We have received and publish here an analysis of the report of the Board of experts appointed by the European Commission’s Research and Innovation DG: Caring for soil is caring for life.
We remind readers that the report was the subject of a seminar organized by the SIP Forum on 24 September 2020.
“The document entitled: “Taking care of the soil is taking care of life” has the merit of helping to put the soil at the centre of European public attention. It therefore represents an opportunity to develop soil culture in Europe and to initiate policies and actions for soil conservation. Alongside the numerous strengths that can be highlighted, however, there are some weaknesses, which should be discussed.
In my opinion, one of the main merits of the document is to emphasize that soil concerns us not only for the services rendered to man, but also for itself, that is, for its value as a natural body and support to all forms of life, not just ours. This position contrasts with what has been advocated and is still being repeated by many of the main players in soil research and European policies.
Another very welcome point is the multi-stakeholder approach of the actions to be taken on soil protection, with the involvement of civil society and a greater effort to spread the culture of the soil.
The strategic vision of the document, on the other hand, appears to be extremely ambitious and difficult to achieve, since, according to the Commission itself, it would correspond to a 100% increase in healthy soils compared to the current reference value, with the reversal of the trend of many ongoing degradation processes.
Another concern that arises from the reading of the document regards the setting up of living laboratories and lighthouses examples. It is the risk of investing more and more for the benefit of a few “premium farmers”, leaving all other farmers further and further behind. This trend is already present in Europe and is highlighted by the results of the CAP policies, which see 1.1% of farms, the large ones, collect 22.8% of European economic aid, while small companies, which are the majority (55%), only get 5.8%. In carrying out the Mission, the selection of living laboratories and flagship examples should carefully consider the territorial dimension and their location, so that they are truly engines of development for large territories and several agricultural communities.
There is also a lack of consideration of a fundamental issue, the environmental consequences and the soil degradation caused by the EU’s policies relating to trade agreements with third countries. These, in fact, allow the import of food and feedstuffs produced with methods and tools not permitted in Europe. This unfair competition has put many European farmers out of business and is one of the causes of the massive agricultural abandonment occurring especially in southern and eastern Europe. But everywhere in Europe, soil degradation goes hand in hand with the spasmodic cuts in cultivation costs, to compete with the low prices (and low quality) of imported food and feedstuffs.
The Soil Mission document should have clearly asserted that in the current system of food production, distribution, and waste, those who pay for the difference between the market price (relatively low) and cost of production (relatively high) are the health of farmers and the soil!”
More info: Edoardo A.C. Costantini firstname.lastname@example.org
President Elect – International Union of Soil Sciences
Secretary – European Society for Soil Conservation