International experts in soil science, agriculture and microbiology gathered together in the Palladium in Malmö, Sweden, on the 20th of May to discuss the key challenges and developments in soil management today to an audience of policy makers, Skåne region representatives, fellow soil experts and university students.
To lay the foundation and emphasise the importance of soil, the event began with David Montgomery, Professor of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington, Seattle, who explored the critical link between soil erosion and the fall of our civilisations. Soil, David impressed, is a strategic resource that needs to be managed carefully for our survival.
Following the first presentation, Mary Scholes – Professor at School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences, South Africa – highlighted the strong emphasis in the current UN Sustainable Development Goals on soil and water conservation, and the push towards setting a new set of metrics that integrate current knowledge of how ecology, economics, psychology and sociology collectively contribute to establishing and measuring sustainable wellbeing.
The event continued with a passionate talk by Rattan Lal – Professor of Soil Science, Director of the Carbon Management and Sequestration Center, Ohio State University. Mr. Lal discussed the unique power of the soil to sequester carbon and the concept of resilient soils: that while soils can recover from degradation up to a point, there is a critical threshold we need to pay attention to. He finished with impressing that we need political willpower to change our damaging management practices.
After the break, Katarina Hedlund, Lund University Professor at the Centre for Environmental and Climate Research, spoke about the importance of measuring the impact of agricultural practices on soil, and discussed current examples of how they are trying to translate their results for farmers and decision makers to understand the value of soil health. And Professor at the Department of Plant Breeding of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Sten Stymne rounded off the presentations with a look at his fascinating work in domesticating perennial plants, and a discussion of the unique benefits of perennial plants for increasing food security and influencing carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere.
The event wrapped up with a lively panel discussion with practitioners, international agencies, aid organizations and policy makers, where the emphasis was on how to act on the knowledge presented during the event. A key message was the need to put a price tag on destruction of our soils to influence change, and how farmers should be compensated for ecosystem services, rather than given subsidies. Challenges faced by increased urbanisation – particularly in Skåne were discussed, and there was strong consensus from all panellists on the need to put soil higher on the political agenda in the European Parliament.
This news item was originally published by The Organic Stream, our media partner for the Save Our Soils event.