Marcello Pagliai (Italy)
Address:CRA Istituto Sperimentale per lo Studio e la
Difesa del Suolo
Piazza M. D'Azeglio, 30
50121 Firenze (Italy)
Position:Director of the Institute (since 1996)
1. When did you decide to study soil science?
After my degree in Agronomy at the Agronomy Faculty of the University of Pisa I worked in a private firm producing products for agriculture in Northern Italy. I worked on soil conditioners at the beginning but then I was moved to the pesticide division. At the first this change was very disappointing for me, but when I became fond of my new position I received a telephone call from one of my friends in Pisa informing me that the National Research Council announced a competition for a post of researcher at the Institute for Soil Chemistry in Pisa. I succeeded in that competition and in November 1974 I started my career as soil scientist.
2. Who has been your most influential teacher?
Without any doubt my career choices were strongly influenced by Paolo Sequi, Professor of Soil Chemistry, and my first Director at the Institute for Soil Chemistry. He convinced me about the potentiality of the application of soil micromorphology, combined with the image analysis, to research on soil physics and agronomy. Another important teacher was Prof. Giovanni Ferrari of the University of Firenze, who taught me soil micromorphology. My contact, in the early years of my research activity, with Dr. A. Jongerius of the Soil Survey Institute of Wageningen were also very important for the application of image analysis.
3. What do you find most exciting about soil science?
I am convinced that scientific research is one of the best activities and, therefore, is very exciting if it is done with passion. Personally I feel privileged to do this work, so I find everything exciting about soil science. Any way I consider the processes that happen in the long-term the most exciting: this increases the curiosity and urges the development of basis able to predict the effects of a specific system of soil use. Unfortunately, many of the environmental disasters we see today depend on soil degradation due to a continuative uncorrected land use in past years. We should be able to predict the consequence of anthropogenic activity in order to avoid soil degradation problems. Since soil degradation is a major environmental problem worldwide, this is the challenge of soil scientists in the near future. This challenge, for me, is very exciting!
4. How would you stimulate teenagers and young graduates to study soil science?
This is a very difficult task, especially when in primary and secondary schools the problems connected with knowledge and protection of soil are generally neglected. The Italian Soil Science Society dedicates considerable effort to address this problem. It has set up a working group on soil education formed by very active colleagues that have published a specific educational book on soil called 'Il Suolo che Vive' (The Living Soil) and, after the 17th WCSS of Bangkok (2002), we celebrate the World Soil Day every year on 5th December by the organization of meetings involving primary and secondary schools just to promote the sensitiveness to soil problems. To young graduates we often repeat that soil scientists in Italy have a very important task they have to protect the soil and environment of the most beautiful country in the world!!
5. How do you see the future of soil science?
Generally I am pessimistic but in this case I am rather optimistic for a good future of soil science. If we are able to propose solutions for the valorization of soil resource and remediation to the problems of soil and land degradation in a way that can be easily understood to the decision-makers, then our future is secure. For this it is necessary to use an interdisciplinary approach and further effort to disseminate our results in a suitable form (like indicators) in order to give a real support to plan sustainable development. More attention should be paid to the relationships between soil and crop quality.
It is strongly necessary that National Governments dedicate more attention and funds to scientific research, but the benefits of a strong support to scientific research are not immediate (especially in the field of soil science) and this, unfortunately, could be a reason for the low attention to scientific research by the Governments.