This is likely to be a big week for soils. World soil day is being celebrated on the 5 December at the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Rome, and in a series of nationally-based events coordinated around the world. The theme for world soil day – ‘soils a solid ground for life’ – represents something of a culmination of the 2015 International Year of Soils. In the face of the dire warnings of ‘peak soil’, ‘peak nitrate’ and ‘peak phosphorus’ in the declaration of 2015 as the International Year of Soils soil appears as a figure of both concern and hope. Images of soil degradation and desertification that “continue to pose serious challenges to the sustainable development of all countries, in particular developing countries” are contrasted with an optimism that “good land management”, will contribute to ‘economic growth’, ‘sustainable agriculture and food security’, ‘women’s empowerment’ and ‘addressing climate change’. In the midst of the seemingly inexorable degradation of soils, soil management is increasingly being enrolled in a range of humanitarian, political and environmental projects.