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Soil conference: soils in the EU not managed sustainably enough

6. October 2017 - 9:14
Minister of Rural Affairs Tarmo Tamm (centre left) and President Kersti Kaljulaid.
Minister of Rural Affairs Tarmo Tamm (centre left) and President Kersti Kaljulaid. Photo: Arno Mikkor / EU2017EE.

The high-level conference “Soil for sustainable food production and ecosystem services” was held today, on 5 October at the Tallinn Creative Hub (Kultuurikatel) as part of the Estonian Presidency of the Council of the EU. During the conference, leading experts in the field stressed the role of agriculture and the importance of a sustainable use of soils in food production and in offering ecosystem services. The conclusions of the conference will be on the agenda of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting in November.

“We must not forget that soil is practically a non-renewable resource as it takes a very long time, more than a human lifespan, for it to recover if overexploited. According to scientists, it can take hundreds of years to form a centimetre of topsoil,” President of the Republic of Estonia Kersti Kaljulaid said in her opening speech.

According to the Minister of Rural Affairs, Tarmo Tamm, specific management practices for local soils and land use mean that further stress should be put on measures targeted on soils during the discussions on the future Common Agricultural Policy. “I think that it is crucial to raise awareness among all parties. This includes people who work with soils every day but also, for example, school children,” Minister Tamm added.

European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan stressed that we need to ensure a sustainable food production. “We must encourage smart agriculture, which plays a vital part in the sustainability of soils. We need to fight climate change, start using new technologies, be open to innovation, and cooperate with farmers. The Common Agricultural Policy has an important part in this,” Commissioner Hogan said.

The participants of the conference agreed that there is a further need for better solutions to help improve the condition of soils in agriculture. In addition, it was pointed out that as we take into account various international climate agreements, the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, and the important role that soils play in the climate system, both existing and new initiatives on balancing the soil carbon cycle need to be supported.

In order to implement a knowledge-based policy and to plan land use at all levels, the use of soil data should be increased in policymaking and in land use decisions.  To make better use of soil data, there is a need to modernise soil maps and further increase minimum standards for the spatial resolution of soil maps in EU Member States. The potential of big data must also be fully explored and used.

The participants also found that there is a further need to increase public awareness about the importance of soils. In addition, there is a need to increase farmers' productivity and income, and to promote the use of more efficient and more environmentally friendly technologies. For that, more favourable conditions must be created through the efficient organisation of knowledge transfer and advisory services.

During the panel discussion held after the presentations, the participants found that the European Union needs a more binding and effective soil policy to ensure the sustainability of EU soils and land use.  As the soils, their conditions, and threats to them are different all across the Member States, it is important that the specific soil protection measures are also implemented at a national level.

The conference was held by the Ministry of Rural Affairs of Estonia in cooperation with the Estonian University of Life Sciences and the Government Office of Estonia.

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