Investing in Healthy Soils: Curse or Blessing?

At the GFFA expert panel, business representatives and associations consider opportunities and pitfalls of private sector financing for healthy soils. They emphasize the multidimensional advantages of sustainable soil management.

Soils constitute vital carbon sinks. Yet their value reaches far beyond carbon offsetting. © WWF-US/James Morgan

By World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF)

The World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) is one of the largest and most experienced nature conservation organizations in the world and active in more than 100 countries. Around the world, around six million are supporting the WWF.

All contributions

Healthy soils are the capital of our farmers. Investments in healthy soils are therefore investments in the future. However, there are usually not enough specifically tailored financing options to facilitate a transition to sustainable agricultural practices that also conserve our soils and restore and improve their fertility. Furthermore, the market for soil as carbon sink booms and is highly praised as a partial source of funding.

 

Healthy soils help adapt to climate change, are an important carbon sink, regulate and clean water through their porosity, are home to a variety of living things, are important for our nutrient cycles and are the foundation of healthy food. Nevertheless, the area of healthy and fertile soil is decreasing all over the world – and has been for years – even though we need to find balanced ways to feed more and more people

 

75 per cent of the world’s soils are already considered degraded.

 

Rolf Sommer, Director of Agriculture and Land Use Change at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says: ‘Restoring healthy and fertile soils is a triple win: It increases soil productivity and thus promotes food security, improves resilience to climate change, and increases organic matter.

 

In Germany, farmers are also under a lot of pressure to adapt to the climate changes in their region. Small farms in particular often still fall through the cracks here. This is despite the fact that these smallholders produce a third of our global food and do so on a tenth of our agricultural land.  

 

Die befragten Menschen möchten sich aktiver an Food-Governance-Prozessen beteiligen. (c) SLE
Carbon offsetting and net zero initiatives provide initiatives for more sustainable land use practices, yet these cannot replace a holisic political framework such as promoted by the EU. © WWF/Simon Rawles

Carbon markets may become one of the instruments we need to reward the added value of ecosystem services to society – once the money starts flowing. It is particularly difficult for smallholders to get this far in the first place. Rikke Olivera from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) highlights three key aspects that are needed to achieve this transformation: investing in youth, building a market (and supply chains) for a wide range of agricultural products, and shifting financial incentives through subsidies.

 

We often expect a lot from soils, especially when it comes to how they can contribute as carbon sinks to mitigate climate change in the short term. Sommer (WWF) has this to say: ‘We overestimate the potential and have exaggerated expectations of soil as a carbon sink.

 

Soils are not the resolution of the climate crisis, but rather one of the many necessary measures to mitigate climate change.

 

Offsetting through carbon credits could undermine the necessary independent efforts (in other sectors) to reduce CO2 emissions. The agricultural sector needs change, not one-dimensional solutions. It requires a change in farming practices towards holistic soil fertility management.’

 

Sigried Griese, climate and sustainability advisor at the Bioland association, adds: ‘Smaller initiatives are very important as they help to gain experience on how something can be accomplished. But to boost our efforts, we also need a better policy framework. Climate certificates have the potential to promote more sustainable agriculture practices, but they do not compensate for an effective policy framework such as the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which promotes the efforts for environmental public goods.’

 

Opportunities to scale up these concepts could come from the financial sector. The general risk perspective in the financial sector has changed significantly in recent years.

 

Sustainability is now systemically relevant.

 

Investment opportunities with a positive impact are in high demand. Jan Köpper of GLS Bank opines: ‘We need a better valuation of the value created by companies – negative and positive. We need to put this multicapital approach more at the centre of our investment decisions.’

 

Malin Ahlberg from the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection (BMUV) says, specifically regarding soils: ‘We should have a more comprehensive idea of how we want to use our soils to solve both the climate and biodiversity crises. Carbon uptake is an important aspect of healthy soils, including for financing mechanisms. They contribute an even more versatile added value for society, which should also be given value to implement effective instruments for private sector financing.’

 

To sum up, healthy soils and their versatile added value are moving more and more into the spotlight. And they have truly earned it. If we can get politics and the financial market to collaborate, to reward the important work of our farmers cultivating and restoring our soils in a more targeted manner, our soils will continue to be the foundation of our lives.

 

More on the subject can be found on the homepage of the GFFA and WWF.

 

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A fresh opportunity

Interview with Lutz Hartmann

By leasing a three hundred hectare fruit plantation in Ethiopia, Lutz Hartmann has realised a long-cherished dream: to run his own business in Africa. Now he has a personal interest in the issue of Africa’s development.

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Africa's rapid economic transformation

A report by T. S. Jayne, A. Adelaja and R. Mkandawire

Thirty years ago, Africa was synonymous with war, famine and poverty. That narrative is clearly outdated. African living standards are rising remarkably fast. Our authors are convinced that improving education and entrepreneurship will ensure irreversible progress in the region even as it confronts COVID-19.

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(c) Joerg Boethling/GIZ

What it takes now

A contribution by Heike Baumüller

Artificial intelligence, big data and blockchain are the hottest topics of our time. The digital transformation of the African agricultural sector is ready for take-off. What will it take for the future of technology to hit the ground running?

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Kakaoernte

Doing More With Less

A contribution by Jochen Moninger

Innovation is the only way to end hunger worldwide by the deadline we have set ourselves. The secret lies in networking and sharing ideas – and several initiatives are already leading by example.

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Pesticides – a blessing or a curse?

A debate between Lena Luig and Ludger Weß

What are the consequences of using synthetic pesticides in agriculture? Where do they help, where do they harm? Lena Luig, expert for the development policy organization INKOTA, and science journalist Ludger Weß discuss this controversial topic of international scope.

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Reference values: A building block on the road to social equality

A contribution by Friederieke Martin (GIZ)

A quick and cost-effective method calculates living wages and incomes for many different countries. The GIZ together with Fairtrade International and Richard and Martha Anker have developed a tool that companies can use to easily analyse income and wage gaps.

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Ms Rudloff, what are the benefits of a supply chain law?

By Jan Rübel

The Federal Government is fine-tuning a law that would require companies to ensure human rights – a supply chain law. What are the consequences for the agricultural sector? Dr Bettina Rudloff from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) discusses linking policy fields with added value.

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KLAUS WOHLMANN / GIZ

Wanted: German investment in African agriculture

Interview with Stefan Liebing

Stefan Liebing is chairman of the Africa Association of German Business. The manager calls for a better structure of African farms. Jan Rübel asked him about small farmers, the opportunities for German start-ups and a new fund.

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Freed from trade? Towards a fairer EU Trade Agenda

A contribution by Dr. Jan Orbie (University Gent)

‘Fair’ and ‘sustainable’ are key words in Germany’s EU Council Presidency. At the same time, Germany pursues ‘modernization’ of the WTO and ‘rapid progress’ on free trade agreements. Are these goals really compatible? Can we be concerned about fairness and sustainability while continuing with ‘business as usual’?

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Innovations for a secure food supply

A contribution by German Agribusiness Alliance

The COVID 19 pandemic is hitting developing and emerging countries and their poorest populations particularly hard. It is important to take countermeasures at an early stage. Companies in the German agricultural sector want to make their contribution to ensuring the availability of urgently needed operating resources.

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Good health is impossible without healthy food

A contribution by Heino von Meyer

Corona makes it even more difficult to achieve a world without hunger by 2030. So that this perspective does not get out of sight, Germany must play a stronger role internationally - a summary of the Strategic Advisory Group of SEWOH.

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(c) Privat

Human Rights, Land and Rural Development

A contribution by Michael Windfuhr (German Institute for Human Rights)

Land rights are no longer governed by the law of the strongest. That is what the international community has agreed to. Governments and private companies have a duty to respect human rights and avoid corruption.

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JOERG BOETHLING / GIZ

Continent in an uptrend

A report by Dr. Agnes Kalibata (AGRA)

Partnering for Africa’s Century: Innovation and Leadership as Drivers of Growth and Productivity in Rural Areas

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A new attempt at Africa's industrialization?

A contribution by Helmut Asche

Afrika is about ready. There are promising approaches for a sustainable industrialization. However, the path poses challenges to the continent.

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(c) Privat

Small Farms, big money

A contribution by Agnes Kalibata

Agnes Kalibata, AGRA president since 2014 and former minister of agriculture and wildlife in Rwanda, is convinced that Africa's economy will only grow sustainably if small-scale agriculture is also seen as an opportunity.

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How can the private sector prevent food loss and waste?

An interview with David Brand (GIZ)

From a circular food system in Rwanda to functioning cooled transports in Kenya: The lab of tomorrow addresses development challenges such as preventing food loss and waste

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From lost products to safe food - Innovations from Zambia

A contribution by GIZ

In Zambia, innovative approaches are used to address the problem of post-harvest losses in the groundnut value chain. GIZ's Rapid Loss Appraisal Tool (RLAT) can help to develop more such approaches.

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Controversy: Do supply chains need liability rules?

Discussion about the potential supply chain law

The German government is struggling to pass a supply chain law. It is intended to address violations of human rights, social and environmental standards. What would the consequences be for business? A double interview with Veselina Vasileva from GEPA and economics professor Andreas Freytag.

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