Giving a voice to European stakeholders on soil knowledge

Exploiting opportunities to optimise the flow of soil knowledge to stakeholders by identifying challenges and barriers.

Figure 1 - Soil challenges defined as the top priority in the European geographic regions

Researchers from EJP SOIL reached out to stakeholders across Europe to get answers to these questions.

Highlights from European stakeholder consultation

  • The priority soil challenge across Europe is to increase soil organic matter and conserve peat soils. The second most important soil challenge is to improve water storage capacity.
  • Similar views on the major barriers affecting soil knowledge management were observed among stakeholders coming from different regions across Europe. 
  • The priority barriers are the lack of research funding and communication. 
  • Three important needed actions were identified: (1) the proper development of new soil knowledge; (2) the effective sharing of soil knowledge; and (3) the actual use and valorisation of the outcomes from soil research by transferring key soil management knowledge to end-users.

Soil knowledge is important for climate-smart sustainable soil management

Agricultural soils need to be sustainably managed. The climate-smart sustainable management of agricultural soils is perceived as the central strategy to improve soil health. Soil health is an integrative property that reflects the capacity of soil to respond to agricultural intervention so that it continues to support both agricultural production and the provision of key ecosystem services (Kibblewhite et al., 2008). Sustainable Soil Management, together with the restoration of degraded soils and the improvement of soil productivity have been identified as key action areas towards the achievement of important Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In this context, advancing soil science research can greatly contribute to bridging the gap between soil science and societal needs. Regarding agricultural soils, the question is ‘how farmers, scientists and advisors can collaborate, renegotiate existing and co-create new meanings for soil erosion and soil conservation’ (Schneider et al., 2009).

Beyond dedicated research activities, EJP SOIL aims to create new soil knowledge and optimize soil knowledge management. Soil-related stakeholders are central actors in climate-smart sustainable soil management.               

Using a common methodology framework with participatory multi-stakeholder consultations in 20 European countries, EJP SOIL researchers collected the perceptions of stakeholders on how to optimise the management of soil knowledge in a view to leveraging strengths and opportunities, thus contributing to overcoming barriers and addressing identified soil challenges.

There were 314 stakeholders consulted that included scientific researchers (29%), farmers and farmer associations (25%), public administrators (15%), agricultural schools (2%), NGOs (1%), and agro-industries (1%). European countries were grouped into geographic regions. Of the total stakeholders that answered, 27% were from Central Europe, 26% from Northern Europe, 22% from Western Europe, and 21% from Southern Europe. Gender equality was not achieved, since 61% of respondents are male and 35% are female.

Soil challenges in the European regions according to stakeholders?

The results show that “improving soil organic matter and peat soil conservation” was the priority (17%), followed by “nutrient retention” (14%) and “improving water storage capacity” (13%). In southern European countries, ‘improving the water storage capacity’ of the soil was considered the top priority. 

Opportunities to overcome barriers of soil knowledge management

According to stakeholder consultation, soil knowledge management in Europe faces 102 barriers and has 107 opportunities identified as suitable to overcome them. Stakeholders were asked to identify barriers and opportunities concerning the 4 phases of soil knowledge considered by EJP SOIL: development, harmonization, sharing, and application.

The majority of the barriers and opportunities are identified in the phase of development of new knowledge in soils followed by soil knowledge application.

Figure 2. Barriers and opportunities identified by stakeholders in European regions in the phases of soil knowledge considered by EJP SOIL: development, sharing, harmonization, and application.

From a group of seven main categories (political and social being the last two), the majority of the barriers and opportunities identified are capacity building, technical, networking, communication, and economic. Barriers and opportunities of social nature were only reported in soil knowledge application and in sharing and application phases, respectively.

In the development phase, the major barriers identified were related to capacity building. The opportunities seen by stakeholders to overcome such barriers is the need for ‘increasing funding for soil related research’, ‘supporting multi- and trans-disciplinary research’, and to ‘activate/valorise/fund long term experiments’. 

For soil knowledge application, barriers are especially political, capacity building, and economics. The dominant opportunities to overcome these barriers, identified by stakeholders, were the ‘development of region-specific soil management strategies’, the need for ‘good policies and incentives with effective policy measures’, and ‘farmers have adequate ICT tools and use them’.

This stakeholder consultation indicates that there is significant room for improvement concerning soil knowledge production, dissemination, and adoption in Europe. Among the most important barriers identified are technical, political, social, and economic obstacles, which strongly limit the development and full exploitation of the outcomes of soil research. This study clearly suggests that climate-smart sustainable soil management will benefit from (1) increases in research funding, (2) the maintenance and valorisation of long-term (field) experiments, (3) the creation of soil knowledge sharing networks and interlinked national and European infrastructures, and (4) the development of regionally tailored soil management strategies. All the mentioned interventions can contribute to healthy, resilient, and sustainable soil ecosystems across Europe.

Although soil challenges have been largely recognized and tackled by policy strategies, recently released at European level in the framework of the EU Green Deal, they are still waiting for being translated into concrete directives, policies and measures, monitoring, and evaluation systems to be adopted and transposed at national level.

The outcomes of this work can guide the drawing of policies and measures fostering opportunities for improving soil knowledge toward addressing the main European soil challenges. By ensuring continuity to the European soil network and sharing knowledge platform, at the same time continuing to strengthen the dialogue between science and policy and introducing new actions to address the weak bridges currently existing at the science-to-practice interface.

For more information:

Read the longer and more detailed version of the article.

Nádia Castanheira - Instituto Nacional de Investigação Agrária e Veterinária, I.P., Soil Lab, Avenida da República, Quinta do Marquês, 2780-157 Oeiras, Portugal.

Sevinç Madenoğlu - Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, General Directorate of Agricultural Research and Policies (TAGEM) 06800 Ankara, Türkiye.

(This article summarizes outcomes of Vanino et al., 2023. Barriers and opportunities of soil knowledge to address soil challenges: Stakeholders’ perspectives across Europe. Journal of Environmental Management: