Addressing soil degradation in EU agriculture: relevant processes, practices and policies

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Agriculture occupies a substantial proportion of the European land, and consequently plays an important role in maintaining natural resources and cultural landscapes, a precondition for other human activities in rural areas. Unsustainable farming practices and land use, including mismanaged intensification as well as land abandonment, have an adverse impact on natural resources. Having recognised the environmental challenges of agricultural land use, the European Parliament requested the European Commission in 2007 to carry out a pilot project on 'Sustainable Agriculture and Soil Conservation through simplified cultivation techniques' (SoCo). The project originated from a close cooperation between the Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development (DG AGRI) and the Joint Research Centre (JRC). It was implemented by the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS) and the Institute for Environment and Sustainability (IES).

The overall objectives of the SoCo project are: (i) to improve the understanding of soil conservation practices in agriculture and their links with other environmental objectives: (ii) to analyse how farmers can be encouraged, through appropriate policy measures, to adopts soil conservation practices; and (iii) to make this information available to relevant stakeholders and policy makers in an EU-wide context.

This report presents the findings of a stock-taking of the current situation with respect to soil degradation processes, soil-friendly farming practices and relevant policy measures within an EU-wide perspective. This overview includes the results of the survey on the national/regional implementation of EU policies and national policies, a classification of the described soil degradation processes, soil conservation practices and policy measures, and finally the outcome of the Stakeholder Workshop which took place on 22 May 2008 in Brussels.

The current findings and the data received from the stock-taking of the policies do not provide sufficiently detailed insight into the investigated links and are thus too limited to allow policy recommendations. In order to clarify the context-specific links between soil degradation processes, farming practices and policy measures, SoCo therefore conducted ten case studies, spread over three macro-regions within the EU. The methodological details and results of the case studies as well as an overall assessment of the effectiveness of the policy framework as regards soil protection, conservation or improvement will be presented in the SoCo Final report.

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