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Soil Care Network Newsletter

June 2019

by Anna Krzywoszyńska






Soils in the news


  • Not only land, but also soil conflicts are becoming more common, linked to the intensification of urbanisation. In India’s Telkoi forest, illegal mining of soils for construction is being protested by villagers

  • In the Gaza strip, an effort to grow plants out of the soil is under way in response to a lack of fresh water resources

  • In Iran, the extent of soil loss is staggering, with the country responsible for the 10% of the world’s sol erosion

  • There is a new soil app on the block, for those of us in the USA anyway. The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and the University of California at Davis launched SoilWeb, which connects a smartphone user to the NRCS’ soil survey information that has been collected across the United States since the late 1890s. The app provides a lot of soil suitability and land use information for any given spot. 

  • Are farms going to be paid to store carbon in the near future? Indigo Agriculture, a Boston-based agritech start-up, is trying to spur this novel market by paying farmers to store carbon in soil. This is a big project, including agronomist support and collaboration with research agencies. Indigo plans to use ESMC protocols, along with others, as the basis for generating its carbon credits. “The company is not requiring growers to adopt specific practices, as its credit is based on outcomes — actual amounts of carbon sequestered — rather than the process, so farmers can select which practices to apply to their farm.” hey are also hoping to develop digital technologies to measure soil carbon. This is a fascinating development, and I wonder what the impact of this will be on farming, farmers, and food systems? 

  • Soil observation on a huge scale! In the US, a new initiative, the National Soil Moisture Network, will be collating data from a variety of sources (incl. citizen science) to monitor soil moisture and inform water management for numerous sectors (agriculture, flood prevention) and scales. Interestingly, this effort is being supported by long-term federal funding: “the 2018 Farm Bill authorizes an appropriation of $5 million annually for fiscal years 2019 through 2023 for “improved soil moisture and precipitation monitoring” to improve the accuracy of the U.S. Drought Monitor.”

  • Composting and making new soil does not have to be complicated! A new social enterprise in Nottingham, UK, is teaching people how to build their own wormeries in a wheelie bin.

  • In the US, the 2017 census of agricultural practice shows that soil health practices are on the rise.




Policy and social movements

  • The issue of unequal and undemocratic power over land in the UK is getting attention thanks to a report produced by George Monbiot and others and discussed here in the Guardian. In a nutshell, they argue that making land into a financial asset rather than a public good and resource for social and ecological lives is having huge negative impacts. Reclaiming shared ownership of and responsibility for land is a foundational part of moving to a healthy socio-ecology.

  • A growing number of states in the US are adopting soil-health related policies. What was a fringe concern is becoming a mainstream issue! A useful analysis of the bills was done by the Union of Concerned Sciences, and can be read here.

  • There are further signs that soils are becoming a policy topic in the UK, with Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency, giving this speech on the importance of soils in a changing climate. I was pleased to see her highlight the role of urban soils and their neglect, as well as recognising that soil care is not the task for just ‘one industry’ (i.e. just farmers). Indeed, the UK's Environment Agency has just published a report which highlights the severity of soil degradation on the islands. The UK government’s Natural Capital Committee has also issued a document on soil management, which presents a review of soil related policies in the UK, spells out the complexity of a soil health metric, and gives specific recommendations, calling for soils to be treated as seriously as air and water.

  • The Global Symposium on Soil Erosion, led by FAO, took place this month. The alarming predictions are that by 2050 90% of the Earth’s soils will have become degraded, putting humanity’s survival in question. The discussions highlighted the limitations of framing halting soil degradation as a technical/scientific problem, as while “many solutions for soil erosion have already been well documented and disseminated and what is lacking is implementation and scaling up”. The scientific community was however still encouraged to show specific success stories to inspire policymakers to act. Indeed, the symposium concluded that “issues related to soil governance present the most significant impediments to the adoption of erosion control measures”. The conclusions of the Symposium seem rather disappointing – the equivalent of ‘more research and more talk needed’.

Editorials, blogs and opinion





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