in memoriam - Emeritus Professor Carolus (Karel) Sys (1923 - 2009)

Dr. ir. Carolus, emeritus professor of Soil Science in the Faculty of Sciences, Ghent University , passed away on October 1, 2009 at the age of 85. He was born in Zande ( West-Flanders , Belgium ) on Christmas-day, December 25, 1923. Being son of a farmer, his parents certainly not directed him towards university studies. Instead they depicted for him a career as a cattle tradesman. However, when during World War II, young men were summoned to work for the war industries, he decided not to go that way but to enroll at the Agricultural University in Ghent, where he obtained the degree of agricultural engineer, tropical soil science, in 1949.

In the same year ir. C. Sys was selected by the Belgian administration for a job in the former Belgian Congo . He began working as a field soil surveyer at INEAC (Institut National pour l’Etude Agronomique au Congo Belge), pioneering the soils of the central part of Africa . He participated in regional soil surveys in different parts of the former Belgian Congo and in Burundi . In 1956, he was appointed as Chef du Groupe Cartographie et Prospection de la Division d’Agrologie of this institute, in charge of the supervision and co-ordination of the soil survey. In this function, he together with his collaborators, elaborated the INEAC system of soil classification for Central Africa . Under the leadership of Sys, much emphasis was laid by the Belgian soil scientists on characteristics easily recognizable in the field, such as the presence of pseudosands in the poor Ferralsols and the presence of shiny clay skins in the much richer Ferrisols. Many of these criteria were later taken over in the international classification systems, such as Soil Taxonomy or the FAO legend. At that time, Sys was also a member of the committee in charge of the establishment of a Soil Map of Africa, and he compiled the first soil map of Congo and Ruanda-Urundi at scale 1:5M.

In 1960, Sys returned back to Belgium and worked for three years, until 1963, as chief cartographer at the Belgian Centre for Soil Survey and as researcher in the Laboratory of Physical Geography and Regional Pedology under the direction of Professor Ren Tavernier. At the same time, he supervised soil survey work and was in charge of the study of the soil suitability for crop growing in Belgium . Ir. Sys was awarded a Ph.D. in Agronomy in 1961 at the Agricultural University of Ghent on the thesis ‘Soil Genesis in the High-Katanga’.

In 1963, Dr. ir. C. Sys, was appointed associate professor, and in 1981 full professor at the State University Ghent, teaching regional pedology (mainly of tropical and subtropical regions) and land evaluation at the Faculty of Sciences (International Training Centre for Post-Graduate Soil Scientists, ITC-Ghent) and at the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences. In this function he was responsible for the scientific education of numerous pedologists from developing countries as well as from developed countries all over the world. Initially his research was oriented to the study of soil-forming processes of tropical and arid soils, but since the 1970s his interest shifted mainly to land evaluation. His green books on ‘Land Evaluation’ published by the former General Administration for Development Cooperation in Brussels are well-known and are still used and cited by scientists.

Around that time, Professor Sys’s career took an international course and his reputation as a leading and influential soil scientist grew through this period. Since 1963, he was consultant or scientific supervisor of many overseas projects for the Belgian Administration for Development Co-operation, the Flemish Interuniversity Council, the FAO and for many other Belgian and international organizations and consultant bureaus. In Africa, he realized soil survey and land evaluation projects in Morocco, Egypt, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Chad, Ivory Coast, Togo, Benin, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania and Zambia. In Nicaragua , he planned and supervised the soil survey of the Costa Atl’ntica between the Rio Grande de Matagalpa and the Rio Escondido. In Asia he participated in soil research and soil survey work in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and China.

From 1968 until 1981 Professor Sys was Secretary General of the Belgian Soil Science Society and editor-in-chief of ‘Pedologie’, the journal of the Belgian Soil Science Society. His wide-spread expertise in the field of land evaluation was acknowledged in 1978 during the World Congress in Edmonton , Canada by his election as chairman of the Commission ‘Soil Technology’ of the International Society of Soil Science (ISSS). He chaired this commission until 1982. In 1984, he succeeded Professor Tavernier as director of the ITC-Ghent and in 1987 he was elected president of the Belgian Royal Academy of Overseas Sciences.

Throughout his career his main solicitude has always been to carry out scientific research leading to practical applications. Hereby he was particularly concerned about the possibilities to apply his findings in the sometimes precarious working conditions of the third world. Therefore his advices on soil management were always very much appreciated by all the people working in the agricultural sector in developing countries.

His working capacity is illustrated by numerous scientific articles and technical reports, the many M.Sc. and Ph.D. theses prepared under his supervision or with his collaboration, his activities in the Belgian and International Soil Science Societies and his position as director of the ITC-Ghent. Despite retirement in 1989, Sys remained interested in the International Training Centre and in the work of the Laboratory of Soil Science, especially in their activities in Central Africa.

Eric Van Ranst
Department of Geology and Soil Science (WE13),
Laboratory of Soil Science, Ghent University
Krijgslaan 281 (S8), B-9000 Gent

Emeritus Professor Carolus (Karel) Sys

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Page created: 13.02.2015 | Page updated: 13.02.2015

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