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Introduction

Nearly all of the food and fibres used by humans are produced on soil. Soil is also essential for water and ecosystem health. It is second only to the oceans as a global carbon sink, with an important role in the potential slowing of climate change.  

Undoubtedly, soil resources of the Maltese Islands are an important and limited natural resource of great environmental value. Their sustained quality is actually of great benefit to the local agricultural community but also to wider society interests such as ensuring landscape integrity and sustaining our fragile (and mostly endemic)  ecosystems. Furthermore, a number of activity components associated with a country's economic growth (e.g. rural tourism, upmarket accommodation) draw their continued strength through their indirect association with, and sustained presence of, this vital resource. 

International efforts to protect soils were reaffirmed recently in the outcome of the Conference for Sustainable Development (UNCSD) held in Rio De Janiero where delegates affirmed, amongst other, that:

"...we recognize the economic and social significance of good land management, including soil, particularly its contribution to economic growth, biodiversity, sustainable agriculture and food security, eradicating poverty, the empowerment of women, addressing climate change and improving water availability." 

In common with other countries of the Mediterranean region, intensive land use, extensive urbanisation and increasing rural development within the country - resulting in widespread mismanagement of this natural resource - have, over the years, intensified threats of environmental degradation and accentuated pressures over the long-term sustainability associated with this basic component shaping the Maltese natural environment. Various objectives of soil protection dealing with predictions for safeguarding soil status, stabilisation and (where applicable) remediation require detailed, updatable knowledge about soils, their potential and actual loading.

In the absence of a national institution - responsible for continuous soil survey and sampling data activities, procedural setups and monitoring - soil information has until recently received little cross-cutting (horizontal) coordination. Thus, it remains a relatively undeveloped theme within environmental protection.