Main authors: Luuk Fleskens, Coen Ritsema, Zhanguo Bai, Violette Geissen, Xiaomei Yang, Jorge Mendes de Jesus
Editor: Jane Brandt
Source document: Fleskens, L. et al. (2017) Pilot soil quality assessment tool. iSQAPER Project Deliverable 4.1 27 pp


As input to the development of the pilot soil quality assessment tool, multi-stakeholder case study inventories of information needs concerning soil quality and selection of innovative practices were made. A summary of the findings is given in Table 1.

We distinguish four broad categories of information needs:

  1. Soil information: Many stakeholders, ranging from individual farmers to high-level policy makers, expressed a need to have better information about soils. Many of the interviewed stakeholders displayed a keen interest in comparative soil quality data, i.e. the need to know more about the management-varying part of soil quality. There was also widespread interest in broader information about how soils are currently managed, how soil quality can be assessed, what the environmental impacts of agriculture are, and how biological soil quality can be suitably assessed.
  2. Management advice: the second category related to a widely felt need to get advice on how to improve soil quality. A long list of topics was brought up: measures to improve soils, measures to mitigate soil threats, advice on how to enhance environmental and economic outcomes of farming, and advice on how to most effectively use rainfall in drought-prone environments. Such advice was not only requested by farmers, but also identified by other stakeholders such as extension agents, researchers, environmental NGOs and policy makers as important.
  3. Awareness raising and education: although this need is of a higher abstraction level, it was reiterated by many interviewees that in order to change unsustainable soil management practices, awareness and education about the functioning of soils and what constitutes good soil management is critical. This awareness raising is a cross-cutting theme across the stakeholder landscape, from individual land users deciding about their land management systems and practices to policy makers making the rules and regulations about soil management.
  4. Procedural: a final need expressed by multiple stakeholders was more procedural in nature: how to exchange information about soils and innovative agricultural management practices? How to get a quick assessment of soil quality and soil threats? These needs confirmed the notion that developing a soil quality app would have added value in facilitating widespread procedural issues.  

Table 1. Categorised multi-stakeholder information needs

Soil information Management advice
• Comparative soil quality data
• Information on land management
• Information about soil quality indicators
• Information about the environmental impacts of agriculture
• Biological soil quality indicators
• Information about soil improvement practices
• Information about measures to mitigate soil threats
• Information about opportunities for sustainable intensification
• Fertilization advice, optimisation of crop rotation and pest management
• Increasing economic return
• Effective use of rainfall 
Awareness raising and education Procedural
• Knowledge development about soils, sustainable crop production and environmental protection • Opportunities for information exchange
• Quick assessment of soil indicators/soil threats
• Faster knowledge transfer
• Quick advice on soil management
• Methods for soil quality assessment

Source: Multi-stakeholder inventories in the iSQAPER Case Study sites (Milestone 5.1).

The level of implementation of layers in the first pilot app was limited due to data processing issues. In particular, the comparative assessment of soil quality indicators by calculating cumulative probability density functions and establishing the minimum and maximum values for different land cover classes within each pedo-climatic zone was very computation-intensive. As this information and the link to management advice was deemed to be the most important to potential app users, it was decided to proceed with the development of the pilot app into the beta-version of the app without participatory testing of the pilot app with stakeholders. This was to avoid the risk of stakeholders losing interest in the app by not meeting the expectations. Instead the feedback from testing with stakeholders was based on the beta version of the app.


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