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As above, so below: An introduction to soils, ecosystems and livelihoods in the Tropics

  • Job DurationedX
  • Job Duration7 weeks long, 4-6 hours a week
  • Job DurationFree Online Course (Audit)

Project detail


Soils form the foundation of sustainable development. They grow our food, fiber and fuel, are a habitat for organisms, buffer and purify water and safeguard archaeological legacies. It is therefore of vital importance to understand how soil properties vary across tropical ecosystems and landscapes, and how these properties affect biodiversity and livelihoods. So if you want to understand tropical soils and want to learn how to keep those soils healthy, this course is for you! You’ll need basic knowledge of life sciences.

In this course, we will go on virtual excursions to explore the major soils of five biomes: forests, mountains, grasslands, deserts, and wetlands. With the support of JRC and FAO, instructors from KU Leuven and ISRIC will explain which soils develop under certain conditions, what their most important traits are and how those insights can make land use more sustainable. Our partners from different research projects all over the tropics moreover will introduce you to their work and show you real-life examples of how they apply soil knowledge through engaging videos and case studies.


Optional module : Basic soil concepts
This module is aimed to introduce/refresh the basic soil concepts needed to understand the rest of the course. This module is not obligatory to complete the course.

Module 1 :Soils in the tropics
Introduction on the tropics, main soil forming factors, soil functions, soil threats, and soil classification.

Module 2 : Forests
Introduction of the forest zone by a virtual excursion through the Congo Basin and Borneo. Formation, traits, and management of Ferralsols, Acrisol, Histosols, and Cambisols. Cases on agroforestry, coffee production and shifting cultivation.

Module 3 : Mountains
Introduction of the mountain zone through a virtual excursion at the Kilimanjaro and the Ethiopian Highlands. Formation, traits, and management of Cryosols, Andosols, Nitisols, Luvisols, Vertisols, Leptosols, Calcisols, and Regosols. Cases on landslides, rice cultivation and termites.

Module 4 : Grasslands
Introduction of the grassland zone through a virtual excursion in Cameroon and the Dry Chaco in Argentina. Formation, traits, and management of Arenosols, Lixisols, Plinthosols, Stagnosols and Planosols, Phaozems and Solonetz. Cases on sustainable farming on Plinthosols, Integrated Soil Fertility Management and land use in the Mount Elgon region.

Module 5 : Deserts
Introduction of the desert zone through a virtual excursion through the Sahara and Danakil deserts. Formation, traits, and management of Gypsisols, Arenosols, and Solonchaks. Cases on Archeomigrations and reforestation.

Module 6 : Rivers and wetlands
Introduction on wetlands through a virtual excursion along the Nile and the Pantanal, Brasil. Formation, traits, and management of Fluvisols, Gleysols, and Vertisols. Cases on acid Fluvisols, the Niger deltaand data density.

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