EJP SOIL provides an opportunity for stakeholders to influence and contribute to solutions on soil management and climate change

EJP SOIL is not just another scientific project. EJP SOIL is a programme with the ambition to link knowledge development to knowledge application, and bring about new soil management solutions. This calls for the voice of and strong engagement from stakeholders related to soil management.

Photo by Henning C. Thomsen, Aarhus University

We do not always remember the importance of soil. Our lives depend on it. Fertile and productive soils are the foundation of our existence. However, soil degradation including erosion, loss of soil organic matter, soil contamination and soil sealing are threats to soil functions. Due to extreme climate change and intensification of agriculture, we are faced with serious challenges of how to maintain productive soils, and thereby crop production to meet the increasing global demand for food supply.

26 partner organisations from 24 European countries have joint forces and are working together with the European Commission with the overall objective to provide sustainable agricultural soil management solutions that contribute to these key societal challenges of climate change and future food supply.

Need for strong stakeholder engagement

However, EJP SOIL cannot succeed with the above stated objective without strong stakeholder engagement. As one of its first activities, EJP SOIL will involve European and national stakeholders in identifying and mapping the current state of knowledge, policies and soil management practices across Europe. This stocktaking will establish the baseline of available knowledge that will help identify knowledge gaps and differences in existing regional and national activities.

“EJP is by definition inclusive. All countries and stakeholders related to the topic of soil will be considered and will be given the opportunity to have a voice. People will be asked for input on soil management related challenges in terms of economic, in terms of cultural matters, and in terms of why the adoption of measures that we know are useful but not implemented. Enabling conditions will be a topic too”, says Saskia Keesstra, senior researcher at Wageningen University & Research.

Saskia Keesstra leads the stepwise approach to the EJP SOIL roadmap supporting strategic decision making on science, policy and implementation issues across Europe by stakeholders. This includes the identification of aspirational targets at regional, national and European level, overview of the current situation of knowledge availability and use, identification of barriers and opportunities, synthesis of key soil related issues addressed by stocktaking activities, and building and updating the roadmap and drafting the calls scope.

“I hope that we will get some topics that we didn’t think about yet. I hope that there will be some regional issues that are not so relevant to one place, but may be very relevant to other places that we didn’t think about”. Saskia Keesstra points out that this is the whole idea with the programme and the synthesis – feedback loop that feeds into the topics for new topics to emerge for the next project calls, which is why stakeholders are of key importance for the success of the programme.

The EJP SOIL programme targets five broad groups of stakeholders. Each of these groups has specific interests and influence on agricultural soil management in Europe: Farmers & advisors (including landowners and managers, soil and farmer organisations), Industry & Agro-business, policymakers, responsible national/regional and EU policymakers, the scientific community, civil society, and the general public.

Strong focus on linking knowledge development and knowledge application

“Knowledge development, however, is not enough. There is a strong focus on knowledge application and a focus on bridging research directly back to the end user”, says Saskia Keesstra.

EJP SOIL works with a knowledge framework that includes four important elements: knowledge development, knowledge sharing, knowledge harmonization and knowledge application. Every research project should aim to comprise these four elements to enhance the development and use of knowledge on agricultural soil.

Furthermore, each project will be linked to one of the EJP soil key targets which are 1) Soil and climate mitigation – soil carbon sequestration, 2) Soil and climate change adaptation, 3) Sustainable agricultural production and food security, 4) Ecosystem services provision, and 5) Land and soil degradation mitigation and restoration. All projects in EJP SOIL take into account and link to the five key targets where relevant for the individual project.

According to Saskia Keesstra, EJP SOIL is looking into what is needed for the new climate-smart sustainable soil management strategies to be applied by the end users. The programme aims at discovering new routes to change the policies and practices. There will be guidelines for extension services, which will have a direct effect on anybody that is managing soil.

“If we want this in our society, we need to take into account all the parts of society; Soil is only one part of it. Awareness raising is extremely important. This is something that relates to everyone and people understand this now. It is all of us, everywhere. We all have to expand our horizon”.

EJP SOIL will feed into EU and CAP policy making on climate

Professor Lars Munkholm, Aarhus University, states that stakeholders will have influence and contribute to solutions to climate change. This is an opportunity to be part of these solutions.

“EJP SOIL has a strong focus on soil management and on developing tools that will make a difference. The EU commission is deeply engaged and these solutions and changes will be reflected in all corners of Europe”, says Lars Munkholm.

Conditions differ between countries and between regions, but are all within the context of EU and CAP. We are interconnected and the consequences of climate changes affects us all. EJP SOIL aims to find solutions not only to common challenges, but also to specific challenges on national or regional level.

“We need to find solutions as to what to do about it. We cannot afford not to change our ways”, says Lars Munkholm. “This is the chance for stakeholders to have a strong voice”.