World Soil Survey Archive and Catalogue

Welcome to WOSSAC

Importance of WOSSAC

Why is soil survey information in Wossac important?

Why does it warrant conservation and dissemination?

Firstly, many of the more disadvantaged and distressed peoples in Africa and elsewhere in the LDC's depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, and for their lives. Some of the problems they face are unavoidable but are exacerbated by mismanagement of their soils. Improved soil management can contribute substantially to increasing agricultural production and improving rural welfare. However effective technical intervention requires understanding of the types and distributions of the soils involved.

Secondly, one of the ways in which CO2 emissions can be offset is by increased carbon sequestration in soils. As loss of organic matter is one of the main causes of soil degradation in the tropics, modifying soil management to increase organic matter contents has the dual benefits of withdrawing carbon from the atmosphere and also improving soil productivity. However, once again, choosing the right interventions depends on knowledge of the types of soils and their distributions.

It is therefore important to have as much information as possible on the soils of Africa and other LDC's. Fortunately, the WOSSAC archive contains a considerable body of such knowledge in the form of soil survey reports and maps undertaken by British projects, companies and surveyors in the past 80 years or so. Many of these were initiated by DfID and its predecessors, and therefore paid for by the UK taxpayer. It is estimated that to undertake these surveys anew would cost substantially more than a hundred millions pounds at present rates, and might even be impossible, because the skilled personnel have died, retired or moved onto other work, and they have not been replaced.

Because many of the basic properties of soils are relatively immutable over the medium term, soils data tend to have a long shelf life and soil surveys done 40-50+ years ago are still valid and valuable today. Indeed contemporary remote sensing techniques and approaches, such as digital soil mapping rely on legacy data for ground truthing and validation - without the contents of archives such as WOSSAC these datasets are often very hard to locate.