After the oceans, soil is the planet’s next-largest reserve of carbon. In fact, one third of all living species are found under its surface.
The soil provides nutrients and water needed to produce food. It filters rainwater and returns it into circulation, clean and drinkable. It regulates the climate. After the oceans, it is the planet’s next-largest reserve of carbon. More carbon is stored in the subsoil than in the atmosphere and all the forests in the world.
The soil is also a great reserve of biodiversity, with a third of all living species making their home under its surface.
Today, soil is at risk in many countries around the world: Erosion, contamination by pollutants, salinization, sealing due to the rise of urbanization and infrastructure construction are causing its inexorable degradation.
In particular, the industrialization of agriculture—which accelerated rapidly after the First and Second World Wars, when the war industry was converted to the production of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides—has impoverished the soil, drastically reducing its organic matter, in other words its fertility. Chemical fertilizers, high-yielding seeds, pesticides, weedkillers and monocultures have increased yields and tripled agricultural production, but they have also caused major damage to the biodiversity of soils. Soil has for too long been considered a simple inert support for cultivation, without taking into account its natural aptitude or the risks to biodiversity and environmental equilibriums.
It takes thousands of years to create a few centimeters of fertile soil, but just a few decades to destroy it. If the soil is lacking life and in poor health, then it is impossible to produce wholesome food. The impact on health, food security, biodiversity, the climate and as a result also the economy is significant and the consequences are clear.
Slow Food, along with 400 other organizations have joined together in the People4Soil network, launching a European petition for the defense of soil. The aim is to collect a million signatures across Europe in twelve months, asking the European Parliament to recognize the soil as a common good and produce a law for its sustainable management. Soil is not currently subject to consistent regulations in EU countries, and a proposal for a Framework Directive on soil was withdrawn in May 2014, after eight years of being blocked by a minority of member states. Unfortunately, the current EU policies adopted in other sectors do not guarantee an adequate level of protection for soils in Europe. But thanks to the European Citizens’ Initiative, which has been activated by the People4Soil network, European citizens have the right to participate directly in the development of EU policies. The signatures are being collected online. From now until next September you will be able to sign and promote the petition.
People4Soil has developed another interesting piece of material with brilliant infographics to help clarify the need to protect the Earth’s soil.