For the past five years, the RECARE project has been working with stakeholders across Europe, from Iceland to Cyprus and from
England to Poland, to develop a new way of saving the soil. As the project ends, it is presenting the accumulated learning from its research to policymakers in the cities, regions and nations of Europe as well as international bodies.
The urgency of this mission is underscored by recent UN reports highlighting the role that agriculture plays in climate change and how sustainable agriculture is going to be necessary to secure food production as well as liveable landscapes under climatic change.
The over-riding policy message is to empower those who directly manage the land and soil to enable and encourage them in sustainable soil management techniques. The scientific answers are available, it is making sure that farmers, growers and foresters know about them, then feel able to act on that knowledge. This effort requires some changes to policy but also an investment in training and knowledge to help people achieve sustainable land practices.
The RECARE project scientific co-ordinator Dr Rudi Hessel, from Wageningen Environmental Research, said:
“The starting point is to take farmers and land managers seriously, that researchers are willing to listen and learn from them to make sure that we are addressing their priorities and not as our researchers. To do that we need to build relationships of trust.”
Dr Ana Frelih Larsen, from the Ecologic Institute, and working on policies in RECARE, said about the practical changes that are needed:
“The Common Agricultural Policy, as the most critical policy instrument for improving soil management on agricultural and forest land, has significant potential to enhance its contribution to soil management objectives. In general, the CAP post-2020 needs to earmark sufficient support and set out ambitious requirements for sustainable soil management. The strategic planning at Member State levels needs to identify and address soil management needs and objectives and put in place monitoring to measure the policy impacts.”
Dr Per Schjønning, Aarhus University, addressed some of the changes to regulation to tackle subsoil compaction and erosion threats:
“Individual policy mechanisms need to be well defined to ensure their effectiveness. For example, the GAEC 6 standard would increase its effectiveness by being rephrased from ‘Minimum land management under tillage to reduce the risk of soil degradation including on slopes’ to ‘Sustainable land management to reduce the risk of soil degradation including on slopes’. This re-wording, while it might seem minor, introduces the notion that it is better to avoid damage rather than to remedy it later.”
“Farmers, growers and foresters learn most by learning with their friends and peers; the RECARE project has identified how important it is to foster group activities that encourage peer to peer learning. To encourage farmers and other land managers to take part in such training activities it could be part of the conditions linked to farm payments”.
Through a policy conference in September, and briefings to key decision makers across Europe and fostering debate about the future of the soil, the RECARE project has developed a hopeful suite of actions to this globally pressing problem that affects everybody.
The RECARE project leaves a wide range of materials available through its website, which will be maintained for another five years. www.recare-hub.eu
The aim of RECARE was to identify, test and share solutions to soil threats in Europe. The project was supported by the EU FP7 programme.