An almost unknown world

Editorial by Jan Peter Schemmel, CEO, Oeko-Institut
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We know about as much about the world beneath our feet as we do about the oceans’ depths which is to say: not really all that much. Many soil organisms, for example, have not yet been studied. We rarely turn our attention to this world. But what we do know for certain is that soil is key to our life and survival. We grow food, feed and energy crops on it, it serves as a carbon and water reservoir and maintains biodiversity, we build our settlements and infrastructure on it. Unsurprisingly, land has already become a scarce resource worldwide. In this light, it is alarming to see just how carelessly we treat our soils, how thoughtlessly we cover them up, and what quantities of polluting chemicals, fertilisers and pesticides we apply to them.

In order to correctly utilise this increasingly scarce resource, we need to at long last adopt a holistic approach to land use, not just in this country, but also abroad. After all, not all land is suitable for all uses. This new approach would also mean using the available land as efficiently and environmentally friendly as possible, for example by greening the cities, combining photovoltaics and agriculture on the same land or revitalising empty buildings instead of sealing up more ground for new ones. Precision agriculture, i.e. the use of digital technologies for optimised production, could also help to use soils more efficiently and sustainably in the future. But before its large-scale deployment, we need to learn a lot more about this farming system and also about its social impacts.

I grew up in a small town in Lower Saxony and can still remember when slurry was carelessly spread on grasslands on the town’s outskirts − without any obvious sign of an awareness of the practice’s damaging effects on soil biodiversity. My impression is that awareness of this issue has grown in the intervening years. But there is still far too little awareness of how important soil protection really is. The work of our scientists is helping to advance soil protection and land conservation. I hope that with this issue of eco@work we can also help a little to bring soil more into focus.


Jan Peter Schemmel
CEO, Oeko-Institut