The European Mission Soil Week Conference, organized by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development (DG AGRI), under the Horizon Europe Mission ‘A Soil Deal for Europe’ (Mission Soil), unfolded from November 21 to 23, 2023. Hosted by the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC-INIA) in Madrid during the Spanish Presidency of the EU Council, the event saw the participation of the MIBIREM project, represented by RTDS. MIBIREM focuses on developing biotechnology for soil decontamination using bacteria and was among several soil health projects present at the conference.
The idea behind European Mission Soil Week is to raise awareness about the critical importance of soil health and translate this awareness into actionable measures for soil protection and restoration. The event served as a valuable platform to communicate innovative solutions based on the latest research findings for the promotion of healthy soils. A significant number of participants, both on-site in Madrid and online, represented various stakeholders, including the research community (most numerous), policy makers, farmers, landowners, and industry, with local communities and projects outside the scope of the Soil Health Mission initiative also in attendance.
Caring for soil is caring for life
“Caring for soil is caring for life” was a resonating theme throughout the conference. Soil health is a top priority on the EU political agenda – and for good reason. Soil is crucial in supporting human health, providing the basis for food, and sustaining vital ecosystems. Furthermore, healthy soils play a pivotal role in carbon capture, contributing to climate stability and neutrality. Astonishingly enough, approximately 60% of European soil is considered unhealthy, with 2.8 million sites potentially contaminated.
To address these challenges, various European projects, including PrepSoil, InBestSoil, Loess, ISLANDR, Solo, Edaphos, Biosysmo and MIBIREM were brought together to mobilize communities working on diverse aspects related to soil health. Additionally, numerous projects were showcased, sharing experiences, lessons learned and the knowledge gained from research in tackling soil-related issues.
The conference underscored the inseparable connection between healthy soils, food security, and climate. The significance of soil carbon to soil health was highlighted, leading to the inauguration of the international research consortium on soil carbon (IRC).
Speaking simple is a key starting point
Beyond scientific challenges, the conference identified common issues faced by many projects and communities engaged in soil health. Both simplifying language to make it accessible to all stakeholders and bridging the gap between scientific and policy language were emphasized.
Involving local communities more actively and communicating with a wide range of stakeholders were deemed similarly crucial. A bottom-to-top communication approach and a holistic view of the subject were identified as necessary. The importance of engaging citizens in the subject of soil health and involving a broad spectrum of stakeholders was also emphasized as vital for effectively utilizing scientific knowledge.
Knowledge and data sharing on spot
The knowledge gained from research and data sharing were highlighted as essential aspects that need to be properly facilitated. An example of this was the InBestSoil platform initiative, where over 50 participants spontaneously gathered at the venue outskirts to discuss future steps in regular meetings and engagement on data and knowledge-sharing regarding soil health. Stakeholder mapping and engagement, creating synergies in terms of information sharing and joint events were some of the topics discussed.
Another relevant topic highlighted for MIBIREM at the conference was soil assessment and mapping. In the MIBIREM project, soil sampling is conducted within the framework of microbiome-based bioremediation. The conference emphasized the interconnected nature of soil systems, with the suggestion that a simple set of indicators should serve as a starting point. This idea was communicated by the Benchmark project, which focuses on co-creating a Soil Health Monitoring Framework. Moreover, the EU Soil Observatory (EUSO) was thoroughly presented as one of the instruments providing a comprehensive approach to European soil assessment and mapping. The conference also emphasized the need for increased data sharing and harmonization in the context of soil assessment.
What is soil to me
The eventful three days of Soil Mission Week concluded with a ceremony in the grand Spanish royal-style conference hall, featuring a photo competition award. Individuals working on soil-related subjects showcased what soil means to them by visually capturing the beauty of nature, or indeed its vulnerability to factors such as drought, degradation or contamination. This moving conclusion brought the science, funding and policies to a human and personal level, reflecting the intrinsic connection that starts off the entire journey.
Author: Ana Babic
MIBIREM Communication Manager