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Soil Care Network Newsletter

September 2020

by Anna Krzywoszyńska


Research and projects

  • Thinking with Soils: Material Politics and Social Theory is a new edited collection published by a number of members of the Soil Care Network.  In it, we present a novel and systematic social theory of soil, and is representative of the rising interest in 'the material' in social sciences. The chapters in this edited volume challenge scholars to attend more carefully to the ways in which they think about soil, both materially and theoretically. Contributors address a range of topics, including new ways of thinking about the politics of caring for soils; the ecological and symbiotic relations between soils; how the productive capacities and contested governance of soils are deployed as matters of political concern; and indigenous ways of knowing and being with soil.

  • The Society for Cultural Anthropology has published this interesting series of essays on Geological Anthropology, which challenge assumptions about the kinds of materials that the geological is assumed to entail, the boundaries between living and inert, the spaces that geological is supposed to inhabit, the forms it might take, and the futures it may shape.

  • Deep reach of the Anthropocene – this fascinating short article in EOS argues that research conducted at Critical Zone Observatories in the US is showing the depth and longevity of both human and climate-change related disturbances to soils, which are changing the functioning of the critical zone itself. “In many cases, these studies illuminate the powerful role of life in processes historically studied by geologists, as well as how geologic legacies continue to shape responses of the critical zone to human influences today. Discoveries from this work help us understand how ecosystems will function and inform landscape management in the Anthropocene.”

  • The first ever global assessment of soil health paints a worrying picture. “This global survey revealed that around one-third of topsoils found on conventionally-farmed lands would last for less than 200 years, and 16% would be able to grow food for under 100 years. Overall, 90% of topsoils in this category were found to be thinning, which means they’re losing more material to erosion than they’re gaining, and are therefore in a steady decline.” The same research found, however, that farms which use soil conservation measures can hope to protect their topsoils for many thousands of years.

Soil policy and social movements

  • A new report by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Common Ground: Restoring Land Health for Sustainable Agriculture, for the first time quantifies the potential societal benefits and monetary value of a large-scale, global adoption of cost-effective sustainable farming methods that boost soil organic matter and biodiversity. “The data in this report debunks the myth that nature conservation and global food production are a zero-sum game,” said Dr Bruno Oberle, IUCN Director General. “Agriculture has often been portrayed as a threat to biodiversity conservation. Yet conserving living, biodiverse soils and landscapes can boost yields while helping both nature and society. This report clearly identifies common ground and joint aims for farmers and conservationists that can help secure the future of agriculture itself" 

  • The links between soil and carbon trading are growing – in the US “Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in both the Senate and the House of the United States Congress to create incentives and remove barriers for farmers and foresters to receive credits for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing soil organic matter — carbon.”

  • WWF’s recent report highlights the huge pressures put on land through by the UK’s food consumption, finding that “between 2016 and 2018, over 21 million hectares of land in other countries – that’s equivalent to 88% of the UK’s land area – were required to produce just 7 commodities, including cocoa, palm oil, timber and soy, used and consumed in the UK”. WWF is pressuring the government to take action on this huge impact of UKs consumption.

Soil essays and long reads

  • This editorial by George Monbiot again airs the important issue of land access in the UK, and cites important books and reports which have been highlighting land inequalities in the recent years

Useful and fun soil resources

  • BBC’s CrowdScience programme explores the goods and bads of earthworms – listen here.

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