Preserving Agricultural Soils in the EU

The critical situation affecting our soil nowadays is the focus of the recently published study Preserving agricultural soils in the EU, which was commissioned by the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development.

It is difficult to perceive the extremely important role soil plays in our ecosystems. Very few are aware of the wide array of ecosystem services that are delivered by “the top layer of the earth’s crust[1]”. However, the soil’s main functions, such as primary production, water regulation, nutrient cycling, habitat support and climate regulation, are essential for survival.

Despite this crucial role, the soil today is subjected to several threats not just connected to increasing urbanization[2], but also to land abandonment and the intensification of agricultural productions. These drivers are responsible for severe soil degradation in the EU, which leads to erosions, floods and landslides, contamination and loss of soil biodiversity. Moreover, a drastic alteration of traditional wood-pasture systems is underway, and there has been an increase of sealing practices, which consist in the conversion of productive agricultural land for non-agricultural use.

Easily applicable practices already exist to improve the health of the soil, including crop rotation, use of organic manures and a reduction in heavy machinery on fields[3]. Farmers often don’t consider these beneficial actions when planning their activity, as soil responds slowly and the improvements in crop yields may go unnoticed.

This picture demonstrates why European Union policies on soil management should tackle these specific threats, which are becoming more and more serious. Among the most important initiatives that are trying to push EU institutions to take action, the study cites the People4Soil European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI). Slow Food, together with more than 400 European associations, is involved in this campaign that encourages the Commission to recognise soil as a shared heritage that urgently needs protection at the EU level, and to develop a legally binding framework covering main soil threats.

In order to be accepted, the ECI must be signed by 1 million European citizens by 12 September 2017.

Help us to protect our soil: click here to sign the petition!



[1] The EU Thematic Strategy for Soil Protection (COM(2006)231) defines the soil as “the top layer of the earth’s crust, formed by mineral particles, organic matter, water, air and living organisms. It is the interface between earth, air and water and hosts most of the biosphere”.
[2]  Each day in Europe 3 sq/km of soil disappear due to irrational urbanification. See People4Soil, Position Paper.
[3]  The excessive use of heavy machinery is causing a every day more worrying soil compactation.
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