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Alysson Paulinelli – Brazil

Few people who are not involved in the field will have heard of the Brazilian Alysson Paulinelli. It is impossible to sum up the life and experiences of this remarkable 84-year-old in a few lines. These are just a few of his roles: university professor, founder of the Brazilian research organization Embrapa (Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agrícola), minister of agriculture, MP.

Paulinelli is an agronomist who has revolutionized farming methods in the tropical savannahs. Brazil is home to one of the biggest savannah regions in the world, the Cerrado, which occupies around 22% total surface area. We should remember that Brazil covers an area twice the size of the entire EU or 22 times that of Norway, and that only 9% of that area is farmed (see the image).

Tropical savannah has a hot, semi-humid climate, with two main seasons of more or less equal length: the dry season and the rainy season. The soil is generally chemically and nutritionally poor and thus not in theory suited to agriculture. It is thanks to the agronomic and soil correction techniques developed by Paulinelli and his fellow researchers at Embrapa that part of the Cerrado is today being cultivated, providing livestock, cereals, soya, beans, maize and rice. The agronomic techniques used have been studied and adapted for every savannah in the world, providing foodstuffs that make a notable contribution to combating hunger, especially in the poorest countries with the fewest food resources. It is no accident that in 2006 Paulinelli was awarded the World Food Prize, equivalent to a Nobel prize for food and given to those who have brought about considerable improvement in the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.

That’s not all. This agronomist has always believed firmly in the abilities of human beings and the potential of science. Right back when he was ‘just’ a university professor, he oversaw the creation of study grants for young researchers in agronomy, allowing them to go and study in the most advanced research centres in the world. They numbered in the thousands, and today they form the backbone of agricultural research throughout Brazil and are in the vanguard of the creation of an agriculture that is compatible with environmental limits.

If we listen to Paolinelli and his vision of farming at the service of humanity and the environment, supported by science, we can see a path towards a positive future.

It is giants like Paolinelli, often very humble people, who write important pages in history and improve the lives of millions. This year Paulinelli is one of the candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize: we hope that he receives the award, not just for his personal achievements, but as a symbol of the possibility of a future that is still achievable.

To know more watch this video

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HEAL – Health Environment Alliance

The current pandemic has obliged us all to reconsider deeply the relationship between health and the environment. This is the mandate of the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), a not-for-profit body with over 90 member organizations across the 53 countries of the WHO European Region.

HEAL works to shape laws and policies that promote planetary and human health and protect those most affected by pollution. Thus, HEAL “integrates health prevention into environment policy, urban planning and sustainable development by informing and empowering people and policy makers about the benefits to health of reducing environmental pollution.

HEAL’s main aim is to get “A world that is free of health-harming chemicals, where the air we breathe and food we eat are health promoting; and a future in which we have transitioned to a toxic free, de-carbonised, climate resilient and sustainable economy and way of life.”

HEAL has four fields of action: Health & diseases; Toxic chemicals; Climate & energy; Air quality.

We were attracted by HEAL’s campaign: “10 ways to protect our health and the environment“.

Here is their mission: “Preventing environmental pollution can save lives. There is clear scientific evidence on how environmental, chemical and air pollution as well as climate change threaten and impact our health. Europe has a real opportunity to protect and improve Europeans’ health and prevent major chronic health epidemics – here are ten ways how.”

1. A healthy planet for healthy people; 2. Protection of the most vulnerable; 3. Climate action for health; 4. An EDC-free future [EDC=Endocrine-disrupting chemicals]; 5. Clean up the air we breathe; 6. Stop pesticides to promote health; 7. Healthy, renewable and efficient energy; 8. A toxic-free future; 9. Healthy mobility; 10. A safe and toxic-free environment.

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Territorialize, Articulate, Accompany

We are accustomed to reading reports on the soil produced by researchers, experts, organizations. It is much less common to encounter reports produced by parliamentary bodies. One example is the report by the French Senate’s Economic Affairs Committee, published on 12 May: « La lutte contre l’artificialisation à l’épreuve des territoires : territorialiser, articuler, accompagner » (“The fight against soil consumption a challenge for the land: territorialize, articulate, accompany“). It starts with a snapshot: urban areas in France have risen from 7% in 1936 to 22% now, with an estimate that it may rise to 9.5% of the total area (of which 28% infrastructure, 14% economic activities, 42% housing). All this is often at the expense of the most fertile farmland. In the view of the senators, this situation and above all the continuation of this tendency will lead to an inability to ensure secure food supplies for the whole country.

So to reach the target of Zero Net Soil Consumption by 2050, the report regards the existing French policies as important, but insufficient. In particular it stresses the importance of decentralizing competences to a scale that allows better dialogue and better participation by local populations in establishing targets, or in short: “territorializing“.

It is, therefore, collectivities that must arrive at a synthesis between public policies (sometimes conflicting ones). This concept is summed up in the term “articulate” and it is even more important for rural areas affected by profound economic changes, alongside a lack of services and depopulation. Indeed, national policies to safeguard the soil and biodiversity must help local communities to reconcile general principles and the needs of the community itself.

This does not, however, mean leaving rural areas to fend for themselves. On the contrary, in order to achieve the aim of protecting the soil, they must be supported financially and technically. This is the thinking behind the third recommended action “accompany“, in the sense of facilitating contacts between rural areas and public bodies, obtaining financial support and tax breaks, helping in the drawing up of planning documents.

With this document the French senators have reached the same conclusions as those contained in the European Parliament’s resolution of 28/04/2021 on the “Protection of the soil“.

Thus we have the technical, scientific and now the political conditions to obtain a European directive on the soil to place in the hands of member states and their local communities.

Senate of France: http://www.senat.fr/notice-rapport/2020/r20-584-notice.html