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Africa Atlas At the African Union and European Union Commission College meeting in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia (April 25-26, 2013) the Atlas was introduced by EU Commissioner Hedegaard (Climate Action) on behalf of the European Commission President José Manuel Barroso.

A pdf of the atlas is available to download from the Soil Action Web Site from Monday, April 29th. See the link below....

Physical copies of the book are available through the EU Publications Office. You can order the Soil Atlas Atlas to the EU Bookshop of the Publication Office in Luxembourg at the price of 25 EUR.

An introduction to the Soil Atlas of Africa was presented at the European Parliament's session 'Land and soil degradation post Rio+20', on November 9th 2012 (hosted by Sandrine Bélier, MEP).

Africa Atlas

Download the Soil Atlas of Africa

The data underpinning the Soil Atlas of Africa will gradually be made available for download. In the first instance, a Shape file is available describing the dominant WRB Reference Soil Group and associated qualifiers

(29/4/2013): Download the PDF version of Soil Atlas of Africa. You are invited to download all the 3 parts as the total size of the Atlas is more than 500 MB.

What is special about soil in Africa?

The first ever SOIL ATLAS OF AFRICA uses striking maps, informative texts and stunning photographs to answer and explain these and other questions. Leading soil scientists from Europe and Africa have collaborated to produce this unique document. Using state-of-the-art computer mapping techniques, the Soil Atlas of Africa shows the changing nature of soil across the continent. It explains the origin and functions of soil, describes the different soil types that can be found in Africa and their relevance to both local and global issues. The atlas also discusses the principal threats to soil and the steps being taken to protect soil resources. The Soil Atlas of Africa is more than just a normal atlas. It presents a new and comprehensive interpretation of an often neglected natural resource. The Soil Atlas of Africa is an essential reference to a non-renewable resource that is fundamental for life on this planet.

The Soil Atlas of Africa – highlighting a forgotten resource?

In most people's mind, soil would not figure highly in a list of the natural resources of Africa. However, healthy and fertile soils are the cornerstones of food security, key environmental services, social cohesion and the economies of most African countries. Unfortunately, soil in Africa tends only to reach public awareness when it fails – often with catastrophic consequences as seen by the famine episodes of the Sahel in the 1980s and more recently in Niger and the Horn of Africa.

Soil is the foundation to many of the Millennium Development Goals. In addition to providing the medium for food, fodder and fuel wood production (around 98% of the calories consumed in Africa are derived from the soil), soil controls the recycling of nitrogen, phosphorus, carbon and other nutrients. Soil reduces the risk of floods and protects underground water supplies. Soil organic matter can store more than ten times its weight of water while the soils of Africa store about 200 Gt of organic carbon – about 2.5 times the amount contained in plants.

While Africa has some of the most fertile land on the planet, the soils over much of the continent are fragile, often lacking in essential nutrients and organic matter. Aridity and desertification affects around half the continent while more than half of the remaining land is characterised by old, highly weathered, acidic soils with high levels of iron and aluminium oxides (hence the characteristics colour of many tropical soils) that require careful management if used for agriculture. Soils under tropical rainforests are not naturally fertile but depend instead on the high and constant supply of organic matter from natural vegetation and its rapid decomposition in a hot and humid climate. Breaking this cycle (i.e. through deforestation) quickly reduces the productivity of the soil and leaves the land vulnerable to degradation.

With a population of over 1 billion people and growing, conflicting or competing demands (e.g. the cultivation of cash crops for export, the production of biofuel, conservation for wildlife reserves, carbon sequestration, mineral extraction, grazing, urban migration and expansion, etc.) are placing intense and increasing pressures on the remaining land. Soil degradation has multiple consequences. Perhaps the most pressing it that contributes directly to a decline in per capita food production, especially in small holdings throughout Africa. The harvesting of crops from cultivated soils breaks the nutrient cycle, which then requires additional inputs. In many parts of Africa, soils are losing nutrients at a very high rate, much greater than the levels of fertiliser inputs. As a result of rural poverty, farmers are unable to apply sufficient nutrients due to the high costs of inorganic fertilisers or from a lack of farm machinery (Africa has the lowest use of industrial fertilisers in the world). Traditional practices, such as long fallow periods that improve nutrient budgets and restore soil fertility, are difficult to implement due to the increased pressures on land and changes in land tenure that restrict traditional nomadic lifestyles.

However, the importance of soil and the multitude of environmental services that depend on soil properties are not widely understood by society at large. A part of the problem is that with an increasingly urban society, many people have lost contact with the processes that produce food. Most people expect to find goods on the shelves of supermarkets and have limited or even no appreciation of the role played by soil. Concepts such as nutrient cycling and organic matter management, that are critical to processes such as soil fertility, are a mystery to most. To compound matters, there is very little dialogue between the soil science community and the general public. The majority of soil-related print material is geared towards university level or scientific journals - normally out of the reach of the general public. This results in a lack of easily understandable material to help interested stakeholders appreciate the value of soil and to help them preserve this precious resource.

As a consequence, soil as a topic tends not to feature in the minds of the public or politicians. However, some soil scientists and policy makers are becoming increasingly aware of a greater need to inform and educate the general public, policy makers, land managers and other scientists of the importance and global significance of soil. This is particularly true of the soils in Africa where the dramatic consequences of the failure to use soil sustainably have led to desertification, famine, civil unrest, economic collapse and human suffering, often on astonishingly large scales.

It is in these contexts that the European Commission's Joint Research Centre initiated a project, in collaboration with the African Union and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, to bring together soil experts from Europe and Africa to produce the first ever SOIL ATLAS OF AFRICA. The goal was to produce a publication, aimed at the general public, decision makers, politicians, teachers and even scientists in other disciplines, that raises awareness of the significance of soil to human existence in Africa.

The atlas explains in a simple and clear manner the reasons for the varying patterns of soil across Africa as well as the need to conserve and manage this increasingly threatened natural resource through sustainable use. At its heart is a series of annotated maps that show, for the very first time, the diversity of soil characteristics across the African continent in a manner that is comprehensible to the layperson. The Atlas calls for a four-pronged approach to the soils of Africa:

The Soil Atlas of Africa supports the Global Soil Partnership of FAO and the final declaration of the Rio+20 meeting towards reversing and reducing global soil degradation.

Some images of the Atlas


Example Maps

User Requirements / Survey

The Institute for Environment and Sustainability of the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, European Soil Bureau Network, ISRIC – World Soil Information, FAO (Land and Water Development Division) and Africa Soil Science Society intend to produce a Soil Atlas of Africa, similar to the Soil Atlas of Europe. In order to have the highest impact possible, potential users have been asked with a questionnaire or ideas and needs about the contents of this atlas.

The user survey has been concluded and the users can download the Report with the Preliminary results or they may view the User Survey Results for a Soil Atlas of Africa.

L’ Institut pour l’Environnement et la Durabilite du Centre Commun de Recherches de la Commission Europeenne, le Reseau Europeen du Bureau des Sols, l’ISRIC – Information Mondiale sur les Sols, la FAO (Division pour le Developpement du Terrain et de l’Eau), et la Societe Africaine de la Science du Sol ont l'intention de publier un Atlas des Sols d'Afrique, base sur l' Atlas des Sols d'Europe . De façon à obtenir l’impact le plus élevé possible, il a été demandé aux utilisateurs potentiels de répondre à un questionnaire sur les idées et besoins de contenu de cet Atlas.

L’enquête des utilisateurs est maintenant terminée, le rapport d’analyse des résultats préliminaires peut être téléchargé ou les résultats d’enquête d’utilisateurs pour l’Atlas des Sols d’Afrique peuvent être vus.

Proposed content of the Soil Atlas of Africa

Contenu propose pour l’Atlas des Sols d’Afrique

Meetings and More...

The first meeting of the Editorial Board of the Soil Atlas of Africa took place next week on 7-8/11/2007. Find attached the Agenda

Calendar 2010 - "African Soil" : This calendar and the related Soil Atlas of Africa is an initiative of the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, the African Soil Science Society and ISRIC – World Soil Information. The calendar aims to bring African soil to the attention of everyone who deals with this natural, non-renewable resource that is vital for food and fibre production and sustainable development of the environment.



Contact Points

Arwyn Jones
Otto Spaargaren


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European Commission - Joint Research Centre
Institute for Environment and Sustainability
Marc Van Liedekerke(tel. +39-0332-785179)
Panos Panagos (tel. +39-0332-785574)