Pandi Zdruli (Italy)
Position: Senior Research Scientist
International Centre for Advanced Mediterranean
Agronomic Studies (CIHEAM), Mediterranean
Agronomic Institute of Bari, Land and Water Department
Via Ceglie 9, 70010 Valenzano (BA) Italy
1. When did you decide to study soil science?
I grew up in a society where the Government decided where to study, work, and live. As a city boy I had other dreams rather then studying agriculture, but they sent me at the Faculty of Agronomy of the Agricultural University of Tirana, in Albania. Despite some initial malcontent I found this Faculty exiting and challenging, especially Pedology. My direct contact with the soil though was after graduation when I served for six years as agronomist in an agricultural cooperative near Tirana. All what I knew from the books was now real and I still remember very well what it means to find the right moment to plough a Vertisol. I truly decided to dedicate myself to soils in 1988 when I started working at the Soil Science Institute of Tirana and especially after I won in 1992 the Fulbright fellowship competition to continue research and study on soils at the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Washington DC for just about five years. I could say now that I'm very grateful for this choice.
2. Who has been your most influential teacher?
Undoubtedly Dr. Hari Eswaran, National Leader at the USDA NRCS World Soil Resources in Washington DC, USA. His wise advice, dedication, scrutiny, and friendship taught me a 'different way of doing business', and yet I find at his papers plenty of ideas and topics to be explored.
3. What do you find most exciting about soil science?
We all know that the soil is a very complex system. To study it thus one should have a complete scientific background. So this is exiting. Why we yet have several disagreements for instance to accept an international soil classification system (despite the excellent work done by the WRB group). Perhaps because we still don't know everything about the soils. I remember once Hari saying after spending hours in a soil profile: If soils could talk no one could predict how they would insult soil scientists. And Dr. Richard Arnold used to say, 'soils are never wrong', hence we should find out why and how they are out there and I'm convinced this could not be done only with remote sensing and GIS.
4. How would you stimulate teenagers and young graduates to study soil science?
I was once invited to give a talk on soils at the elementary school of my son. It was interesting to respond to their questions and I noticed how hard is for us to speak their language. I'm sure with adults is much difficult. So we must make our science 'easier' but not 'simpler'. The Soil Atlas of Europe prepared by the European Soil Bureau Network (ESBN) has a section, The soil in your garden. The purpose is to bring this resource closer to those that take it for granted. We must find similar examples to stimulate interest in soils for the larger public and not only for students. The opening of the Smithsonian Soils Exhibit in Washington DC in July 2008 is something to be applauded. People should understand that is as truer as you could get sick from polluted water and air as well as from polluted soils.
5. How do you see the future of soil science?
A decade ago a soil scientist from New Zeeland circulated an essay entitled. Is Pedology dead and buried? I don't think the situation now is much better today. I was leading at our Institute a soil survey team until 2001 but none of my four young colleagues (one was a girl) is with us since then. After having spent five years surveying hundreds of soil profiles in Puglia, Italy and even having their first international experience in soil survey, when the project came to end they had to leave. None of them is doing anything with soils ever since. Let me ask also how many of us have suggested to our children a carrier in soil science?
I don't think this is neither sustainable nor fair to soil science and to the people who devote to it. To survive thus we need to 'broaden horizons' beyond the soil profile. We need to embark in an eco-system approach and to demonstrate that soils are equally important to water, air, geology, biodiversity, socio-economics of soil management, and not to use for instance water as an excuse for doing soil research. We need to talk not only to ourselves (as we often do!) but also to other scientists and especially to policy and decision makers. Otherwise we could continue to experience disappointing news such as the latest from the EU Council meeting in December 2007 where no political agreement was reached on the draft directive for the EU Thematic Strategy for Soil Protection, a setback especially for the ESBN and for the hard work that had invested on it.