Soil Science in tropical and temperate regions - some differences and similarities

A.E. Hartemink

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30 Citations (Scopus)


Little has been written about geographical differences in the progress and development of soil science, whereas such information is of interest for determining research priorities and for an improved understanding of the impact of soil science in various parts of the globe. This paper reviews some of the differences and similarities in soil science of the temperate and tropical regions.It is largely based on Anglo-Dutch literature and focuses on soil fertility research. The range of conditions under which soils are formed is as diverse in the tropical as in the temperate regions,but soil science has a different history and focus in the two regions. In densely populated western Europe soil fertility research started because there was little spare land, whereas in the Russian Empire and the United States land was amply available and soil survey developed. Since the second World War, soil science has greatly benefited from new instrumentation and developments in other sciences. Many subdisciplines and specializations have been formed, and soil science has broadened its scope in the temperate regions. Currently, much research is externally funded and has a problem-solving character. Soil research in tropical regions started later, and its scope has not changed much. The feeding of the ever-increasing population, land degradation, and maintenance of soil fertility are still important research themes. The amount of research in environmental protection, soil contamination, and ecosystem health is relatively small. More is known about the soil resources in the temperate regions than in the tropical regions despite the fact that one-third of the soils of the world are in the tropics, and these support more than three-quarters of the world population. Some of the common interests are the development of sustainable land management systems and appropriate land quality indicators, quantification of soil properties and processes, fine tuning of models, the sequestration of C in agricultural soils, and the optimum use of agricultural inputs to minimize environmental degradation and maximize profit. Nutrient surplus is a major concern in many temperate soils under agriculture, whereas the increase of soil fertility is an important research topic in many tropical regions. From a soil nutrient perspective it appears that soil fertility research in tropical regions is all about alleviating poverty, whereas in the temperate regions it is mainly about alleviating abundance and wealth. Although efforts have been undertaken to promote soil science to a wider audience,the impact of soil science on the society has been poorly quantified, and this applies to both temperate and tropical regions
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)269-292
JournalAdvances in Agronomy
Publication statusPublished - 2002


  • precision agriculture
  • carrying-capacity
  • food security
  • east-africa
  • land-use
  • perspective
  • resources
  • world
  • reflections
  • degradation

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