Food and Fertilizer Technology Center - publications

Dec. 24, 2009

A New Approach to Soil Information System (Sis) for Natural Resources Management

For centuries, soil information has been a vital component of crop and natural resource management. Accurate, spatially referenced, soil information has always been an important requirement in the sustainable use of soil resources.

In the past, soil information was available mainly as printed soil maps and text-based information. In recent years, however, the Soil Information System (SIS) has evolved as an innovative set of new technologies and methodologies that make it possible to collect information in a time frame, resolution, and format that is useful for making farm management decisions, driving variable rate technologies, and running crop production models. SIS is at the leading edge of a revolution in soil mapping technology, in which information is collected and processed digitally to produce quick, accurate and consistent results.

For some time, SIS has been used mainly to store, analyze and present soil quality data. With the introduction of the concept of soil quality management, and the evolving role of governments worldwide in soil data collection, land use and soil conservation, it becomes inevitable that more information on soil quality will be exchanged among countries, where radical plans and far-reaching decisions will be based upon.

Currently, SIS provides not only relevant soil information related to crop productivity, but also a wide-ranging useful data for such areas as assessment and conservation of environmental quality and wildlife habitats, and global warming and energy concerns. The United States Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Services (USDA-NRCS), for instance, provides web-users not only with fundamental soil data, but also with energy- and money-saving strategies for relevant cultural practices. The EU, on the other hand, launched the European Soil Portal in 2004, providing a variety of natural resources information for the region. Toward this trend, the structure, content, and functionality of SIS in Asia must therefore aim for more functionality and a new, regional approach.

A Gathering of Soil Experts in Asia

SIS is undoubtedly a very useful tool not only for policy makers and scientists, but also for extension specialists, farmers, and even for consumers. In Asia, however, only a few countries have established their own SIS, mainly consisting of computer-based soil map associated with detailed analytical soil data, and with only a limited part available for access by web-users.

In view of this, FFTC in partnership with the National Institute for Agro-Environmental Sciences (NIAES), Japan, organized the international workshop on A New Approach to Soil Information Systems for Natural Resource Management in Asian Countries. Held in Tsukuba, Japan on October 13-17, 2008, the primary goal of this workshop was to create an opportunity to review the current status of Soil Information System (SIS) in Asian countries; to share and exchange relevant information and knowledge for the development of appropriate SIS in each country; and to discuss the possibility of establishing a regional soil information system. During the workshop, participants deliberated on: how to harmonize the different country SIS into a uniformly-formatted system; how to incorporate advanced techniques such as remote sensing and modelling into the SIS for the practical use of farmers and agricultural industries in each country; and how to share successful experiences in the establishment, management and utilization of SIS among Asian countries.

Toward a New, Regional Approach to Sis

The workshop brought together 14 soil scientists from the US and from 7 Asian countries, with the goal to deliberate on the possibility of a regional-level SIS and the establishment of a sustainable land management network in Asia capable of collecting and interpreting critical soil information in the region. As recommended by the participants, the regional SIS may focus on such areas as: soil inventory; landscape parameters including capability and suitability classification; critical biodiversity information, species and migration pattern; socio-economic parameters; stress-response parameters; and recommended land uses and indicators to evaluate real-time and progressive soil quality monitoring. The two-day paper presentations concluded with a strong consensus among the participants that a regional SIS is vital to ensure the successful implementation of environmental stewardship programs and best management options in agricultural production, as well as to function as a powerful and indispensable tool for agro-technology transfer in the Asian region.

In a focused group discussion following the paper presentations, an Adhoc Committee was organized represented by each participating country to sustain the gains from the workshop activity. The first task of the committee was to draft a Workshop Statement emphasizing on: the importance of soil data and its accessibility through SIS in terms of environmental management and other concerns such as food safety and quality; the need to set a standard and harmonize the different state and level of SIS in Asian countries; the importance of sharing soil data and information among nations in the region, and of identifying the kind of information that can be shared among researchers and policy makers; and the potential application of soil data and information sharing in terms of enhanced natural resource management and agricultural productivity, and improved food quality and safety.

The Workshop Statement was envisioned as an initial step toward gaining institutional and governmental support from the different participating countries in the implementation of a project on the development of a regional SIS and the establishment of a sustainable land management network in Asia.

International Workshop on a New Approach to Soil Information Systems for Natural Resources Management in Asian Countries

Held in NIAES, Tsukuba, Japan, October 13-17, 2008

No. of participating countries: 8 (Japan, Taiwan ROC, Korea, Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, USA)

No. of papers presented: 13

No. of participants: 13 speakers and about 150 local participants/organizers

Co-sponsor: National Institute for Agro-Environmental Sciences (NIAES), Japan

List of Papers Keynote Paper

  • 1. Report on Soil Information Systems of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • - William R. Effland, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Natural Resources Conservation Service, Resource Inventory and Assessment Division, USA

Resource Papers

  • 2. Comparison of Taiwan Soil Classification System to Soil Taxonomy and WRB system and its modification toward a common format of Asian Soil Information Systems
  • - Zueng-Sang Chen, National Taiwan University (NTU), Taiwan ROC
  • 3. Soil databases for agro-environmental researches in NIAES, Japan
  • - Hiroshi Obara, NIAES, Japan
  • 4. Soil Inventory System of Japan
  • - Makoto Nakai, NIAES, Japan
  • 5. Development of Soil Information System and its Application in Korea
  • - S. Young Hong, National Institute of Agricultural Science and Technology (NIAST), RDA, Korea
  • 6. Development of portable Soil Information System and its future use in Niigata Prefecture, Japan
  • - Toshimitsu Honma, Niigata Agricultural Research Institute, Japan
  • 7. Use of long-term soil monitoring database for management of arable land in Japan
  • - Takeshi Ota, National Agriculture and Food Research Organization (NARO), National Agricultural Research Center (NARC), Japan
  • 8. Managing Soil Information Systems for enhanced natural resource management in Malaysia
  • - E. Padmanabhan, Curtin University of Technology, Malaysia; and H. Eswaran, Natural Resource Conservation Service (USDA)
  • 9. Soil resources and development of soil information system in Thailand
  • - Somsak Sukchan, Land Development Department, Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, Thailand
  • 10. Use of soil database for pedological research on volcanic ash soils
  • - Masami Nanzyo, Tadashi Takahashi and Hitoshi Kanno, Graduate School of Agricultural Science, Tohoku University, Japan
  • 11. Application of spatial-based Soil Information System for suitability rating of biofuel crops
  • - Rodelio B. Carating, Bureau of Soils and Water Management, Philippines
  • 12. The soils of Vietnam: classification, information system and use
  • - Ho Quang Duc, National Institute for Soils and Fertilizers of Vietnam
  • 13. Development of Soil Information System and its application in Taiwan
  • - Horng-Yuh Guo, Tseng-Seng Liu, Chieng-Liang Chu and Chih-Feng Chiang, Agricultural Research Institute (ARI), Council of Agriculture (COA), Taiwan ROC

For further information, contact:

Dr. Zueng-Sang Chen, FFTC Technical Consultant

Index of Images

  • Figure 1 Study sites and spatial distribution of cadmium contents of brown rice in Changhwa county, Taiwan ROC, illustrating the application of soil information system (SIS) to food safety.

    Figure 1 Study sites and spatial distribution of cadmium contents of brown rice in Changhwa county, Taiwan ROC, illustrating the application of soil information system (SIS) to food safety.

  • Figure 2 Portable soil information system (SIS) in Japan

    Figure 2 Portable soil information system (SIS) in Japan

  • Figure 3 Web-based SIS service of Korea (

    Figure 3 Web-based SIS service of Korea (

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