14th Conference of the International Soil Conservation Organization

May 14-19, 2006

Marrakech, Morocco


Report and Conclusions


Ildefons Pla Sentís

(On behalf of the ISCO Board of Directors)


With the celebration and happy ending of this 14th consecutive Conference of the International Soil Conservation Organization (ISCO) there has been confirmed and reinforced the fundamental and continuous role that ISCO is accomplishing in promoting the analysis, exchange and diffusion of knowledge, and in the search of solutions to the still growing problems of degradation of the increasingly scarce two basic resources – soil and water- for the sustainability of life in the World. At present there is no other alternative organization at World level to accomplish continuously such functions, with a very wide and integral approach free of any restrictions or interferences derived of commercial or other interests.


On this occasion, following the policy of ISCO of celebrating conferences on different places and continents of the World, with varied biophysical, cultural, social and economic conditions, the 14th Conference has been held for second time in the African continent, in the Maghrebian region, and specifically in the city of Marrakech (Morocco). The first conference of ISCO in Africa was the 6th, and was held in Kenya-Ethiopia in 1989. According with the Mediterranean environmental conditions and the ancient history of dealing with serious problems of water shortage and soil erosion of the region where the conference was going to be held, there was selected as central topic the one of “Water Management and Soil Conservation”. Looking back to the great success of the 14th Conference of ISCO, both from the point of view of organization – for which we have to congratulate both the persons and organizations responsible for it- and of results, we have to conclude that the selection of both the place and topic were completely justified.


During the conference, besides the presentation and discussion of about 250 papers (200 oral and 50 poster) there were also organized field excursions, one pre-conference, one mid-conference, and one post-conference, visiting different  regions of Morocco, where problems of soil and water conservation and successful applied solutions could be appreciated. Special mention deserves the mid-conference tours where the contrasting problems of land management and of soil and water conservation between the dry plains and the humid high mountains of the Atlas were observed.


The papers presented in the 14th Conference of ISCO may be classified by general topics as follows:

1)    Evolution of soil and water degradation problems in different parts of the World (15 % of the presentations)

2)    Causes, effects and evaluation systems of soil and water degradation processes (50 % of the presentations)

3)    Tests and adoption of new soil and water conservation systems and practices in lands with different and changing use and management (25% of the presentations)

4)    Social-economic and legal aspects, including the role of public and private organizations and conventions at different levels, in the study, adoption and application of sustainable practices and systems of soil and water conservation at local, national and regional levels (10% of the presentations)


It is worth to mention that in this occasion, following the central theme of the 14th Conference, the aspects of water conservation were explicitly considered in about 30% of the presentations, including problems related with irrigation and use of saline waters. Also it is important to report the special session dedicated to presentations where the main topic was the review and evaluation of the efficiency of numerous traditional and new techniques used for soil and water conservation in N and E Africa, both with mechanical and biological approaches. In general there were also considered the actual and potential desertification risks of large extensions of semiarid lands, derived of uncontrolled soil and water degradation processes, in many cases related with changes in vegetation cover and soils due to climate changes, fires, and changes in land use and management.


A motive of thinking and further analysis is the fact that only about 50% of the presentations, less than in previous conferences, presented new and original information obtained in studies related with the evaluation and prediction of different soil and water conservation processes, and in the application of preventive or correction measures. Most of the rest of presentations were mainly descriptive, based on personal and sometimes speculative appreciations, or in the use of empirical or indirect deductions without sufficient quantitative field testing. This is in part the reason why more presentations were concentrated in evaluation of the problems and less in testing and application of prevention or remedial practices.


Some conclusions that may be deduced from the presentations and the generated discussions and comments are:

1)      The degradation of previously naturally vegetated or productive agricultural lands, leading specially in semiarid climates to barren, desertified landscapes, continues dramatically extending in many parts of the World, mainly due to wrong policies of land development.

2)      Soils, especially in semiarid environments, play a central role in water protection and regulation. Therefore, sustainable development of land resources must consider both resources at the same level.

3)      There are not soil and water conservation practices or systems (terracing, tillage, covers, etc) of universal application, and they have to be adapted to any particular combination of biophysical, social, economic and political conditions.

4)      The generalized use of mostly qualitative indicators and indices may introduce elements of subjectivity in the assessment of soil and water degradation, depending on interpreters experience or bias. There is a need for searching for more acceptable and measurable criteria.

5)      Despite the modernization of observation facilities (satellite imagery) and of computer programs to analyse the data (GIS), the lack of sufficient good local information about soils and water prevent those who manage land resources from planning properly, and introduce constraints in operation of early warning systems with regard to agricultural production and disasters such as flooding and landslides.

6)      Although legal measures and sound development policies are necessary for a sustainable land use and management, for an adequate land use planning there will be required site specific data of soil and water resources under actual or previewed conditions.


Based on the conclusions and on the experience accumulated in the 14th and previous ISCO conferences, we would suggest that in future conferences:

1)    Include a special session about the problems derived of the use of empirical or indirect approaches, without sufficient local direct information, for evaluation and prediction of land degradation processes and for planning sustainable land use and management. At the same time, there would be analyzed the main causes leading to the increasing use of those empirical approaches, and decreasing gathering and measurement of local information and parameters.

2)    Programme future conferences around 3-4 general topics – the ones considered more critical at the moment both at World and local levels - , to be selected by the local organizers and the ISCO Board, which would be exhaustively analyzed in plenary sessions. Those sessions, non concurrent, would start with the presentation of a general actualized review of the topic by a properly selected keynote speaker, followed by a few selected presentations about specific cases directly related to the central topic, and a sufficiently long discussion period to reach conclusions and recommendations. All the rest of the papers would be presented as posters, but leaving sufficient time in the programme and space among posters, for presentation by the authors and discussion “in situ”.


Marrakech, 19th may 2006