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Claire Chenu wins the 2016 AFES award

International action for soils

Claire Chenu, a professor at AgroParisTech and researcher at the Joint Research Unit for Functional Ecology and Ecotoxicology of Agroecosystems (INRA-AgroParisTech) © C. Chenu
Updated on 03/27/2017
Published on 03/08/2017

On World Soil Day, Thursday 8 December 2016, Claire Chenu, a professor at AgroParisTech and researcher at the Joint Research Unit for Functional Ecology and Ecotoxicology of Agroecosystems (INRA-AgroParisTech), won the 2016 AFES award from the French Association for the Study of Soils.

The award, presented to Ms Chenu by honorary INRA Research Director Dominique Arrouays and AFES Chair Céline Collin-Belier, recognises her international-level work on soils.

FAO Ambassador for the International Year of Soils

In May 2015, Claire Chenu was named Special Ambassador for the International Year of Soils by FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva to promote the improved management of non-renewable resources.  The second ambassador is Tekalign Mamo, a soil management expert and advisor to the Ethiopian government.

One month later, at the 39th session of the Conference of the FAO, in her first speech as ambassador, Ms Chenu highlighted that soils were in desperate need of ambassadors, to speak on behalf of what are silent allies in the fight against hunger and malnutrition.

The many functions of soils

Since that day, Claire Chenu and Mr Mamo have dedicated themselves to raising awareness in a wide range of audiences to the importance of soils and to promoting sustainable soil management, the acquisition of information on the state of soil resources, the implementation of regional programmes, soil education, and the adoption of truly pro-soil policies.  

At the end of the International Year of Soils, Claire Chenu looked back on unprecedented and enthusiastic efforts in the soil community in France and around the world. In her view, her role as FAO Special Ambassador gave her access to a wide range of communities, some of which – urban planners and landscapers, for example – had little knowledge of the subject, despite soil being heavily affected by their sector. She spoke, visibly touched, about the diverse, friendly encounters she had in Togo in November 2016 at the international youth conference on climate change. 

 A long-time interface between science and policy development

Claire Chenu and soils go way back. After training as a geologist, Ms Chenu defended a doctoral thesis in Geology on the “experimental study of neutral polysaccharide-argile interaction: a contribution to knowledge of biological agregation phenomena in soils”.

A researcher at INRA Versailles, Claire Chenu was also the director of the then-named Soil Sciences unit for five years. Now a research professor at the Paris Institute of Technology for Life, Food and Environmental Sciences (AgroParisTech), Ms Chenu shares her passion with her students and studies the dynamics of organic soil matter and its management in agricultural soils, and the processes and practices which allow soil carbon storage as a means of helping fight global warming.

In addition to her successful academic career, Claire Chenu has extensive experience working as an interface between scientists and policy developers. She is the Chair of the “Environmental functions and soil heritage management” programme (GESSOL) scientific committee, Vice-Chair of the French scientific committee on natural heritage and biodiversity, and has an advisory role for similar institutions in Germany and Switzerland. She recently became a member of the international scientific and technical committee of the 4 per 1000 initiative, aimed at increasing the organic content of soils to contribute to food security, adaptation to climate change and its mitigation.
She wears many, complementary hats, has busy days, but is always down to earth.


58 years old

  • 1985: Doctoral thesis at Université Paris VII
  • 1986: Research scientist and later Research Director at INRA
  • 2003: Professor at AgroParisTech
  • 2000: Jean Dufrenoy award, French Academy of Agriculture
  • 2015: Special Ambassador for the FAO International Year of Soils
  • 2016: AFES award