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The motorbike mission of an Indian guru  

You may have seen in the media accounts of the European journey of the Indian guru Vasudev Sadhguru, undertaken with the aim of saving the soil. His motorbike journey began in Birmingham on 19 March and the European part will end in Bucharest, but will continue from there as far as India. He spoke in many European cities, where he was welcomed by public figures, parliamentarians, politicians and supporters. In Italy he was welcomed in Rome and Venice. Everywhere his message was the same: we must save the soil.

Vasudev Sadhguru is an Indian yoga guru and proponent of spirituality. He has been teaching yoga in southern India since 1982. He is the author of several books and a frequent speaker at international forums. In 2017, he received the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second-highest civilian award, for his contributions to social welfare. He also set up the Conscious Planet movement whose main aim is to save the soil.

Why did he undertake this journey? “Creating a conscious planet is only possible by raising human consciousness. It is important for everyone to be aware and inclusive, especially for leaders whose decisions impact millions of lives.”

We hope that his message will be widely listened to and shared. Pragmatists that we are, we were attracted above all by the structure and organization supporting this journey. Not just posters with the key message “Save the soil” displayed in cities along the way, but a highly effective website on the soil with educational videos, some performed by professional actors: videos of interviews with scientists and soil researchers, world leaders, cultural figures, business people as well as social and political leaders. And a single simple message encouraging action based on three elements: i) learn about the crisis of the soil in order to be able to talk about it; ii) share to help the world understand how important soil is; iii) be a friend of the earth. The website contains everything needed to tackle the subject of the soil, including music, songs and dance. We therefore have the opportunity to sign up optimistically to the “Global Movement to Save Soil”.

https://consciousplanet.org/about-us

https://consciousplanet.org/soil

https://consciousplanet.org/action-now

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EU Soil Directive – The dance has begun … but where’s the music?

The journey has begun that should lead to the drawing up of the new European directive on the soil before the end of 2023. The path to be followed is a winding one, full of “potholes” and even “ambushes”. The Commission has restarted the “dance” with a public consultation (16 February – 16 March 2022), on the general principles illustrated for an impact assessment on “Soil Health – protecting, sustainably managing and restoring EU soils”. The texts are available in all EU languages.

What is the Commission trying to do with this action?

“The Commission wants to ensure that the general public interest across the EU is well reflected in the impact assessment and the proposal for a soil health law by collecting feedback, ideas, information and opinions including policy briefs, studies, data on the drivers and the extent of the problem, costs and impacts, policy objectives and options.”

So why do we call it a dance without music?

Following the launch of the Strategy we expected discussions, meetings, debates, assessments, initiatives relating to the text for a directive; for us that is the music for this dance.

Collecting feedback, ideas, information and opinions from all and sundry on what has already been done with regard to the Strategy seems to us to be just continuing to circle around the problem, reducing the time available for the various actors involved to put their case. It is no longer acceptable to mark time: the conditions need to be created for a dialogue with those who are preparing traps and tricks. Last June the SIP Forum showed in its small way that dialogue between different interlocutors is possible.

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Electricity from the soil (Spain) 

It is hard not to be amazed by revolutionary ideas.

We know that it is possible to create electricity from fruit and veg, even though it takes a considerable quantity of, say, oranges, to power a small lamp. But to take a pot of earth covered with grass or plants and be able to turn a circuit on and off by touching it … well, it just doesn’t seem possible.

And yet … this is what the Spanish firm Bioo has done. Starting from the principle that biotechnologies can be used to find innovative solutions, they have developed sensors (in a project financed by the European Commission) to create precision agriculture that is capable of producing energy from the soil by using its bacteria and vegetation. In this way they have created a bioreactor that is capable of “extracting” energy directly from the soil.

A “box” of soil with its vegetation, 10cm height – 20 cm depth, can produce 100ms 28W discharge/day. Every discharge is automatically re-charged by the soil every 24h in-field.

This happens independently of humidity, temperature and pH, and even the wireless communication system. Put simply, this technology provides a biological battery fed by the soil. That is possible thanks to the Bioo’s microbial fuel cell, powered by organic matter and fertilizers.

So in practice: if we have in our homes a plant pot full of soil, 40 by 40 cm and 25 cm deep, we get an Energy Output 20Wh/year per m².

As well as being interesting from the scientific point of view, the project is important for its technical and commercial approach. The 9 research groups that developed the bioreactor and the related technology have not sought to protect their invention; rather, they are open to further developments and applications. The project has already been awarded recognition and prizes at both the European and international levels.

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Soil: Comparing perspectives from scientists and stakeholders

Some readers have let us know that at the end of August 2021, the European Journal of Soil Science published an interesting article with the title “Contributions and future priorities for soil science: Comparing perspectives from scientists and stakeholders“.

Intensifying demand and increasing soil degradation demand focused research into the sustainable use of soils. Soil scientists need to actively engage with industries, businesses and municipalities to orientate research goals towards stakeholder needs. Thus stakeholder views need to be taken into account when setting the future research agenda.

This summary is the result of a study, via a questionnaire distributed to 192 organisations, to assess whether the current and future soil research priorities match the needs of four major industrial and environmental sectors: agriculture, ecosystem services and natural resources, waste management, and water management. Respondents identified numerous areas that soil research has not yet sufficiently addressed, and stakeholders’ and scientists’ views of future research priorities differed strongly within sectors, with the notable exception of agriculture.

The main conclusion of the article is that there is a need for improved research communication and greater stakeholder involvement to shape the future soils research agenda and ensure the sustainable use of soils across multiple areas of society.

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WBCSD – Soil Investment Guidance Report   

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s Soil Investment Hub – the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) platform for investment in the soil – published its “Soil Investment Guidance Report” in December 2021.

 It’s a guide to investing wisely in soil health and is the outcome of a study based on publications by the FAO and other international organisations, along with interviews with 40 companies that belong to the WBCSD and other external organisations, including representatives from key sectors such as academia, farming, NGOs and global networks. One of the bodies contacted was the 4X1000 Initiative.  

The report aims to support food and agriculture companies to invest in impactful, high-value, and long-term solutions for healthy soils along their supply chains and beyond. There are three pillars on which to build climate-smart agriculture: productivity, resilience, and mitigation. Starting from these assumptions, the document identifies 13 investment mechanisms that have clear connections to material impacts and different types of financial, environmental, and social return. The guidance aims to standardize the classifications of soil as a value-chain asset and provide a portfolio of soil investment mechanisms that can be prioritized to scale healthy soil solutions. Therefore it suggests investing in soil not for financial gain, but because of its intrinsic value in relation to sustainable development goals.

It is interesting to note the concern with avoiding the possibility of these investments – made by multinationals or big national companies – being seen as a form of greenwashing. It is no accident that the report stresses the importance of taking account when investing of social aspects such as humanrights and social and environmental justice. On the other hand, such doubts are not surprising when we see the list of companies mentioned as examples in the document: Bayer, Cargill, Danone, General Mills, IDH, MIMTA, Nestle, OCP, PepsiCo, Rabobank, Unilever, UPL, Walmart.

https://www.wbcsd.org/contentwbc/download/13433/196155/1

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The soil: new lessons from an innovative debate

The SIP Forum’s round table Soil is Life is Food is Future was held on 28 June 2021. The main points that emerged from the discussion were published and sent out in September as The Highlights of the event, focusing on the common points to be kept in mind for future actions on the soil, and available in EN, SP, FR, IT . Now the SIP Forum has made available the records of the meeting, published in English with the title: “Soil: new lessons from an innovative debate“. 

The document is about 100 pages long and records the entire discussion in detail (the recording is available on YouTube ) while offering useful pointers for greater understanding both of the method used for the dialogue between different speakers and the content of the discussions during the meeting.

The document is in PDF format and can be requested from suolo.europa@gmail.com or downloaded HERE

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EUSO  – Meeting of 21 October (continued)

In last month’s newsletter we wrote about our participation in the EUSO’s online session “Citizen Engagement – Soil Literacy (with Soil Mission)”. 

Some of our readers, who also took part, were disappointed at the small amount of space given to presenters drawn from civil society, while a great deal of time was given to national and European institutions.

We understand where they are coming from and share their disappointment.

We believe, however, that the EUSO Forum is still trying to find its role and position and that it will continue to do so, including by repeating the classic errors of the European institutions. These institutions impose on themselves a choice of “insiders” as principal speakers (drawn from other DGs or EU institutions), followed by those representing Member States, and in last place, if there is space (or time) representatives of  civil society.

As the SIP Forum, our contribution (attached) shows that we tried to map out an alternative approach that we think (hope?) the EUSO could adopt in future.

The complete recording of the EUSO afternoon meeting on 21 October can be found here: https://webcast.ec.europa.eu/euso-stakeholder-forum-day-3

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Plan to put the Mission on the Soil into action

Mission on the soil: On 29 September the European Commission launched a new mission in Horizon Europe, the EU’s research programme, called “Soil Deal for Europe“. The main goal of the mission is to create 100 living labs and lighthouses by 2030 to lead the transition towards healthy soils. 60-70% of Europe’s soils are currently in deep trouble.

Can we regard this as a concrete response to the “blahblahblah” criticised by Greta Thunberg? Maybe not, for three reasons: i) because soil science researchers, with rare exceptions, have no influence over political choices; ii) because the large amounts of money involved require large and expensive management and oversight structures that researchers are unable to manage; iii) because the coordination and exchange with the labs/lighthouses selected or created lies with these structures, that is, it does not exist.

Would it not then be wiser to take advantage of the transition to use ad hoc structures like the EEA (European Environment Agency) and the European Soil Observatory (EUSO) and give them the task of setting and coordinating labs and lighthouses thus creating a permanent structure?  

We hope to be proved wrong by the results of the projects and actions that will be funded. However we believe it is unrealistic to wait until 2030 to see the results of the implementation of this Mission.