Soil Atlas of Africa and its associated Soil Map (data)

This GIS map (2013), present in the Soil Atlas of Africa, contains the dominant WRB Reference Soil Group and associated qualifiers (shapefile).

At the African Union and European Union Commission College meeting in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia (April 25-26, 2013) the Atlas was introduced by EU Commissioner Hedegaard (Climate Action) on behalf of the European Commission President José Manuel Barroso.

The atlas is available for download from this site (see links below).

Physical copies of the book are available through the EU Publications Office. You can order the Soil Atlas from the EU Bookshop of the Publication Office in Luxembourg at the price of 25 EUR.

An introduction to the Soil Atlas of Africa was presented at the European Parliament's session 'Land and soil degradation post Rio+20', on November 9th 2012 (hosted by Sandrine Bélier, MEP)

Africa AtlasAfrica Atlas

Download the Soil Atlas of Africa

Download the PDF version of Soil Atlas of Africa. You are invited to download all the 3 parts as the total size of the Atlas is more than 500 MB.

  • Part 1 Pages 1-78, Size: 254MB
  • Part 2 Pages 79-128, Size: 95MB
  • Part 3 Pages 129 - 176, Size: 175MB

Download the data of the Soil Atlas of Africa

The data underpinning the Soil Atlas of Africa will gradually be made available.

In a first instance, a shapefile is available describing the dominant WRB Reference Soil Group and associated qualifiers. Data forthe main soil properties (such as texture, pH, organic carbon, carbonates, etc...) will become available in the near future.

In order to obtain ther data, a Request Form (see above tab) should be submitted.

The continent of Africa contains all but one of the WRB Reference Soil Groups and illustrates a great soil diversity (see page 61 of the Atlas). It is important to notice that over 60% of the soil types represent hot, arid or immature soil assemblages: Arenosols (22%), Leptosols (17%), Cambisols (11%), Calcisols (6%), Regosols (2%) and Solonchaks/Solonetz (2%). A further 20% or so are soils of a tropical or subtropical character: Ferralsols (10%), Plinthosols (5%), Lixisols (4%) and Nitisols (2%). A considerable area (6%) is occupied by a further 16 reference groups that cover an area of less that 1% of the African land mass. This fact illustrates that a considerable number of soil types are associated with local soil-forming factors such as volcanic activity, accumulations of gypsum or silica, waterlogging, etc. What is interesting is that unlike the other continents, Africa does not exhibit large expanses of prairie or steppe-type soils (i.e. Kastanozems, Chernozems and Phaeozems).

The new harmonised soil map shows the soil classes at continental scale. The map has been produced for the Soil Atlas of Africa [1]. Since the map is displayed in the Atlas in a series of map sheets at the scale 1:3 M, its harmonisation was done accordingly [2]. The map has been derived from the Harmonized World Soil Database (HWSD) [3]. The original data were updated and modified according to the World Reference Base for Soil Resources classification system [4]. The corrections concerned boundary issues, areas with no information, soil patterns, river and drainage networks, and dynamic features such as sand dunes, water bodies and coastlines. In comparison to the initial map derived from HWSD, the new map represents a correction of 13% of the soil data for the continent. Additional information is provided in the references below and the metadata.

The WRB system recommends that the Reference Siol Groups (RSGs) with prefix qualifiers be used for small-scale maps (i.e. smaller than 1:1 M) (IUSS Working Group WRB, 2010). This recommendation has been followed in the construction of the legend: one or two prefix qualifiers are put with each RSG to define the soil types. Each polygons contains three fields: the code and the name of the Reference Soil Group.

Projection: WGS 1984
Legend: You can find them in the page 64 and 65 of the Soil Atlas of Africa. Download the Legends from page 64 and 65 of the Atlas (part a, part b).

JRC releases E-BOOK versions of the Soil Atlas of Africa

As an alternative to the printed and pdf versions of the Soil Atlas of Africa, the JRC's Soil Resource Assessment Project (IES Land Resource Management Unit) is pleased to announce that the publication is now available in e-Book formats for both ePUB apps and Kindle devices or apps. The e-Books format (i.e. Electronic or Digital Books) has brought about a technological revolution in the world of publishing by allowing users to 'read' documents as books on a wide range of dedicated hardware devices (e.g. Kindle) and programmes/applications (e.g. iBooks, Google Books, Kindle apps, Kobo, etc.). This allows readers to take hundreds of books or very large books with them on small computing devices such as dedicated eReaders, tablets or Smart Phones running dedicated apps. For example, our soil Atlas of Africa is in laid out in A3 format, contains 176 pages and weighs over 2.5 kg – so it is quite an imposing publication! By using the e-Book version, it will fit in your pocket and you can take it with you wherever you go! In addition, e-Book files are much smaller than conventional print-quality pdf files, which makes them quicker and much easier to download, which is especially useful where the Internet connection may be poor or is accessed via cell phone networks.

To use these files, please select and download the relevant file format and open it with a dedicated reader (See hints below).

Download the ePUB version
Download the Kindle version

How to read the ePUB file? The easiest way to open an ePUB file is to download it onto your computer (PC or Mac), Smart Phone or Cloud Storage (e.g. Dropbox, GoogleDrive, iCloud). Then open with, or export to, a suitable app or programme (there are many ePUB apps for Windows, Mac and Android operating systems, many of which are free). (Please note that Amazon Kindles cannot read ePUB files.)

How to read the MOBI file on Kindle devices?  The MOBi file format is designed for Kindle readers and apps. Either download the file to your computer or Cloud Storage. Connect your Kindle device to your computer with a USB cable and copy the file to the 'documents' folder on the internal storage of the Kindle. You will then see the file as a new book on your device. Please remember to 'eject' your Kindle device when you are finished. For future reference, documents that are less than 50 MB can be emailed directly to your Kindle account.

How to read the ePUB and MOBI files on iPads? To transfer files to iPads, you will have to use a) either the file sharing options of iTunes. Connect your iPad to your PC or Mac so iTunes opens, open up your iPad in iTunes, go to apps, scroll down then find Kindle or any other eBook app, click on it and you'll have a box to the right, drag the mobi or ePUB file there and they will be copied into the Kindle or ePUB app on the iPad;  or b)  the export function of the Cloud Storage system to upload to your tablet.
Additional information on eBooks and associated file formats can be found on:

References - Documentation

  1. Jones, A., Breuning-Madsen, H., Brossard, M., Dampha, A., Deckers, J., Dewitte, O., Gallali, T., Hallett, S., Jones, R., Kilasara, M., Le Roux, P., Michéli, E., Montanarella, L., Spaargaren, O., Thiombiano, L., Van Ranst, E., Yemefack, M., Zougmore, R., (eds.), 2013. Soil Atlas of Africa. European Commission, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg. 176 pp. ISBN 978-92-79-26715-4, doi 10.2788/52319
  2. Dewitte, O., Jones, A., Spaargaren, O., Breuning-Madsen, H., Brossard, M., Dampha, A., Deckers, J., Gallali, T., Hallett, S., Jones, R., Kilasara, M., Le Roux, P., Michéli, E., Montanarella, L., Thiombiano, L., Van Ranst, E., Yemefack, M., Zougmore, R., 2013. Harmonisation of the soil map of Africa at the continental scale. Geoderma, 211-212, 138-153
  3. FAO/IIASA/ISRIC/ISSCAS/JRC, 2012. Harmonized World Soil Database (version 1.2). Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy and IIASA, Laxenburg, Austria
  4. Spaargaren O, Schad P, Micheli E (2010): Guidelines for constructing small-scale map legends using the WRB. FAO, Rome.
  5. IUSS Working Group WRB, 2006. World Reference Base for Soil Resources 2006. World Soil Resources Report No. 103. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome ISBN-10: 9251055114

What is special about soil in Africa?

The first ever SOIL ATLAS OF AFRICA uses striking maps, informative texts and stunning photographs to answer and explain these and other questions. Leading soil scientists from Europe and Africa have collaborated to produce this unique document. Using state-of-the-art computer mapping techniques, the Soil Atlas of Africa shows the changing nature of soil across the continent. It explains the origin and functions of soil, describes the different soil types that can be found in Africa and their relevance to both local and global issues. The atlas also discusses the principal threats to soil and the steps being taken to protect soil resources. The Soil Atlas of Africa is more than just a normal atlas. It presents a new and comprehensive interpretation of an often neglected natural resource. The Soil Atlas of Africa is an essential reference to a non-renewable resource that is fundamental for life on this planet.

The Soil Atlas of Africa – highlighting a forgotten resource?

In most people's mind, soil would not figure highly in a list of the natural resources of Africa. However, healthy and fertile soils are the cornerstones of food security, key environmental services, social cohesion and the economies of most African countries. Unfortunately, soil in Africa tends only to reach public awareness when it fails – often with catastrophic consequences as seen by the famine episodes of the Sahel in the 1980s and more recently in Niger and the Horn of Africa.

Soil is the foundation to many of the Millennium Development Goals. In addition to providing the medium for food, fodder and fuel wood production (around 98% of the calories consumed in Africa are derived from the soil), soil controls the recycling of nitrogen, phosphorus, carbon and other nutrients. Soil reduces the risk of floods and protects underground water supplies. Soil organic matter can store more than ten times its weight of water while the soils of Africa store about 200 Gt of organic carbon – about 2.5 times the amount contained in plants.

While Africa has some of the most fertile land on the planet, the soils over much of the continent are fragile, often lacking in essential nutrients and organic matter. Aridity and desertification affects around half the continent while more than half of the remaining land is characterised by old, highly weathered, acidic soils with high levels of iron and aluminium oxides (hence the characteristics colour of many tropical soils) that require careful management if used for agriculture. Soils under tropical rainforests are not naturally fertile but depend instead on the high and constant supply of organic matter from natural vegetation and its rapid decomposition in a hot and humid climate. Breaking this cycle (i.e. through deforestation) quickly reduces the productivity of the soil and leaves the land vulnerable to degradation.

With a population of over 1 billion people and growing, conflicting or competing demands (e.g. the cultivation of cash crops for export, the production of biofuel, conservation for wildlife reserves, carbon sequestration, mineral extraction, grazing, urban migration and expansion, etc.) are placing intense and increasing pressures on the remaining land. Soil degradation has multiple consequences. Perhaps the most pressing it that contributes directly to a decline in per capita food production, especially in small holdings throughout Africa. The harvesting of crops from cultivated soils breaks the nutrient cycle, which then requires additional inputs. In many parts of Africa, soils are losing nutrients at a very high rate, much greater than the levels of fertiliser inputs. As a result of rural poverty, farmers are unable to apply sufficient nutrients due to the high costs of inorganic fertilisers or from a lack of farm machinery (Africa has the lowest use of industrial fertilisers in the world). Traditional practices, such as long fallow periods that improve nutrient budgets and restore soil fertility, are difficult to implement due to the increased pressures on land and changes in land tenure that restrict traditional nomadic lifestyles.

However, the importance of soil and the multitude of environmental services that depend on soil properties are not widely understood by society at large. A part of the problem is that with an increasingly urban society, many people have lost contact with the processes that produce food. Most people expect to find goods on the shelves of supermarkets and have limited or even no appreciation of the role played by soil. Concepts such as nutrient cycling and organic matter management, that are critical to processes such as soil fertility, are a mystery to most. To compound matters, there is very little dialogue between the soil science community and the general public. The majority of soil-related print material is geared towards university level or scientific journals - normally out of the reach of the general public. This results in a lack of easily understandable material to help interested stakeholders appreciate the value of soil and to help them preserve this precious resource.

As a consequence, soil as a topic tends not to feature in the minds of the public or politicians. However, some soil scientists and policy makers are becoming increasingly aware of a greater need to inform and educate the general public, policy makers, land managers and other scientists of the importance and global significance of soil. This is particularly true of the soils in Africa where the dramatic consequences of the failure to use soil sustainably have led to desertification, famine, civil unrest, economic collapse and human suffering, often on astonishingly large scales.

It is in these contexts that the European Commission's Joint Research Centre initiated a project, in collaboration with the African Union and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, to bring together soil experts from Europe and Africa to produce the first ever SOIL ATLAS OF AFRICA. The goal was to produce a publication, aimed at the general public, decision makers, politicians, teachers and even scientists in other disciplines, that raises awareness of the significance of soil to human existence in Africa.

The atlas explains in a simple and clear manner the reasons for the varying patterns of soil across Africa as well as the need to conserve and manage this increasingly threatened natural resource through sustainable use. At its heart is a series of annotated maps that show, for the very first time, the diversity of soil characteristics across the African continent in a manner that is comprehensible to the layperson. The Atlas calls for a four-pronged approach to the soils of Africa:

  • an improved knowledge base to facilitate effective policy development and decision-making relating to the most appropriate use of terrestrial resources through a harmonised assessment of the state of soils and associated threats to identify areas at risk of erosion, decline in nutrients and organic matter, salinisation, acidification, compaction or landslides. At present, there is a marked lack of current, consistent and comparable data on soil resources and trends across Africa. There is little coherence between countries which makes the quantitative evaluation of changes in soil state and functions almost impossible. The lack of data also hampers efforts to develop indicators to measure the situation.
  • the maintenance and development of soil education components at all levels of education should also be a priority. Without a trained scientific base, the collection of relevant soil information will be impossible.
  • the establishment of measures to assess the impacts of current policies and land use practices on soil quality in areas such as agriculture, waste, urban development or mining, and to ensure the sustainable use of soil and its functions, together with action programmes to deal with the main issues of local concern
  • support to facilitate the networking of soil scientists and land use experts from all parts of Africa. Such a move would help to improve information exchange and develop a more comprehensive knowledge base to underpin sustainable soil use policy development and practices

The Soil Atlas of Africa supports the Global Soil Partnership of FAO and the final declaration of the Rio+20 meeting towards reversing and reducing global soil degradation.

Some images of the Atlas


Example Maps

Meetings and More...

The first meeting of the Editorial Board of the Soil Atlas of Africa took place next week on 7-8/11/2007. Find attached the Agenda

Calendar 2010 - "African Soil" : This calendar and the related Soil Atlas of Africa is an initiative of the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, the African Soil Science Society and ISRIC – World Soil Information. The calendar aims to bring African soil to the attention of everyone who deals with this natural, non-renewable resource that is vital for food and fibre production and sustainable development of the environment.







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