Soil is the underlying finite resource upon which all other environmental and climate indicators depend and is key to our long-term food security. Although the importance of soil is now well recognised, there is little progress on improving and protecting European soils. This is greatly concerning as well functioning soils need to play a central role in helping us meet the current and growing challenges we face today – notably climate change – both in terms of our emissions and carbon capture, but equally for our global food security.  

The RISE Foundation has long considered soil a central aspect to all its work and significant attention was given to soil in the Foundation’s work on Nutrient Recovery and Reuse, Livestock Production, and Crop Protection.  Unless we can turn the tide of deteriorating soils, no amount of new regulations and technologies to reduce agriculture’s impact will be sufficient. Therefore, RISE has decided to make soil, and its complexities the focus of its next research report.

Some of the questions RISE wants to address are: what is the way forward to reverse the continuing decline of our European soils?  Do we need to better apply current regulations or as some have said, is the new Commission and Parliament and a New Green Deal and Farm to Fork Strategy time to reconsider a Soil Directive?  Should further measures to protect soil be made mandatory and implemented into cross compliance?  Would this even work? And how can we better engage the private sector in investing in our soils and so by relieve the growing pressure on our public funds? A recent paper in Nature calls for the scientific community to engage in creating business cases for action on soils that include defining metrics, long-term monitoring, assessment of socio-economic impacts, including the risks and consequences of inaction, and developing tools that contribute to decision-making (1).  How can this be better enabled?

In order to promote a path forward, the RISE Foundation has begun this piece of research by setting down the status quo – an overview of the current state of soils, current policy – what has worked, what has not worked – synthesising the important aspects of the vast wealth of data on soil into an succinct and accessible report.  It will go on to review how the situation can be changed, discussing policy options and innovative private sector investment strategies to prevent further land degradation and restored soil functions.  The report will end with a summary of where, based on the evidence gathered, the EU should aim, and a clear set of recommendations for the public and private sectors on how the Foundation believes we should get there.

The project started late 2020 and the report will be presented at the Forum for the Future of Agriculture in spring 2022.

An advisory committee has been set up to ensure the soundness of the project. Its members are:

  • Claire CHENU – Research Director at INRAE (French National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment)
  • Franz FISCHLER – Former EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development
  • Ana FRELIH-LARSEN – Senior Fellow at Ecologic Institute
  • Luca MONTANARELLA – Senior Expert at the Joint Research Center, Ispra
  • Jean-François SOUSSANA – Vice-President, INRAE
  • Joris DE VENTE – Tenured Scientist at CEBAS-CSIC

1. Davies, J., 2017. The business case for soil. Nature 543, 309–311.