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President Kaljulaid at the conference: Soil for sustainable food production and ecosystem services

President Kaljulaid at the conference: Soil for sustainable food production and ecosystem services
President Kaljulaid at the Soil Conference
© Arno Mikkor


Dear participants of the Soil Conference,

Welcome to Estonia! The Estonian EU Council Presidency has seriously taken note of the fact that we currently live the decade of soils. Therefore it has organised this conference.

I have to confess, when our ministry of agriculture put forward this idea for our Council Presidency planning, it was not exactly self-evident for the urbanites among the presidency planners, whether such a classic topic really fits into our modern, tech-laden, dynamic and forward-looking Presidency.

We soon realised though that there is nothing more acute than making sure that we do not forget amid our numerous technological disruptions that some things remain purely organic, no matter what.

As such, this conference on soil for sustainable food production and ecosystem services, is an essential part of Estonian Council Presidency, because it keeps us firmly grounded.

Soils have always been associated with agriculture. They form our familiar landscapes. Even though the soil is mainly invisible, as it is covered with vegetation, soils are part of our cultures, our traditions and our beliefs.

They are the source of the food we use every day to cook our traditional dishes.

The black colour of Estonian blue black and white tricolor represents the soil that our ancestors have cultivated for centuries. Our folklore confirms that soils have an important role in our cultural identity and heritage values.

"As you sow, you shall reap", is an old Estonian farmers' metaphor which may be interpreted directly and indirectly. I would like to interpret it directly and ask: what if you sow as you are used to but you have nothing to harvest? Would it not be a deep cause for a reflection on what has gone wrong?

We are moving towards the era that requires us to reflect on our usual farming practices. In long-term crop yield and its quality depends highly on the way we take care of our soils.

Decreased soil functioning endangers not only productivity but leads to greater impact on natural environment and our health.

It was after the "dust bowl" in 30s, when a former President of the United States of America Franklin Delano Roosevelt said "a nation that destroys its soils destroys itself".

That time taught us how important it is to prevent such disaster of happening again. Considering that soils host a quarter of our global biodiversity, which interacts and contributes to the global cycles that make all life possible, soils are essential for food security and nutrition.

Humans, by using resources unsustainably, put a significant pressure on precious lands. We put the pressure by degrading them, fragmenting them and contributing to their erosion.

This means that we as a species intentionally jeopardise the provision of several key ecosystems, which in turn increases our vulnerability to climate change and natural disasters.

Risks associated with droughts and floods are rather common nowadays and are increasingly frequent phenomena.

Today, we are facing an enormous challenge to combat the impacts of the climate change. We shall, therefore, implement all measures necessary, to prevent the progression and escalation of climatic changes.

Soils with their many qualitative features have an important role to play in climate change mitigation.

Xenophanes has said long ago: "for all things come from earth, and all things end by becoming earth". Therefore, it is not new, that soils are an integral part of the carbon and nutrient cycle.

Soils store carbon and decrease the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. Soils have the ability to store and filter water by protecting us from the floods and helping to overcome the dry seasons.

Soils have multiple roles and are providing biomass not only for food. For example, an increasing demand for alternative energy, including biofuels, is motivated by the idea to reduce consumption of non-renewable resources.

Yet, we must not forget that soil is also a non-renewable resource. It takes a very long time, more than a human lifespan, for it to recover if overexploited. According to scientists, it can take hundreds of years to form a centimetre of topsoil.

There are nearly 800 million people who are undernourished and suffer from hunger worldwide. Half of the land used for agriculture is moderately or severely affected by soil degradation.

That it is a wakeup call for all of us to act now and to seriously rethink how we grow, share and consume our food, within the limits of our planet. The agricultural producers benefit from well managed soils in Europe - they can be more competitive and their farms can be managed sustainably.

Dear listeners,

Food security and nutrition directly depend on the health of the soil. Healthy soils provide us with the basis for sustainable high quality food production.

The soil misuse declines soil quality and prevents it from functioning at its best. The better we take care of our biodiversity, the more we benefit from having more nutritious diets and beautiful natural environment, which in turn becomes more resilient and contributes to better the sustainable farming system.

Nowadays we as consumers are more and more aware of the impacts that the agriculture has on our environment and the impacts of climate change on agriculture.

Let us not overexploit our soils and let us preserve them for the generations to come. We need to understand soil characteristics because it ensures more effective and competitive agricultural production.

In order to seek sustainability, there is a need to see long term opportunities rather than being blinded by the benefits of short term solutions.

There are new technologies and systems out there to help us manage the soil and farm sustainably. Nowadays farmers are also benefiting from smart solutions.

Advances in soil science and technology are providing good basis for them to step into the era of smart agriculture. In order to improve the use of technology and computing power in farming sector we must support the science and research at European and national levels.

It is necessary to analyse the results from the measures we have taken in order to protect our soils, take the feedback into account and allow it to inform our policy decisions for the future.

We must ask ourselves: have we done enough to protect our soils? Have the implemented measures made it more probable that our children and grandchildren can enjoy life and food the way we are able to enjoy them?

Ladies and Gentleman,

This platform is for networking between different stakeholders and discussing the future of our soils. Again, we need to turn to nature itself for some inspiration.

The way bees and flowers work together, the way nitrite-rich plants prepare the ground for other species, is the way to go. Working on better soil is a win-win debate for those who care about production, about food quality, human and animal health, about ecosystems and diversity of the species.

I hope that today's discussion will strengthen the cooperation between different stakeholders and help to find solutions. Yes, alone we would perhaps work faster, but together we can achieve much better results.

I know you will express different opinions and have jot arguments – but this is because you do care. You are not indifferent to the future of our planet and its upper crust called soil.

It is our devotion to work together, keeping in mind the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 2030 – an ambitious agenda for all the Governments to combat hunger and to preserve our land.

As Henry Ford once said "coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success".

I wish you fruitful discussions and a pleasant stay in Estonia!