SoCo: Soil Conservation

SoCo: Sustainable Agriculture and Soil Conservation

The European Parliament has requested the European Commission to carry out a study on Sustainable Agriculture and Soil Conservation. Two Directorates of the EC are involved in this project: DG Agriculture and DG Joint Research Centre.

The JRC participates in the project with two institutes: Institute for Environment and Sustainability (IES: Land Management and Natural Hazards Unit and the Rural, Water and Ecosystem Resources Unit) and Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS- Agriculture and Life Sciences in the Economy Unit) in Seville.

The Soil Action of the Land Management and Natural Hazards Unit is in charge to make an assessment of the agricultural soil degradation problems and the corresponding soil conservation practices. The assessment on soil degradation will be done according to the threats identified in the Soil strategy (COM (2006) 231). Several case studies will be set allover Europe with the specific aim of evaluating the cost effectiveness of the applied agri-environmental measures in relation to soil conservation.

The project has started in 2007 and is finalized in 2009. Following the links below, you may find information about:

Links

Soco Official Web Site: http://agrilife.jrc.ec.europa.eu/rural_soco.htm

Contact Points

Luca Montanarella, Fax: +39-0332-786394, E-Mail: luca.montanarella@jrc.ec.europa.eu, Panos Panagos, Tel: +39 0332 785574, Fax: +39-0332-783578, E-Mail: panos.panagos@jrc.ec.europa.eu


Project Background

Agriculture, cultivating a substantial proportion of the European land, plays an important role in maintaining natural resources and cultural landscapes as a precondition for other human activities in rural areas. However, unsustainable agriculture practices and land use would have adverse impacts on natural resources (soil, water, biodiversity, etc…).

The European Council adopted a Strategy for Integrating Environmental Concerns into the Common Agricultural Policy (the so-called "Cardiff process") in 1999. The CAP reforms of 1999 and 2003 and the new Rural Development Policy adopted in 2005 are the major steps on this way. The agri-environmental measures of the rural development policy represent the core instruments for the integration of environmental concerns in CAP. Cross-compliance, and in particular the provisions for maintaining agricultural land in good agricultural and environmental condition, can also play a positive role for soil conservation.

In parallel, in the area of EU environmental policy, the Soil Thematic Strategy and the associated proposal for a Soil Framework Directive encourage Member States to develop synergies with existing policies.

In 2007, the European Parliament requested the European Commission to carry out a project on "Sustainable Agriculture and Soil Conservation through simplified cultivation techniques". The European Parliament states that "in Europe, soil degradation and erosion is probably the most significant environmental problem" and underlines the importance of conservation agriculture being a "set of soil management practices which minimise alteration of the composition, structure and natural biodiversity of soil, safeguarding it against erosion and degradation".

While stating that "Rural development planning action for 2007 to 2013 affords a unique opportunity to make headway with these techniques", the European Parliament underlines that the project should "foster knowledge of these techniques so that future European legislation can be easily applied". As a fundamental component, the project is meant to cover know-how dissemination activities.

Objectives

The overall objectives of the project SoCo are:

  • (i) to improve the understanding of soil conservation practices in agriculture and their links with other environmental protection objectives;
  • (ii) to analyse how farmers can be encouraged through appropriate policy measures (especially Rural Development Program) to adopt soil conservation practices, and
  • (iii) to make this information available to relevant stakeholders and policy makers in an EU wide context.

Methodology

To achieve the objectives the project provides extensive investigation of the link between a) soil problems, b) farming practices and systems and c) policies and their implementation. It includes collecting and processing EU-wide data as well as field work through case studies focused on local implementation of policy measures and farmers' response to them. Quantitative and qualitative analysis carried out by the research team is confronted with experience and opinions of stakeholders at six workshops.

Work Packages

The project is structured in four work packages:

WP1: Stock-taking of the current situation within an EU-wide perspective.  WP1 reviews the existing literature on agricultural conservation practices in relation to the main soil protection objectives (erosion, loss of soil organic matter, compaction, salinisation, landslides), and provides a stock-taking of the current situation as regards policy measures that address (or contribute to) soil conservation within a EU-wide perspective. 
WP2: Case studies on soil/land management and policy measures WP2 comprises 10 case studies in the EU-27 taking into account territorial coverage, farm structures, typical agricultural soil degradation problems, farming systems and practices, existing policy measures and institutional conditions. 
WP3: Conclusions/recommendations  WP3 sums-up and synthesizes the findings, and translates them into conclusions and recommendations. It brings the results from the case studies (WP2) back to the EU-wide perspective and links them with the results of WP1. 
WP4: Dissemination

Team

The project is conducted by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) and more precisely by the Agriculture and Life Sciences in the Economy Unit (AGRILIFE) of the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS), the Rural, Water and Ecosystem Resources Unit and the Land Management and Natural Hazards Unit of the Institute for Environmental Sustainability (IES), in close cooperation with the Environment, GMO and genetic resources Unit of DG Agriculture and Rural development.

The overall coordination and the methodology of the Case studies is being carried out by Humboldt University of BerlinDepartment of Agricultural Economics and Social SciencesDivision of Resource Economics. The Case studies are being performed by:

The Stock-taking of the current situation within an EU-wide perspective is being carried out by:

  • Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF) 
    Institute of Socio-Economics, The Directorate
  • SOLAGRO