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Soil: the overlooked aspect of the carbon cycle

Soil: the overlooked aspect of the carbon cycle

The entire food and agricultural supply chain relies on the health of soil, yet this precious resource is often overlooked. Most of the world’s soils are degraded, which has significant negative implications for agriculture and carbon storage.


Alessia Baker



Preserving soil is essential for maintaining carbon storage and combating climate change. Prioritising soil health and increasing the availability of soil health will significantly help to reduce carbon emissions.


Protecting soil is key

The entire food and agricultural supply chain relies on the health of soil, yet this precious resource is often overlooked. Most of the world’s soils have been listed as “degraded” or “very degraded” which has various negative implications throughout agriculture, especially considering its role in storing and managing the release of carbon.

When the EU set a legally binding target for climate neutrality by 2050, it intensified the focus on strategies that could transition us towards a healthier planet, with a specific focus on reducing carbon emissions. With this goal in mind, acknowledging the vital role that soil plays in all aspects of life is critical, as it will play a key role if we are to preserve our planet. 

Soil acts as a natural store for both types of carbon, organic and inorganic, removing carbon dioxide from the air and storing it underground. This means that when any damage occurs to soil, such as soil erosion, stored carbon dioxide then escapes soil and is released into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide can stay for hundreds of years, notoriously trapping heat in our atmosphere, increasing global warming and worsening the climate crisis. 

According to the Environment Agency, soil in the UK alone stores over 10 billion tonnes of carbon, which roughly equates to 80 years of annual UK greenhouse gas emissions. Globally, there is a huge concern that this “hidden pool” of carbon could have significant negative impacts if it is released, with scientists pressing that any threats to soil health in countries such as India and China could expose 2,305 billion tonnes of stored carbon to the environment.

It is imperative that we protect soil and prevent the negative impacts of unhealthy soil, however, the resource is incredibly fragile and under threat due to intensive farming activities. It can take up to 1,000 years to produce just 2-3 cm of soil and can be difficult to monitor just how healthy the earth’s soils are collectively. This highlights the pressing need for a well defined system. One that can be used to clearly monitor soil health, encourage practices and elevate policies that promote saving soil. 


Soil management has wide implications for achieving environmental policies

The race to climate neutrality has led to policies and regulation around monitoring and reducing overall emissions, which includes maintaining healthy soils. More than 150 countries pledged to improve soil health at the Cop28 climate summit last year, and it is expected that more soil laws are due to follow, with the recent Soil Monitoring and Resilience Law by the European Parliament Committee being just one example.

However, data within agriculture is often fragmented, creating significant barriers for key stakeholders who wish to communicate and collaborate. Without a universal system for monitoring soil and sharing data, making progress becomes very challenging.


Data sharing facilitates preservation of Soil

Everyone has a vital role to play in this transition towards a healthier planet. From scientists, farmers, governments and businesses, collaboration will be  essential to protecting the world’s soils. Varda is playing its part in this journey, with the development of SoilHive, a digital tool to catalyse collaboration within the food and agricultural industry. 

SoilHive is a free platform that allows users to discover, compare and share soil data across multiple databases in real time. The solution enables the expansion of soil data availability and identifies soil data gaps across geographies which can then be formed into crucial soil data insights. The aim of SoilHive is to facilitate seamless data sharing across key stakeholders and to maintain soil health globally, this requires soil data donation from as many sources as possible. 

By donating data, all stakeholders in the food and agricultural supply chain can collaboratively work together to protect soil and reduce carbon emissions being released into the atmosphere. Soil data can be used to support new soil practice laws and policies, with farmers, agronomists, regulatorary parties and more having access to monitor and safeguard soils. With a shared goal to make the world a healthier place, we need to work together to future-proof our planet and combat the climate crisis.


Visit our SoilHive website to learn more and donate your data.


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