When one surveys the global policy landscape as it relates to land and soil, Li Lifeng, the Director of the Land and Water Division of the FAO
, observed in his opening remarks at the 'Global Soil Governance: Status and future perspectives' workshop at Euro Soil 2021
, a surprising contradiction immediately becomes clear: though healthy, well-managed soil is an essential ingredient of food production, water management and environmental services, globally soil governance is given neither the focus it deserves nor the coherent and holistic approach that it requires.
Though substantial progress in soil governance has been made in the last thirty years, as the European Commission's Luca Montanarella emphasised, and Rosa Poch of the Intergovernmental Technical Panel on Soils outlined in detail, existing structures have produced only a patchwork set of governance structures and instruments. The European Parliament's resolution in April 2021 that there should be a European soil strategy is a promising development in the policy and implementation landscape, as is the Thai government's work on training schemes to provide citizens with the knowledge and skills to use soils sustainably, described by Thanawat Thiensin, Thailand's representative at the FAO.
Fundamental challenges remain. As TMG's Managing Director Alexander Müller pointed out, governments do not consider the health and productivity of soils as matters which require international solutions. They are inclined to see land and soil as issues of national sovereignity, and are reluctant to pay 'for others' as they see it. This attitude can be challenged, Müller argued, by showing that soil governance will play an important role in solving major global challenges including climate change. At the same time, countries should be made to understand that soil is an important form of natural capital, as this approach may help to focus minds on the value of healthy soils as an 'asset.'
The discussion, which also included representatives of the Global Soil Partnership and Alpine Convention, as well as the governments of Argentina and Switzerland, also emphasised the need for binding international instruments through which better soil governance can be implemented. Whether this should take the form of a new UN Convention on Soil, or as a protocol attached to the conventions on climate change, biodiversity and desertification, was an open question. Where there was clear agreement was on the need to build on the patchy progress to date. "Unless you're one of these people we've heard of recently who wants to move to Mars or another planet," Montanarella observed, "we have to find a way to sustainably use the resources we have on this planet."