EU Science Hub

Proposal for a Soil Health Mission: Caring for Soil is Caring for Life

Interim report of the mission proposed by the Soil Health and Food Mission Board
Sep 29 2020

The EU’s Soil Health and Food Mission Board presented its proposal for a mission on soil, entitled "Caring for Soil is Caring for Life", at the European Research and Innovation Days event last week.

Over a year in the making, this independent expert report proposes long-term goals for 2030 and interim targets in the area of soil health and food. The European Commission will now review the proposal before making its final decision on the implementation of the Missions under the Horizon Europe framework programme.

What are missions?

The missions are a new concept for EU research and innovation under the next funding programme, Horizon Europe, due to kick off in 2021.

Partly inspired by the Apollo 11 moonshot mission, European research and innovation missions aim to deliver bold and inspirational solutions to some of the greatest challenges facing our world by engendering systemic societal change within a certain timeframe and budget.

In addition to soil health, the other missions address cancer, adapting to climate change, carbon-neutral cities, and healthy waters.

The Soil Health and Food Mission

The Soil Health and Food Mission aims to “ensure that 75% of soils are healthy by 2030 and are able to provide essential ecosystem services”, including the provision of food and other biomass, supporting biodiversity, storing and regulating the flow of water, and mitigating the effects of climate change.

Soil health drivers and impacts (centre of the figure) and the mission building blocks (in italics)

©European Union, 2020

The mission will bring together stakeholders, researchers, policymakers, business people and citizens in an effort put Europe on a path towards sustainable land and soil management as part of a wider, green societal transition.

When presenting the report last week, Cees Veerman, former Dutch minister for agriculture and chair of the board for the Soil Health and Food Mission, spoke of the economic impact of the soil health challenge for Europe – soil health.

‘In monetary terms, we lose 50 billion euros per year, because it's always deteriorating,’ he said.

According to the mission report, 24% of land in Europe has unsustainable water erosion rates and another 25% is at a high risk of desertification in southern, central and eastern Europe.

Recommendations

The report recommends that the mission’s goal be achieved through a combination of research and innovation, training and advice, as well as the demonstration of good practices for soil management using “Living labs” and “Lighthouses”’ where landowners, and researchers can work to develop new agroecological principles and organic agricultural practices that have been shown to improve soil health.

To be successful, the mission will also improve the monitoring of soil health and the pressures acting on them, mobilise investments, and encourage changes in policies.

These recommendations were developed by the mission advisory board after consultation with Member States and European citizens.

JRC contribution

As an active member of the Mission Owners Group, the JRC’s Soil Team supported the Mission Board and DG AGRI as the Mission Secretariat in the preparation of the report.

The evidence base for the mission’s overall aim made extensive use of the knowledge and data held by the European Soil Data Centre, the soil module of the Land Use/Cover Area frame Survey (LUCAS) and contributions from staff members.

The work of the JRC in monitoring soil condition through LUCAS is explicitly mentioned, while the EU Soil Observatory is viewed as a repository of mission outcomes. Finally, the JRC contributed to the development of sections on citizen engagement and soil education.

As part of the Mission Owners Groups, the JRC supported the development of the mission reports in all 5 mission areas (Cancer, Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities, Healthy Oceans, Seas Coastal and Inland Waters; Adaptation to Climate Change including Societal Transformation; and Soil Health and Food). The JRC also contributed to the design of the missions’ citizen’s engagement strategies.

Further information