of the WLE Thrive podcast series, Bossio talks about her passion for soil and the need for greater investment in research to inform knowledge intensive agriculture.


“Agriculture as it is now won’t sustain us. It has to change and soils research is key – it can provide the evidence base that will a create change in the future of agriculture,” she says. “These are exciting times for soils scientists.”

Grandiose words they may be, but coming from someone who has spent the last 20 years working in soil science, they are backed by plenty of experience.

Based in Kenya, Bossio leads CIATs global soils team working across Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean on three main research themes – restoring degraded land, soils and climate change, and sustaining soil fertility and health.

She also jointly leads two programs within the Water Land and Ecosytems (WLE) CGIAR Research Programme network. One works on regenerating degraded ecosystems, the other on ecosystems services and resilience.

Bossio’s passion for soils and agriculture developed through her travels and observation of traditional cultures. Her experience gave her a sense of appreciation for communities that maintained a close connection with the land, managing to flourish in even in the harshest of environments. She has since spent her career focused on soil science and believes that the future of agriculture will require a shift to more holistic approaches with a focus on spreading knowledge about best practices, geared towards proper management.

Her work has focused on reinvigorating African soils through sustainable means, a large topic of discussion in the development field. Although some people fear that switching to a more sustainable approach will reduce yields, Bossio explains how agricultural processes can be improved in Africa without sacrificing productivity.

Bossio believes that good resource management requires that approaches are inclusive and holistic. Despite the many complexities and challenges, Deborah is optimistic about the future of soils in Africa and resource management at a global scale. Listen to the podcast to see why.

Adapted from Jeremy Cherfas‘ WLE post published on 13 

Jeremy Cherfas

Jeremy Cherfas is the host and producer of the Thrive podcasts. A biologist by training, with extensive experience in agriculture, his writing and audio work have won several awards. He says he is looking forward to learning more about the research underpinning a sustainable food future and sharing that with Thrive listeners.

The article was originally published online at CTA and retrieved on 08/28/2015