Important legal notice
AGRILIFE- Agriculture and life sciences in the economy
SUSTAG - Sustainable Agriculture
STUDY
Sustainable Agriculture and Soil Conservation (SoCo Project)

AIMS

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.

In close cooperation with the Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development (DG AGRI), the SoCo project is performed by the Joint Research Centre's Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS) and Institute for Environment and Sustainability (IES). The Directorate-General for Environment (DG ENV) collaborates closely with the SoCo project.

 

Objectives

The SoCo project has three main objectives: (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 to adopt soil conservation practices, and

(iii) to make this information available to relevant stakeholders and policy makers in a 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.

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

DESCRIPTION

In 1999 the European Council adopted a strategy for integrating environmental protection requirements into the Common Agricultural Policy (the so-called "Cardiff process"). The CAP reforms of 1999 and 2003, and the new Rural Development Policy adopted in 2005, are major steps in environmental integration.

The agri-environmental measures of the rural development policy represent the core instruments for the integration of environmental concerns in the agricultural sector. 

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 protection.  

In the area of EU environmental policy, thematic strategies for the protection of environmental resources have been established in recent years. The thematic strategy for soil protection and the associated proposal for a Soil Framework Directive, encourage Member States to integrate soil protection aspects into sectoral policies, and to develop synergies with existing policies (rural development programmes, action programmes under the Nitrates Directive, etc.).

Following an initiative by the European Parliament the JRC (IPTS and IES, Ispra) undertakes a pilot project on "sustainable agriculture and soil conservation through simplified cultivation techniques".

The study consist of several components: EU wide overview of regulations, policies and practices concerning soil conservation, in depth case studies, regional workshops and modelling of environmental benefits of agricultural conservation practices. Results will be broadly disseminated.

RESULTS

Reports:

 

Case studies:

 

Fact Sheets:

Workshops:

  • EU-wide Stakeholder Workshop in Brussels, Belgium: 22 May 2008

 

  • Macroregional Workshop for the Mediterranean in Murcia, Spain: 1 - 2 July 2008

 

 

 

  • Regional Workshop for Midi-Pyrénées in Toulouse, France: 3 - 4 September 2008
 

 

  • Stakeholder Workshop for the Marche in Tolentino, Italy: 11 - 12 September 2008
 

 

 

LINKS

CONTACT
Sergio GOMEZ y PALOMA
Joint Research Centre