Headline: The Global Fight against Soil Loss: IASS and Partners Launch the International Year of Soils

“Resources must be considered and treated as an integrated system, as it were, in the nexus. Whenever we talk about soils, we also need to talk about water and energy. This is the only way of raising the awareness of soils among policy-makers and the general public.” IASS Executive Director Klaus Töpfer emphasised this at an event to launch the International Year of Soils 2015 on 5 December. At the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Protection, Building and Nuclear Safety, Töpfer called on Germany to adopt an “integrated approach” to combating persistent land degradation worldwide. Representatives from politics, science and society were invited to the event by the ministry, the IASS, the Federal Environmental Agency and the Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). The 5 December was incidentally also the first ever International Day of Soils.

Among other topics, the discussion focussed on Germany’s global responsibility for soils in the light of German imports of foodstuffs, fodder and raw materials. What is Germany already doing to meet this responsibility and where does it need to take more action? Rita Schwarzelühr-Sutter, parliamentary state secretary in the Federal Ministry for the Environment, urged all relevant actors to use the Year of Soils as an opportunity to redouble their efforts to protect soils worldwide. Bernhard Krüsken, Secretary-General of the German Farmers’ Association, said that huge land consumption in Germany was the biggest problem from the point of view of the farming community. Every day, an area of 70 hectares is sealed, including fertile land that could be used for growing food crops. At the same time, Krüsken pointed out that a more productive and efficient use of land in Germany and Europe was necessary to reduce so-called ‘virtual land imports’. Virtual land consumption refers to the amount of land that is actually used in Germany – taking account of, for example, imports of fodder such as soya from other countries. “As long as agricultural and environmental policies in Germany and the EU continue to reduce the amount of land available for agriculture, these virtual land imports will increase. As part of its international responsibility, Germany has to maintain a sustainable, productive and efficient use of land at home”, stressed Krüsken.

Nicole Grunewald from the think tank Global Footprint Network explained the complex reasons behind the phenomenon of virtual land imports: “German demand for the products of agriculture and forestry has led to a situation where almost 33 per cent of the required cultivation area lies beyond our borders. We thus ‘export’ the problems of land degradation associated with that and show precious little interest in the situation of the countries in question.” Carolin Callenius from Bread for the World also called for more responsible consumption. She described the problem of land-grabbing by agricultural multinationals and highlighted the socio-economic dimension of Germany’s land usage. Often, regional farmers in affected areas are forced to cede their land to multinationals, thus losing the basis for their livelihoods and food security. In this way, poverty and hunger are exacerbated.

, which will take place again from 19 to 23 April 2015, the IASS offers a platform for dialogue where various actors from politics, society and academia can exchange views and forge lasting cooperations in a range of different fields. The activities of the Global Soil Week are closely linked to international processes. Everybody who attended the event to launch the International Year of Soils agreed that collaboration that transcends borders and sectors is crucial when it comes to the cross-cutting themes of soil and land.

Photo: (c) Leonardo Agular