Europe calls for soil protection

The European Commission started web-based consultations with citizens and experts to gain feedback and develop a new EU Soil Strategy for 2030. Among its objectives are the health, restoration and protection of soil.

Consultations are an excellent opportunity for the public to shape the future of European soil after the terrible droughts and fires in this region last summer. Soil degradation is crucial – European soil is not healthy enough to help mitigate these problems. Increasing organic matter in soil can be a solution that has been critically overlooked so far.

60–70% of European soil is not in a healthy state. (European Commission, 2022

Almost 40% of Slovene arable land is degraded. (Stockholm University, 2021)
“Slovenia is not threatened by soil degradation as it occurs in nature, but due to human impact. In our country, the awareness regarding soil health is very low. Today, we know that without combining numerous elements there is no further development. It is about time we make a change in the policy towards soil, since it is the only source giving us food. We are being very late regarding the attitude towards soil, because it is still merely a medium for plant growth – we need to change the attitude towards soil immediately and urgently.” prof. ddr. Ana Vovk from the University of Maribor and the owner of the International Center for Self-Sufficiency Dole

Since the beginning of 2022, more than 60,000 hectares of land burned down in Europe. This is twice as much as in 2021 and approximately 4.6-times more than the average value of the last ten years (2012–2021).

The report of the European Drought Observatory (EDO) from August 2022, monitored by the European Commission, states that 47% of Europe is in warning conditions with a clear lack of moisture and 17% in alert conditions in which vegetation is already affected.

On a global scale, degraded areas are estimated to cover 20–40% of the total land area, which directly affects almost half of the world’s population and stretches between global arable land, drought-prone areas, wetlands, forests and grasslands. (The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) – UNCCD, 2022)

Without healthy soil the life as we know it is threatened. Food loses its nutritional value, droughts and floods become more severe, biodiversity is lost, farmers get into debt and the soil absorbs less carbon from air, which accelerates global warming.

The Save Soil movement supported by the United Nations and the World Food Programme highlights a common strategy that addresses care for healthy crops and reduces the risks of drought and its consequences by increasing organic content in cultivable soil to 3-6%.  

“High organic content in soil enables water retention and thus cleaning, therefore it is important that soil is rich in organic matter that is not only food for plants but a retention layer for water. Plants cannot thrive without water, so it is crucial that soils are natural like in the forest, therefore rich in humus that also retains pollutants and prevents them from reaching groundwater. How successful soils are in doing so, depends on the type of soil. The shallower and sandier they are, the smaller chance they have and vice versa. Hence, in farming it is important to cover soils with organic matter, that is to use mulching. ” prof. ddr. Ana Vovk from the University of Maribor and the owner of the International Center for Self-Sufficiency Dole

Why soil needs to be preserved

In just two decades, between the years 1981 and 2003, 12% of land in Slovenia was degraded. (Soil Use and Management, 2008)

Organic content in soil is the organic component of soil composed of small fresh plant residues, tiny living organisms in soil, decaying organic matter and stable organic matter (humus). There are many ways to increase it by using vegetal and animal waste, however, experts agree that organic content in soil must be at least 3-6%.

Soil degradation worsens many global problems, including the drought and climate change. There is evidence that an increase of organic content in soil helps to increase its porosity. The pores namely function as space for storing water in the soil. This water is then easily accessible to plants and microbes living in the soil. Water stored in the soil meets about 90% of water needs for global agricultural production. Since the beginning of farming, about 133 gigatonnes of carbon (GtC) have been released into atmosphere due to the loss of organic content in soil and soil erosion.

According to UN estimates, with the revival of soil we could reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 25-35% as well as reduce the number of fires in nature. Soil and vegetation can simultaneously absorb and reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to the level from 1850, that is before the beginning of the industrial age.

Without regenerating soil around the world, 840 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide could be released into atmosphere due to global warming as a consequence of carbon losses from heating of the soil. This is more than the sum of all emissions caused by humans in the last 30 years.

“The more people talk about soil, the better it is for all of us. We are currently losing the gift of earth. The lives of millions of people are indirectly and directly dependent on soil. However, these millions are not aware that we are losing fertile soil. That’s why it is important to raise awareness. When paying attention to soil, we must keep this issue in our minds.” – Dr. Elaheh Daghighi, soil fauna expert and scientific consultant at BetterSoil

“Exceptional & pioneering step by @EU_Commission to initiate a Soil Health Law. EU can set an example for the rest of the world. Time humanity stops thinking of soil as a resource. Soil is not a resource. It is the source of our life.” – Sadhguru on Twitter.

The Save Soil movement can offer facts and enable access to European soil experts for citation and interview purposes.

About the Conscious Planet – Save Soil movement

Save Soil is a movement supported by the United Nations and the World Food Programme. It is aimed at resolving the global crisis of soil degradation and supporting governments in implementing concrete policy changes for soil health.

The main objective of the Save Soil campaign is to ensure at least 3-6% organic content in agricultural soil around the world. This way soil would stay alive and sustainably usable on all agricultural areas.

  • 80 countries expressed their support for the movement and policies for the improvement of soil health.
  • 8 countries signed a memorandum of understanding with the Save Soil movement.
  • The Save Soil movement has already reached 3.91 billion people.
  • In the last months, tens of thousands of people attended well-visited Save Soil events throughout Europe.