There is an urgent need to focus on soil conservation, a global campaign originating in India is arguing in an attempt to highlight the threat to one of nature’s greatest resources.
In a public campaign to raise awareness about soil degradation, Jaggi Vasudev, one of India’s best-known spiritual leaders, also known as ‘Sadhguru’, is riding a motorbike 30,000 kilometres across 26 countries in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
The journey is part of his #SaveSoil campaign, which is calling on policymakers to make soil regeneration a priority.
According to UN estimates, a third of soil globally is degraded and more than 90% could become degraded by 2050.
Meanwhile, it could also take up to 1,000 years to produce a few centimetres of new soil, according to the UN’s campaign against desertification.
“The idea is to get the citizenry to support the government to make the government feel confident, so they can take long-term steps and people will be with them – that’s the idea of this movement,” Sadhguru told EURACTIV during his stop in Brussels.
“Every one of us is a partner in this destruction, and every one of us should be a partner in the solution,” he added, stressing that it is not possible to address climate change or global warming without addressing soil health.
In the past two decades, Vasudev’s activities have received global attention and given him the status of a new age ecological influencer, supported by political leaders, environmentalists and Hollywood celebrities.
The campaign coincides with a concerted push on soil health in the EU, including a new EU soil strategy, launched in 2021, which has outlined plans for a soil health law by 2023.
This law would bring soil on the same legal footing as air and water as part of efforts to improve the state of soil by 2050.
But while the ambition of the strategy was widely welcomed across the bloc, a dedicated proposal on soil health was pushed back to 2023 rather than presented alongside the strategy.
Soil can be enriched by introducing cover crops and more vegetation or adding plant litter and animal manure.
Increasing organic matter improves soil structure, aids water retention, reduces erosion and boosts biodiversity.
Soil stores vast amounts of carbon, far more than all the carbon in the world’s forests and atmosphere combined.
“The only convention, in my opinion, which has been successful is the convention on ozone, because it was a single point agenda – a similar attention has to come to soil,” he said, referring to the 1985 multilateral environmental agreement that provided frameworks for international reductions in the production of ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons.
As an example, he pointed toward the French governments’ plans, which in 2015 had launched the ‘4 per 1,000’ initiative at the COP21 Paris climate summit.
The initiative aimed to boost carbon storage in agricultural soils by 0.4% each year “to help mitigate climate change and increase food security”.
“But even in France, it’s not being put into action, because you’re linking it to various other issues which can be so easily settled,” Sadhguru criticised.
Farmers must lead the way
But policy change cannot be too prescriptive, according to the #SaveSoil movement, which is backed by global agencies such as the UN Convention to Combat Desertification and World Food Programme.
Instead, farmers should be able to decide for themselves how best to bring back more organic content into the soil, Sadhguru maintained.
Asked how farmers could lead the way on soil preservation, he said that policy “must come with incentives.”
“Right now, in Northern Europe, average organic content is 1.48%. If you give an incentive to make it 3%, it could be substantial enough for most farmers to shift,” he said.
According to him, the next steps could then be industry and the business being connected with the carbon credits or different branding for products sold to the consumers.
He also acknowledged that farmers’ income across Europe has significantly been squeezed for a number of reasons, ranging from price volatility to increased overhead costs and droughts, as well as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“So many farmers worldwide commit suicide, there must be something wrong in how we approach things,” Sadhguru said.
Meanwhile, the war in Ukraine has created worries about food security in Europe, that could carry severe consequences for the global agri-food sector.
Besides skyrocketing commodity prices for grains such as wheat, the war could potentially also lead to efforts to ‘fill the wholes’ of production, experts and stakeholders believe.
Asked about the ambition to produce more because they need to mitigate and also scrapping environmental measures to support that, Sadhguru said the measures are necessary but should be temporary.
“Back 60-70 years ago, to mitigate famines, we took some express measures, but the measures that we take for emergency situations should not become standard measures,” he said.
“But once we crossed the bridge of the crisis, we could have easily corrected our course, but we didn’t,” he warned.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Natasha Foote]