Special issue on soil by the National Rural Network

The National Rural Network programme is a tool for development projects of the European Union for the rural world. In Italy it is cofounded by the European Commission, via its European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), and the Italian Ministry of Agricultural Policies. The national rural network (Rete Rurale Nazionale – RRN in Italian) is present in every Italian region. Its work also involves publishing a magazine that, from 1 September, has a new name and typeset: it is no longer Pianeta PSR (in English: Planet PSR) but RRN Magazine. Published on a quarterly basis, its topics are related to rural development policies.

We are drawing your attention to it because the first number of this new edition is entirely devoted to soil. It analyses many different aspects and different viewpoints, international perspectives, saline soils, etc. It does not aim to point out solutions from an academic point of view: it pragmatically shows reflections and potential aspects to be developed further. It is a tool which deals with issues related to soil and rural development: the magazine is around 60 pages long.

This can be downloaded for free from the link to be found at the bottom of the RRN website .


4 per 1000 Initiative: Some data on national policies relating to 4per1000

An analysis on how a State can put a 4per1000 initiative into practice has been missing until now. The French Ministry for Agriculture filled this gap and, on 19 July, published a booklet (only in FR) entitled “Implementation of policies related to 4per1000 at national level”.

The starting points are clear: a) climate change is the top challenge for the agricultural sector, it has to be acknowledged by the large number of draughts and increasing environmental disasters over the past few years; b) promoting more carbon accumulation in soil is a strong contribution for the safeguard of agriculture; c) increasing organic matter in soil allows further fertility, which could confront the food security challenge as well as increasing resistance to erosion, and water accumulation.

The framework is well defined and gives full meaning to the 4per1000 initiative. Continua a leggere “4 per 1000 Initiative: Some data on national policies relating to 4per1000”

4 per 1000 Initiative: something to attract more attention

On 27 June 2017 the Ministry of Agriculture has once again drawn attention to the 4 per 1000 initiative. The following appeared on the Ministry’s website:

A time for conferences

a) European Commission – Green Week 2017 and EU Development Days 2017-06-30

The “differently young people” (alias over 60 years old!) will remember how back in the day, in Italy, on urban public transport there used to be signs saying ‘Please do not speak to the driver’.

Those who took part in Green Week 2017 organized by DG ENVI of the EU Commission – from 29 May to 2 June – will confirm that nobody was allowed to “speak to the driver” there either, or better “speak to the representatives from the Commission”. The driver keeps on “driving” whilst passengers must sit on the back and talk amongst themselves, even though they may have interesting news or experiences to share with all and in particular with the “drivers”.

The very platform for Green Week broke apart over the past two years. A place of encounters and discussions, where over 2000 participants were the most important ‘entity’ of the “green” week, has now turned into a meeting with generic, recycled and fruitless statements being uttered and merely listened to. There used to be debates with thousands of people exchanging ideas, proposals and experiences. All spaces of the location, including corridors cafés and refectories, were a whirlwind of discussions and exchanges. Even the various representatives – the Commissioners, and civil servants – were urged to listen to concrete experiences, and “self-celebration” was very rare. Those attending would at the end of the day feel enriched with the ideas and contacts made.

Now all is dispersed all over Europe, and this means the “drivers” are always present – without any real confrontation, but simply issuing the same statements as ten years back, and that will have the same validity in ten years time – to show that European environmental policy and research are responding to the demands of investments and economic productivity.

But should it not be the opposite? Shouldn’t investments and the creation of jobs necessarily have to be compatible with environmental policy choices?

Unfortunately the result of Green Week 2017 was losing credibility on European environmental protection, even though the EU was set as an example worldwide for its environmental policy! As we await for different “drivers” and for the Commission to respond to the all-the-more urgent expectations coming from European and overseas people, it took that alien of a newly elected president of the United States for us to realize how the EU is at the forefront in all aspects of environmental protection. It is thanks to him and his refusal that on 11 and 12 June the Ministries of the Environment of the G7 met in Bologna to renew environmental protection efforts and climate-change combat, confirmed/signed by the other six participants and the European Commissioner for climate change.

The abovementioned is a “cry of pain”, but not of powerlessness. Whenever the Commission is willing, it is able to decently organize events based on real and constructive participation. An example of this is the EDD17 – European Development Days 2017 (7 and 8 June) – entitled Investing in Development: two full days with around 8000 (eight thousand!) participants, over 120 debates and conferences, with a Global Village placed in the middle of the venue. Soil also received a great deal of attention with stands and conferences of the Joint Research Centre, the CIRAD (Agricultural Research for Development), and the 4 per 1000 initiative.

b) The Global Soil Week 2017 and CONSOWA

Global Soil Week (GSW 2017) was held in Berlin from 22 to 24 May 2017. After the ones held in 2012, 2013 and 2015 this was the fourth meeting on soil organised by IASS-Potsdam (Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies) jointly with the IISD (International Institute for Sustainable Development).  This year the event focused on ‘Catalysing SDG[1] Implementation Through a Soil and Land Review’. Around 300 participants attended three thematic workshops to explore the following topics: ‘Sustaining and upscaling achievements of sustainable land management (SLM) initiatives’; ‘Right to (defend) land: strengthening accountability at the local level through thematic reviews’; and ‘Protecting land resources for shared prosperity.’

There are five key messages to work on, and present to the highest political authorities:

1) Increase investments in sustainable land management and responsible governance. It will be critical to design investments and monitor them in line with international human rights-based instruments, such as the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security, and internationally accepted environmental and social safeguards;

2) Make the entire production chain sustainable and change consumption patterns which have an impact on land degradation both locally and in other parts of the world. High-consuming segments of society have a particular responsibility in this regard;

3) Enhance spatial planning and adopt territorial approaches to address the rural-urban continuum in an integrated way that contributes to food security and the sustainable and the integrated management of natural resources, such as the land-water nexus; as well as to improving regional value chains to offer better opportunities for the youth.

4) Improve land rights and land tenure, especially for vulnerable and marginalised groups, and acknowledge that vulnerable populations are rights holders, whose rights need to be upheld. This implies adopting specific measures to protect civil society, since human rights are under pressure from the shrinking space for civil society; and

5) Build a bridge between SDG 2 (Zero hunger) and SDG 15 (Life on land) to ensure food security through avoiding, reducing and reversing soil and land degradation to achieve SDG target 15.3 on land degradation neutrality, and sustainably managing landscapes for people. Entry points for this are community empowerment, and high-quality and accountable extension services that embrace the youth and open data access.

If GSW is able to act as a link between the academic world, civil society and the political world, the conference in Lleida, Spain (12-16 June) allowed for scientific comparisons between water and soil conservation specialists. We cite it because it is the first world conference, which gathered researchers and technicians for both soil and water, entities currently at risk due to climate change difficulties. The main aim of this conference, the acronym for which is CONSOWA (1st World Conference On Soil And Water Conservation Under Global Change), is to create sustainability on earth via soil and water conservation.

[1] SDG: Sustainable Development Goals

4 per 1000 Initiative: New French Minister for Agriculture

With Emmanuel Macron’s election, recent political events in France have led to many changes in ministries. The new minister for agriculture as of 21 June 2017 is Stéphane Travert, replacement for Jacques Mézard whom had been nominated just a few weeks before to replace Stéphane Le Foll. The latter had acquired international visibility with the 4per1000 initiative itself. The International Union of Soil Science (IUSS) had even shown recognition of his merits by awarding a medal. Thanks to his personal commitment, we must add that the notion of carbon accumulation in soil as an element guaranteeing food security and an answer to climate-related challenges has once again been set on the international agenda.

It is still too early to tell what direction the new French minister will take. In theory, the new political climate should not affect the 4 per 1000 Initiative too much, as it is already structured and consolidated. Perhaps at the next meeting in Bonn we will be able to understand if the current Minister will keep on with the initiative in an equally passionate manner. His physical presence would confirm that the French government is still marching along the same indicated path.

Other European states’ experiences: Soil scientists are often disregarded “Cassandras”

Our newsletter purposely avoids scientific topics related to soil, because we would especially like to address so-called “non-experts”. At the same time, these last understand how important soil, territory and landscape are for our future and for future generations. Thus, they believe it is no longer time to stay back but rather act on it.

This does not mean that our “intellectual humus” comes from the constant yet silent work from a large number of soil researchers. Some readers have sent us information on ongoing or recently terminated research suggesting more awareness raising on them via our newsletter. We would therefore like to mention briefly two European research projects and the article entitled Climate-smart soils, from the Nature edition of 7 April 2016

SmartSoil Project

The growing lack of organic matter such as carbon is among the most alarming problems affecting soil. People all over the world are looking for solutions bearing in mind that fertilizers and pesticides will not be able to escape the demands of agricultural production. Continua a leggere “Other European states’ experiences: Soil scientists are often disregarded “Cassandras””

Access to land for farmers in the EU

A few of the conferences held in Brussels in partnership with World Soil Day were mentioned in the newsletter of 16 December. The one on ‘Access to land for farmers in the EU’ particularly attracted readers who asked for further information.

The conference held by the Greens Group at the European Parliament, was split in two sessions. In the morning session at the European Economic and Social Committee the report “Land Rush – The sellout of Europe’s Farmland” was presented. In the second session, in the afternoon, losses in food security and sovereignty, not to mention difficulties in accessing land and job possibilities for new generations of young EU farmers were discussed in the European Parliament in the presence of MEPs (see photo above).

Indeed land has become an opportunity for investment and therefore subject of speculation. The study mentioned above illustrates the situation of land purchase and land grabbing in Europe, by multinational and major European and non-European investors. From large U.S capital being the predator, it is now large Chinese businesses (which are psychologically more worrying than North-American multinationals).

This means it will be impossible for small and medium agricultural businesses to survive, and stops any young person keen on getting involved in agricultural production to get any land, with the exception of family inheritance. And here we are left with the inconsistency of over half of agricultural soil in Europe is rented (at a total of 96% in Slovakia, and 89% in Bulgaria) and those who work it do not own it.

On top of this already negative picture, we must add the impact of the situation on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP): in practice those large financial groups able to respond to the Commission’s administrative rules are subsidised.

Adam Payne’s contribution – a farmer and member of the Via Campesina co-ordination committee – gave the following scathing overview of the situation:

  • Europe has 10.8 million agricultural farms (average : 16,1 hectars) ;
  • 8% of agricultural work comes from the business’ family members ;
  • From 2003 to 2013 the EU has lost EUR 4 million worth of small agricultural farmers (in other words 33% of the total amount)
  • 3% of European farms cover over 100 hectars and own 52% of all agricultural land ;
  • Whilst 75% of farms are smaller than 10 hectars each and only have 11% of agricultural land ; finally
  • 6% of all farm managers are below 35 years of age, whereas 55% are over 55 years of age.

MEP Jose Bove’s speech gave several indications on how to amend this context: i) limiting CAP subsidies at a maximum of EUR 50-100 thousand per farm; ii) subverting the current false agricultural model which is based on “the bigger, the better” and support small and medium farms; iii) stop large agricultural projects (for example the one on 20.000 dairy cows, which means monopolizing and taking over large amounts of land); iv) blocking land purchasing for speculative purposes (for example the land recently bought by some French enterprises in Romania).

In the conclusions drawn by MEP Maria Heubuch, the importance to act with new goals and rules to ease new generations of farmers into agricultural activities was underlined. This is hoped to be achieved quickly at European level and in individual Member States.

A hard copy can be requested to: maria.heubuch@europarl.europa.eu


4 per 1000 initiative: Indicators on organic and biological state of soil

The aim of the 4 per 1000 Initiative is to share experiences involving land, research work, agricultural practices and policies aimed at increasing soil-related awareness and their potential in carbon accumulation.

To improve soil quality and evaluate the changes in agricultural practices, it is necessary to have comparative data on the state of soil. These are so called “indicators” and they are the results of observation, analysis, studying and modelling. The indicators are important for farmers and other stakeholders in terms of selecting the right management in a context which tends to improve the organic and biological state of soil.

Within the 4 per 1000 Initiative framework, the French Ministry of Agriculture gathered a panel of experts to produce a short document entitled “Indicators on organic and biological state of soil”. The idea was to produce a “living” document which – beginning from a description of existing indicators – would need regular updates following contributions, critiques and suggestions from various users. The document must therefore be used, verified and amended, by staying in touch with the network which produced it and that refers to the Scientific and Technical Committee of the Initiative. The aim here is to obtain a short document which can be used by various stakeholders, including politicians which often ask for comparative data on soil.

Each indicator is described by explaining what exactly has been measured, who uses it and why. It also clarifies how measurements and estimates are made, the stage of the analytical method and its results, the degree of certainty of the results, and finally the advantages and disadvantages.

The qualitative and quantitative indicators of organic matter are mainly about the amount of carbon and nitrogen present. Indicators on the biological state emphasize the presence of microbiological factors (soil “breathing”, microbial biomass, enzyme activity…) and wildlife factors (earthworm, nematodes, micro-arthropods).

The first version of the document is already available (in French) and can be downloaded from the website of the Ministry, however a new version is expected to be published soon. For this purpose, we ask those interested to send their comments in by 15 March 2017 to the following address: indicateurs_sols.dgpe@agriculture.gouv.fr.

For the moment, this document is for soil experts only. Despite the complexity of the indicators described, the use of this document can gradually become more “simple” especially if we were to install a dialogue and a privileged communication channel between those following the indicator updates and development, and those physically working on land.