We are doing science for policy
The Joint Research Centre (JRC) is the European Commission's science and knowledge service which employs scientists to carry out research in order to provide independent scientific advice and support to EU policy.
The JRC contributed to the soil component of the State of the World's Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture, the first global assessment of biodiversity for food and agriculture worldwide, recently released by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
Over the past two decades, approximately 20% of the Earth’s vegetated surface has become less productive and most of the species, genes and microorganisms that are the bedrock of food production are ‘severely under threat’.
These are two of the key warning messages contained within ‘The State of the World's Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture’, released by the FAO in February.
Five years in the making, the report engaged over 175 authors and reviewers, who based their analysis on 91 country reports prepared by over 1 300 contributors.
The first of its kind, the report gathers evidence on biodiversity for food and agriculture (BFA): BFA is essentially the diversity of plants, animals, and other organisms, both wild and domesticated, that provide us with food, fuel and fibre. Soil organisms represent an important component of BFA.
Pollution, badly managed water and land use, poor policies, overharvesting and climate change severely damage BFA.
Although biodiversity-friendly policies are increasing, they are not growing quickly enough, scientists warn.
"The soil component of BFA is vital to a range of processes that build and maintain the capacity of the soil to support plant growth, regulate water flows and store carbon. Once lost, it can take long time to be recovered", is their remark.
The JRC contributed to the ‘State of the World's Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture’ with an evaluation of biodiversity that provides soil-related ecosystem services, and a comprehensive assessment of management practices essential to preserving and enhancing soil biodiversity.
"The presence of a range of species and organisms capable of supporting critical soil processes is essential to ensure soil productivity" explains Alberto Orgiazzi, the JRC scientist who contributed to the report. "Any technology used to manage soil can pose a potential threat to soil biodiversity. Therefore, sustainable soil management is crucial for maintaining a vital and functional soil-living community".
Alberto also provided an analysis of the components of the BFA that are involved in soil formation and protection. Two years ago, he co-authored the JRC's Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas - the first attempt to map soil biodiversity at global scale - which provided the first comprehensive overview of the spatial and temporal distribution of soil biodiversity in both natural and managed ecosystems.
"On the positive side, countries are increasingly reporting on the status of their soil biodiversity with greater accuracy", he says. "Nevertheless, only 8 out of the 91 countries that we investigated in the FAO report had put in place a monitoring system explicitly for organisms. Monitoring systems are fundamental to fostering the development of conservation actions, specifically for soil-dwelling organisms", he adds.
The FAO report shows the vast range of services that life in the soil offers to humankind, from food production to water purification. "Even if there is still a long way to go, public perception of the role and importance of soil biodiversity is changing. Soil creatures are finally getting the attention they deserve", says Alberto. He also has high hope for the FAO's Global Symposium on Soil Biodiversity in 2020.
With the world population projected to reach 9.8 billion in 2050, enhancing soil productivity is key to ensuring the achievement of the ‘Zero Hunger’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG2), which aims to end hunger by 2030. To reach such an ambitious goal, the development of a proper plan to protect soil organisms is crucial.