While we might not give it a second thought, without soil humans would cease to exist. 95% of our food production depends on it and it acts as a natural flood barrier by soaking up our water. Soil is an essential natural resource on which most wildlife and nature depends for its survival. Healthy soil even cleans and stores water, regulates the Earth’s climate and prevents erosion. But despite all that soil does for us, there is still no EU policy to protect soil.
Destructive human activities have stripped the soil of its richness through vegetation destruction, erosion, and contamination. 300 hectares of soil are lost every day. Between 1990 and 2000, in the EU alone, 136 hectares of land, the equivalent to 200 football pitches, was sealed under cement or concrete every day.
Healthy soil depends on a vibrant range of life forms living below the ground, from bacteria and fungi to tiny insects, earthworms and moles. Pesticides and chemical fertilisers which are heavily used by Europe’s biggest and most intensive industrial farms kill life in the soil and make plants dependent on them. This means that farmers are caught in a vicious circle where they are forced to buy ever more expensive chemicals to keep up with production rates, while ruining their main resources, namely living soil and biodiversity, and decreasing the quality of the food they produce, which subsequently lacks natural vitamins and nutrients. The UK estimates that, unless agricultural practices are changed in order to stop soil erosion, there are only 100 harvests left in the UK.
And it is not just in Europe. Up to 20% of land globally is already in bad shape. Over half of agricultural land worldwide is moderately or severely affected by soil degradation, meaning that many of the world’s poorest people are finding it harder and harder to produce food.
In an effort to turn this around, the EEB, along with 300 other civil organisations came together in autumn 2016 under the umbrella of ‘People 4 Soil’ to launch a year-long European Citizens’ Initiative, calling for an EU regulation to protect soil everywhere in Europe.
agricultural or natural land that disappears every year in the EU
time it takes to form 2 cm of fertile soil