For those who are not familiar with it, ISPRA is the Higher Institute for Environmental Protection and Research, a public research body in Italy under the direct control of the Ministry for the environment and the protection of land and sea (now called Ecological Transition). For many years the ISPRA has published an annual report on the situation of the soil in Italy, containing ever more dramatic and catastrophic data. The latest one, published in July 2021, does not give grounds for optimism nor does it show a change in direction, but the previous ones were also extremely alarming and called out for urgent legislative action.
The PNRR, meanwhile, is the Italian plan that allows the state access to EU funds earmarked for economic and social recovery with the aim of creating a better future for the coming generations, the Next Generation EU.
What is the relationship between the two documents? In plain terms: absolutely none.
Leafing through the PNRR it is clear that on paper – and we stress this – the Ministry for Ecological Transition has the prime responsibility for Mission 2 – Green Revolution and Ecological Transition which is based on almost €60 billion of funding.
Components and resources (in billions of €)
A real turning point? The first three objectives take the lion’s share of the funding, with 15 billion remaining for the protection of the land and water resources. This is little enough in itself, but in addition the money is directed towards anything but the protection of soil fertility, its consumption, and its role in ecosystems. Finally, it is a real shame that in order to spend the money quickly, the money has been allocated to projects by the biggest private concerns, leaving nothing for the bodies that are obliged to face the problems described year after year in the ISPRA’s reports.
And another year has passed! Our next virtual Annual Meeting will be an important one, because we need to take a lot of decisions. The GSE has been officially in existence for 6 years now, and a lot has changed since 2015. While the initial purpose was to inform the SIP Forum on the European dimension regarding the soil, we then moved on to contributing to the development of a common European soil strategy.
Is this still a valid approach and way of organising?
Is it still useful to produce a monthly Newsletter?
Has the time not come to pass on the torch to the next generation?
Is it always necessary to have a SIP Forum working group on the European dimension?
What structure needs to be in place in order to satisfy the need to fight common battles?
The upcoming GSE annual meeting will need to make these and other “existential” decisions. We intend to hold it on Friday 18 February 2022 between 20:00 and 23:00, on a virtual platform. As usual the meeting, also if only in Italian, will be open to all those who wish to participate, but in order to structure the platform to suit the number of participants, we ask those interested to email email@example.com by 25 January 2022.
The GNDE seeks to provide a blueprint for a society that is inclusive and compatible with the limits of nature. Some aspects of it need to be improved, especially when we talk about the soil. We are therefore contributing to this effort by providing information on one of its initiatives, which shows how to improve farmers’ awareness of the need to protect soil fertility.
The Global Soil Partnership (GSP) was established in 2012 as a mechanism to develop a strong interactive partnership, as well as enhanced collaboration and synergy of efforts, between all stakeholders involved with soils. The GSP therefore created the Global Soil Doctors programme to promote the establishment of a farmer-to-farmer training system. This is the core of the GSP’s communication effort by transferring the correct information on soil management to the right people: farmers, and through them, other farmers.
The Global Soil Doctors Programme aims to build farmers’ capacity in the practice of sustainable soil management. In this way, it supports governmental agencies and organizations working on agricultural training for farmers. Training will be based on the establishment of demonstration areas and experimental fields by the Soil Doctors. This programme ultimately also aims to help farmers understand the principles of soil science leading to sustainable soil management practices. To achieve this, the farmers receive a set of tools including educational materials, an explanation of soil testing methods (STM) and a soil testing kit (STK) for preliminary soil analyses.
The programme is open to updates on the methods for assessing soil parameters in the STM, and to contributions for the development of new educational materials based on regional or local needs. For this reason there are strong links with universities and soil researchers.
The programme is developed as a two-way learning and exchange process in which the GSP provides countries with an initial set of tools for distribution to farmers, followed by the countries providing the GSP with feedback on the programme, building on practical experiences and local knowledge. In this way, countries that only recently joined the programme and were not involved in its development can still provide the GSP with their input and contribute to the programme’s further development.
On 17 November 2021, the European Commission published its new EU Soil Strategy for 2030. Two more important documents appeared on the same day: the Proposal for a regulation on deforestation-free products and the Proposal for a new regulation on waste shipments.
The three initiatives were presented by the Commission Vice President and the Environment Commissioner in the following words:
Frans Timmermans – Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal: “To succeed in the global fight against the climate and biodiversity crises we must take the responsibility to act at home as well as abroad. Our deforestation regulation answers citizens’ calls to minimise the European contribution to deforestation and promote sustainable consumption. Our new rules to govern waste shipments will boost the circular economy and ensure that waste exports do not harm the environment or human health elsewhere. And our soil strategy will allow soil to get healthy, be used sustainably and receive the legal protection it needs.”
Virginijus Sinkevičiu – Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries: “If we expect more ambitious climate and environmental policies from partners, we should stop exporting pollution and supporting deforestation ourselves. The deforestation and waste shipment regulations we are putting on the table are the most ambitious legislative attempts to tackle these issues worldwide ever. With these proposals, we are taking our responsibility and walking the talk by lowering our global impact on pollution and biodiversity loss. We also put forward a ground-breaking EU soil strategy with a strong policy agenda that sets out to grant them the same level of protection as water, marine environment and air.”
We were asked for further information on the IPCC Report referred to in our November newsletter. We believe that the Report for Political Decisionmakers (at 40 pages long) is sufficient for understaning the dramatic nature of the situation. At the moment the text is only available in English. The IPCC has made available an interactive tool that replies to “questions” including at the regional level when you click on a map of the world. By activating the various functions you can see possible climate variations (temperature, precipitation, maximum levels) and projections up to 2100. It is both highly practical and very simple to use, because it is intuitive. We recommend using it when you want to understand how the environmental situation can change based on variations as small as half a degree Celsius. As an example we reproduce below the result for an increase of 3° Celsius in the Mediterranean region, of the percentage variation in total precipitations.
Our eagle-eyed readers keep us on our toes! In November’s article on the EU Soil Strategy for 2030, we failed to mention the document that accompanies the Strategy.
This document, called the Commission Staff Working Document, is a rousing snapshot of the situation from which the Strategy emerged. It covers topics from the European legislative and political context to historical reconstruction, from details of the contributions of the various actors involved with the soil (we appear under the guise of the Gruppo Suolo Europa) to an analysis of the consultations that took place in 2020 and in the spring of 2021. This is a sound and detailed piece of work that needs to be kept updated especially for those who wish to see the Soil Directive come to fruition.
The document highlights the enormous amount of work that has been done by staff at the DG Environment. This is why we regard it as “educational”, capable of providing the elements of the political and technical context and to help people understand how the strategy itself was put together.
We must, however, focus mainly on the Strategy text because that is where the concepts and principles that will serve to put together the draft Directive are to be found.
So we can enjoy reading the attachment, but above all we need to reflect on and analyse the strategic document.
Not all our readers will be familiar with the name of Pierre Rabhi. He was described variously as a farmer, philosopher, agronomist, politician, writer. We prefer to call him a “life teacher”. His whole life was dedicated to farming that respects nature and its rhythms. It’s no coincidence that he is regarded as one of the fathers of agroecology. His cultivation methods start from respect for the soil, which nourishes and feeds all life, not just that which springs directly from it. Exactly the opposite of intensive farming and livestock rearing.
It would be reductive, however, to think of him solely in terms of the environment. Considered one of the apostles of “alterglobalism”, his books are a hymn to the recognition of the prioritisation of life, humans and the natural world over technology and consumerism.
His book “Vers la sobriété heureuse” is a manifesto for a fulfilled life that does not require going beyond one’s own needs. In Rabhi’s view, women are better able to understand the value of nature and its preservation for future generations than men.
A large part of his time was spent in training, through many programmes and projects to combat desertification and malnutrition in Africa and the Maghreb.
In France in 2006 he set up the Mouvement international pour la terre et l’humanisme (International Movement for Earth and Humanism), and in 2007 he founded the Colibris Movement (https://www.colibris-lemouvement.org/) which “works for the creation of an ecological and united society, one that is radically different, encouraging the passage to individual and collective action.”