The letter, refers to the UN objective “halt land degradation globally by 2030” and is addressed to the European Commission, asking to do its part as European policies have a deep influence on the soils of the rest of the world. The call was launched by the organisers of the European Citizens’ Initiative “People4Soil”, on behalf of the 500 organisations that are promoting the ECI petition in Europe. They ask the EC President Claude Juncker to halt land degradation and develop a dedicated legally binding framework covering the main soil threats.
In Europe there are 170 million hectares of agricultural soils, equivalent to approximately 39% of the EU territory: although considerable, this area is insufficient to supply food and raw materials to the European market, which claims twice the actual cultivated area: even though Europe accounts for 7% of the world population, it burdens on 20% of the 1.6 billion hectares of global agricultural land. High-protein food, food waste and non-food products are among the reasons of the high footprint on the lands of extra-EU Countries, where food security relies on smaller cultivated surfaces per capita, contributing to malnutrition, poverty and migration. This is the case of South America, where millions of hectares of intensive farming replaced forests and local agriculture in order to produce feed for our cattle, but also in sub-Saharan Africa, where European and Asian companies are grabbing land to the detriment of rural communities, generating great migratory flows.
If Europe has such a strong need of cultivated land, why shouldn’t we protect our own soils? Every day 500 hectares of soil are sealed or degraded, and in many cases the degradation corresponds to a definitive loss of this precious resource. “Soil is the most precious and scarce natural resource of Europe, yet we do not protect it! Over the past 50 years, the surface covered by settlements and infrastructures in Europe has doubled to 20 million hectares, twice the area of Hungary. Not to mention all the other soil threats: 3 million contaminated sites, 10 million hectares seriously damaged by erosion and 14 million at risk of desertification. If we really want the European community to stop soil degradation, we have to start from a common framework: a European legislation to protect soils is urgently needed!”
An active policy to protect the soil is also a policy for security and economic development: healthy soils, rich in organic materials allow to improve the agricultural production and increase its resilience to climate change; at the same time stopping the overbuilding of greenfields is the only way to direct the real estate investments where they are needed: the regeneration of cities. It is a long-term development policy, that protects the European resources and heritages, but it is also the cornerstone of climate mitigation and adaptation strategies. For this reason, on the World Earth Day the 500 organisations endorsing the open letter to Juncker call upon EU citizens, asking to sign the European Citizens’ Initiative on www.people4soil.eu.