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About the Author: Ana Casillas

Innovation Consultant - Ana holds a B.Sc. degree in Biochemistry, which she completed in the Bioremediation department of Queen’s University (Kingston – CA) through the TASSEP Program, and a M.Sc. degree in Applied Plant Biology, both from the Complutense University of Madrid. She started her professional career developing projects in BIOPLAT (the Spanish Technology and Innovation Platform ‘Biomass for the Bioeconomy’) and continued as a Bioeconomy Advisor in the bioeconomy area of the Andalusian Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries, and Sustainable Development. Ana defines herself as a defender of the environment and critical thinking.

Healthy soils are the foundation of sustainable food systems and are critical for plant growth, water filtration, greenhouse gas regulation and habitat for a variety of species. Soils also play an important role in mitigating the impacts of climate change by sequestering carbon and reducing the risk of flooding and erosion. Globally, soils are the earth’s largest terrestrial carbon pool, host more than 25% of all biodiversity and provide 95-99% of food for 8 billion people[1]. In addition, healthy soils are essential for people’s well-being, providing clean water and air, supporting cultural heritage and landscapes, and contributing to local economies. The health of Europe’s soils is therefore of vital importance for the continent’s food security, climate resilience, biodiversity and economic prosperity.

Soil health is affected by a range of physical, chemical and biological factors[2]. Physical factors include soil texture, structure and depth, which affect water infiltration and aeration. Chemical factors include nutrient availability, pH and salinity, which affect plant growth and microbial activity. Biological factors include the presence and diversity of soil organisms, which play a key role in nutrient cycling and disease suppression. ~SoilHealthBenchmarks.

Soil health as a strategic priority in Europe

Soil health in Europe is threatened by a range of human activities, including industrial agriculture, deforestation and urbanisation. It is estimated that 60-70% of soils in the EU are unhealthy, costing the EU at least €50 billion per year[1], with major impacts on food production, biodiversity and resilience to climate change. Soil erosion, compaction, pollution and nutrient depletion are just some of the challenges facing European soils, highlighting the urgent need for action to protect and restore this vital resource.

The EU has recognised the importance of soil health and has published its own EU Soil Strategy 2030, as well as including it in several policies and strategies included in the EU Green Deal, such as the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the Water Framework Directive, the Habitats Directive or the Environmental Liability Directive. Together, these policies reflect the EU’s commitment to protecting and restoring soil health as a key component of its sustainable development and climate action strategy.

EU Mission ‘A Soil Deal for Europe’

To support the above policies with practical experiences, the European Commission, in the framework of the Horizon Europe programme, has launched the mission “A Soil Deal for Europe”, which aims to support the transition to healthy soils by 2030. This ambitious research and innovation programme combines social science and practical solutions, bringing together diverse stakeholders to jointly build knowledge and test new approaches to improve soil health. The Mission Soils programme is a crucial initiative to safeguard Europe’s future, to ensure that its soils remain healthy and productive for generations to come and to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals, in particular those related to food security, climate action and biodiversity.

One of the key components of the Mission Soils programme is the creation of more than 100 Living Labs (real-world environments where researchers and stakeholders can co-create and test new approaches to improve soil health) and Lighthouses (larger-scale demonstration projects that show the impact of these approaches). These initiatives invite farmers, scientists, policy makers and civil society organisations to share knowledge and develop innovative solutions. Other important focuses of the programme are:

  • Involving and empowering citizens: the success of its initiatives depends on the active participation and support of the public.
  • Achieving an interdisciplinary approach: experts from various fields (agronomy, ecology, economics and social sciences) to develop integrated solutions.
  • Adaptability and transferability: developing approaches that can be adapted to different contexts and replicated across Europe,

In this way, the programme aims to maximise its impact and ensure that healthy soils become the norm in Europe, rather than the exception.

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