Newsletter n. 55


1.EXPERIENCES: Should we stop ploughing?


3.NEWS ABOUT THE SOIL AND EUROPEAN INSTITUTIONS: The soil: how much do we value this critical resource?



Should we stop ploughing?

Scientific opinions vary on whether the soil should be worked at depth or whether, conversely, it should be left ‘untouched’ with a constant cover of vegetation or green waste. A group of researchers at the University of Illinois have attempted to answer this question. We report their results here because their advice is unequivocal: from the agronomic point of view, for the best results the soil should not be worked.

In order to reach this conclusion the researchers compared data from 62 scientific reports.

Already in the US ploughs and heavy machines are no longer used on one third of agricultural land. There are a number of factors supporting this method of cultivation: in addition to the well-documented recovery of a higher level of biological fertility, there is the saving in fuel costs and the costs of the machines themselves. In addition, unworked soil produces larger and healthier harvests, thanks above all to the microbial activity present in the soil which, through no longer being disturbed, is healthier and more fertile.

 Let’s remind ourselves once again: a gram of soil contains millions of bacteria, hundreds of thousands of fungi, thousands of invertebrate (mites, collembola, nematodes, etc.) to which we must add the work of earthworms and vertebrates. The soil is a complex ‘factory’ in which the various agents that are present work together in harmony to attack vegetable waste and organic matter by shredding, aerating and humidifying it in order to make the nutritional elements it contains available to seeds and plants. Working the soil at depth with heavy machines alters this life cycle.

 For many years, and still today, agricultural colleges have taught students that ploughing the soil (at depths of between 20 and 40 cm, and ‘breaking’ it down to 90-100 cm) aerates the soil and therefore improves its structure and productivity. These actions are justified by reference to an increase in bacterial activity and the multiplication of beneficial species caused by aeration and the work of the air, sun and rain. Scientific studies, however, show the opposite: that bacteria harmful to plants multiply, the mycelia of the fungi needed to transform organic matter so it becomes available to the plants become more fragile, and vast areas of soil become compacted and in some cases ‘vitrified’.

Direct sowing, on the other hand, reduces the bacteriological diversity but encourages the species involved in fertility, increases the vitality of the fungi and improves their effectiveness in breaking down organic matter. This has been shown to be true across the world, in different conditions of climate, soil and agronomy (such as harrowing the soil surface, the use or not of pesticides, or the practice of direct sowing under permanent cover).

The University of Illinois study was thus able to look at different pieces of scientific research carried out in different parts of the world, giving it a global overview and leading to a single conclusion: ploughed soil has lower levels of microbial activity and a smaller microbial mass as well as much lower enzyme activity than soil that is not ploughed.

 This conclusion accords with the work of European researchers. For example, in France for more than a decade there has been a network for measuring the quality of the soil by identifying the average level of bacterial life present in a gram of soil. The platform is called Genosol and it can identify how rich the soil is, and therefore inform farmers about the real state of fertility of their soil.

Further details can be found in this article: Meta-analysis approach to assess effect of tillage on microbial biomass and enzyme activities


S.164 (Senate) and C.63 (Chamber of Deputies)

There’s an amusing video on the internet:

A man with a suitcase arrives in a square, looks around him and says to a passer-by: “Excuse me, I have to get to the station “. The man gives him a puzzled look and says: “Well, go on then”.

We mention it here because it sums up the lack of mutual understanding which often affects communication between people. Continua a leggere “S.164 (Senate) and C.63 (Chamber of Deputies)”


The Basque Declaration

The Basque Declaration was launched in 2016 by participants in the 8th European Conference on sustainable cities, which was held in the Basque country between 27 and 29 April 2016.

The declaration, which is available in English, French and Spanish, is directed mainly at cities and their leaders, but it also requires active commitment from civil society. The subtitle clearly indicates the aim that is being pursued: New Pathways for European Cities and Towns to create productive, sustainable and resilient cities for a liveable and inclusive Europe.

Plus points of the Basque Declaration Continua a leggere “The Basque Declaration”


The soil: how much do we value this critical resource?

How much do we value the soil?” is the question posed by a recent publication from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre. It is neither a guide nor a manual for the economic valuation of a material good. It is a publication designed to remind people of the importance of the soil for the survival of humanity through the research carried out by the JRC.

Continua a leggere “The soil: how much do we value this critical resource?”


UN Declaration on the rights of peasants

The rights of peasants? The subject has been under discussion for over 40 years. As long ago as 1981 the FAO, following the World Conference on agrarian reform and rural development in 1979, launched the Peasants’ Charter calling for programmes and policies that supported peasants and the rural world. In addition, all sections of the UN were invited to commit themselves to putting into action the principles supporting peasants. This turned out to be a dead end, however, not least because attention was focused only on the rights of agricultural workers in developing countries.

Since then various proposals have been launched and put into practice in different nations of the world. Only last 28 September, the UN’s Human Rights Council adopted the text of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas  by a large majority (33 votes in favour, 11 abstentions, 3 against). Great credit is due to the international movement La Via Campesina which has fought for this for 17 years. Continua a leggere “UN Declaration on the rights of peasants”


The Sète appeal

The 4per1000 Initiative has recreated the conditions for a piece of research based on interaction and dialogue: from those active in sustainable development to researchers to representatives of civil society, from professionals to political representatives. This is not enough, however: adequate financing is needed to respond with research to the urgent requirements of climate change.

Research labs must produce new scientific evidence that includes the “4 per 1000” approach in order to inform future political decisions. In order to achieve this and contribute effectively to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), the 4per1000 Initiative must become a national and international research programme. The appeal is directed at France, but it holds true for all European and non-European states.

HERE the essence of the appeal launched at Sète (France) on 7 and 8 November, signed by researchers from France, Brazil, Spain, Madagascar, Senegal, and Morocco, and attached below.


Bollettino n.55

1.ESPERIENZE: Dobbiamo smettere di usare l’aratro?


3.NOTIZIE SU SUOLO E ISTITUZIONI EUROPEE: Suolo: quanto valutiamo questa critica risorsa?


4.Iniziativa 4 per 1000: L’Appello di Sète