This week, everyone has been talking about black gold.
And no, I’m not talking about oil. I’m talking about the real black gold, the kind that sustains life on our planet and underpins our entire agricultural system.
That’s right – I’m talking about soil.
Between members of the European Parliament’s ENVI Committee calling for the creation of an EU-wide common legal framework for the protection of soil, and the FAO’s four-day global symposium on soil biodiversity, this natural resource has been a hot topic this week.
And quite rightly so.
Because, contrary to water and air, there is currently no coherent and integrated EU legal framework for protecting Europe’s soil, as MEPs pointed out.
This means that measures on soil protection are fragmented among many policy instruments that lack coordination and are often non-binding, they said.
This is despite the fact that soil underpins life on our planet, as environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius reminded everyone in his address at the symposium earlier this week.
“The biodiversity in our soil is a vast biological engine driving the processes that underpin our survival that engine needs,” he said, pointing out that it is home to one-quarter of the planet’s biodiversity.
And it’s true – soils are of vital importance for biodiversity, so it seems only fitting that the environment Commissioner highlights this.
But it goes without saying that by providing a source of the essential nutrients and water we need to grow our food, soils are also the backbone of a secure and sustainable agricultural system.
Agriculture, as both a product of and producer of soil, has a lot at stake in the discussion on soil, but also a lot to offer – life makes soil and soil makes more life.
Nutrition also has its roots in the soil; healthy soil grows healthy food, which then sustains healthy people.
So, with that in mind, the question is – why is it DG ENVI leading the charge on soil, rather than AGRI?
Contacted by EURACTIV, an EU official pointed out that DG ENVI is in the lead in terms of legislation for soil health, as soil is a natural resource.
However, they added, this doesn’t mean that the importance of soil is not recognised in agri-circles, pointing out that this is reflected in the future Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
This is both because fostering the ‘sustainable development and efficient management of natural resources such as water, soil and air’ is a key aim, but also because “targeted improvements in soil management help improve farm sustainability, from income to air, water and biodiversity”, the official said.
“Healthy soils are indeed fundamental for agriculture and the Green Deal objectives. None of the targets on pesticides and nutrients, the conversion to organic farming or climate can be achieved without acting urgently and comprehensively on soils,” the official explained, adding that the Commission is preparing a mission in the area of soil health and food.
The mission will be managed by DG AGRI and aims at creating synergies with major initiatives, policies and funding instruments, notably the future CAP and the European Innovation Partnership, EIP AGRI.
“Together, the CAP, the soil mission and the upcoming soil strategy will provide a solid framework for knowledge, innovation, testing and upscaling of solutions to move towards healthy soils in agriculture, forestry and beyond,” the official said.
For the sake of the treasure trove beneath our feet, let’s hope so.