Soil is one of the most critical natural resources on our planet. It is a living ecosystem that provides the foundation for plant growth, which in turn supports all life on Earth. The importance of soil for human existence cannot be overstated. Soil is the basis for food production, fiber, fuel, and other essential products that humans rely on for survival.
For instance, soil plays a vital role in supporting agriculture. Agriculture is the foundation of the global food system. Soil provides the nutrients, water, and physical support that plants need to grow. Without fertile soil, crops would not be able to grow, and food production would be severely limited.
Soil also purifies the water we drink, acting as a natural filter, removing pollutants and impurities from water as it moves through the soil profile.
Furthermore, soil is crucial for mitigating climate change. Soil stores a vast amount of carbon, which can be released into the atmosphere through land-use changes, erosion, and other factors. By maintaining healthy soil, we can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which helps to slow the rate of warming.
Data access and innovation to preserve our soils
Unfortunately, this precious resource is limited and also extremely fragile, in fact it can take up to 1000 years to produce 2-3 cm of soil, but just a moment to destroy it. Human activities, such as intensive farming is increasingly threatening our soils, speeding up soil degradation and erosion.
To preserve our soils and to make sure our land resources are managed effectively, technological innovation and access to reliable data can be key allies for agriculture and the food industry, as data can become knowledge in the hands of people who can use it to manage soil better.
For this reason, Varda created SoilHive, a soil knowledge platform with the function of collecting data from multiple sources in one single location and is accessible by many stakeholders from the farming, academia, business and the governance sector.
SoilHive: Overcoming the obstacles to soil data accessibility
SoilHive’s function is to overcome several obstacles that impair the accessibility of soil data in agriculture and that also hinder collaboration across the ag industry:
Fragmentation of ag data is making it difficult to locate and access the necessary information. Often, researchers and practitioners are aware that data exists but struggle to find it, whether it's because it's stored in different databases, in various formats or in different organisations. This can lead to wasted time and resources in searching for the relevant data, hindering the ability to make informed decisions and develop evidence-based strategies.
Limited interoperability in agriculture; for example, there are numerous data formats, lack of standards, and no quick ways to aggregate information across the industry, making it difficult to integrate data from different sources effectively and efficiently. This can result in incomplete or inaccurate data analysis, reducing the usefulness of the information.
Another challenge is the lack of cooperation due to data privacy and competitive concerns. Some stakeholders may be hesitant to share data due to privacy concerns or a desire to protect their competitive advantage. This can lead to data silos, where information is not shared, making it difficult to identify trends or patterns that could lead to improved decision-making.
Although SoilHive doesn’t directly solve the challenge of lack of cooperation, the aim is to offer a tool that can collect and organise the data made available and showcase the mutual benefits of sharing soil data openly, in the hope that, in time, it will motivate more stakeholders to do the same.
A tool to support soil health and innovation
Through the SoilHive platform it’s possible to discover, share and compare data.
Data producers can present their data on one single platform, making it accessible to a wide range of users, who in turn, can retrieve soil data from multiple data sources by selecting an area of interest. In this way, results are centralised and accessible with just a few clicks, saving time for the person conducting the research. For easy visualisation, the data will be presented on a map that can also be downloaded for external use.
SoilHive can be a very useful tool in the hands of businesses that need soil data from a secure and reliable source, to develop new products for agriculture. Governmental institutions and academics can also benefit from a centralised platform, that can help collect information in an efficient way, to support policy decisions and drive projects.
Compare soil data at spatial and temporal level across different databases. Users have the option to compare soil data from one or two locations, within a specified time frame, and across different databases available. The result of the query can be easily visualized and downloaded in a tabular format. Often, comparing soil data can be challenging due to differences in data types, unit of measurement, and analytical methods. To address this issue, the SoilHive team is gathering and organizing all relevant information to ensure meaningful comparisons.
The SoilHive platform also offers two spatial filters, these features allow to identify the agroecosystem of the land. The first one, agroecological zones, define areas with similar climatic condition and similar agricultural production. The second filter, land cover, is based on the material or vegetation present on a particular plot of land, distinguishing them by macro categories such as forest type, build up areas, or agricultural regions.
Facilitate the identification of soil data gaps across regions to drive soil data donations and soil sampling campaigns. The goal of the platform is to create a tool with comprehensive knowledge on soil health, mapping all geographies. Through the SoilHive’s interface it will be possible to check in which areas of the world there is missing soil data, to launch soil donation campaigns to collect the necessary data.
Building soil knowledge together
SoilHive wants to act as a ‘soil data hub’ to support more informed decision and in-depth analysis that will drive better soil management and provide insights for innovations in the agricultural sector.
However, SoilHive will truly be impactful in providing valuable data if a comprehensive amount of data is entered into the platform. Scientists, farmers, governments and businesses, all have a key role to play by sharing their soil data to support the effort to protect our world soils.
Varda has been actively driving this project to bring together stakeholders and collaborators that want to cooperate to protect our planet’s soil health. Succeeding in managing our soil health more responsibly can only happen if we overcome barriers to collaboration by donating soil data and in turn start benefitting from the knowledge shared by others.
Visit our SoilHive website and reach out to collaborate.