Food Security: Reason Enough for Better Soil Protection?


Food security refers to a country's ability to produce the food needed by its population. Swiss policy should probably do more quickly in this regard to meet its self-set goals.

About half of the calories consumed in Switzerland for human nutrition need to be imported. The other half is produced within our national borders on arable land through agriculture. These soils are under pressure, as climate change, drought, and overuse related to agricultural production take their toll. This is the conclusion of a study by the agricultural research institute Agroscope, published in October 2023.

Consequently, politics sees it as imperative to preserve the so-called crop rotation areas, i.e., agriculturally usable land, wherever possible. Based on a nutrition plan, the Federal Council already determined in 1992 that a total area of 438,460 hectares should theoretically be available for food cultivation. This amount of arable land should be sufficient to provide for about 8 million people in times of lacking food imports (if they would significantly change their eating habits and consume much fewer animal products).


Without addressing the misjudged population growth, one can easily derive that we should take much better care of our soils. Besides their function as a basis for food production, they also have a regulatory function as a hub of natural cycles. They absorb basic substances of life, transform them, and make them available again for organisms, while also breaking down pollutants. Furthermore, healthy soils store water and thus lead to fewer floods in the event of increasing heavy rainfall. Humus stores twice as much carbon as the atmosphere, making it an important tool in the fight against rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere. Last but not least, soils serve as a rooting space for plants and are not only the basis of all terrestrial habitats but also represent a biotope themselves: About a quarter of all known species inhabit the soils, not including microorganisms.

Picture: Jed Owen

As can be read on the website of the Federal Office for Environmental Protection Bafu, the Confederation has therefore launched a so-called soil strategy: "Net zero soil loss by the year 2050: This is a core goal of the soil strategy adopted by the Federal Council in May 2020." A sobering limitation is immediately provided: "Currently, we are still far from this." Various problems stand in the way of achieving net zero soil loss – on the one hand, there is erosion, which affects around 40% of the fields according to Bafu, and on the other hand, there is the diligent activity of the construction industry.


The Agroscope research paper on our country's food security from 2023 unsurprisingly captures numerous factors such as the global market situation, the effects of inflation, or extreme weather conditions. The actual performance of Swiss soils and the long-term guarantee of their quality is not really an issue, except for expressions of concern regarding increasing construction activity. It is obvious that in a densely populated country like Switzerland, which is under high immigration pressure, securing the quality of agriculturally used soils is very difficult.

Meanwhile, the consequences of the Russian aggressive war against Ukraine have shown that globalization is no longer a guarantee for the availability of food at will or is even being reversed. Therefore, it should be more than a pious concern of naive environmental freaks that Swiss soils are increasingly monitored and protected with a certain rigor or regenerated in extreme cases. Otherwise, politics will soon no longer be able to guarantee our food security to the narrowly measured extent of 50%.


Among all the number crunching, the question also arises as to how soil quality is actually measured. This is not so simple – the properties of soils can vary greatly over small areas, a fact that connoisseurs have long known from the discussion about the terroir concept in viticulture. The federal government cannot monitor the soils everywhere with its own experts, which is why a research project titled "Spatenprobe" was launched. On the corresponding website, farmers can learn to measure the quality of their soils uniformly and monitor it over time. The project was launched in the hope that agriculture itself would recognize when there is a need for action regarding the regeneration of soils and that farmers would take responsibility if the results cause concern.

Soil to Soul sees itself as a movement for the protection of our soils and is committed to ensuring that in the future, food will no longer be produced as standard in intensive agriculture with the use of heavy machinery and synthetically produced fertilizers. To achieve this goal, our means of choice is the concept of regenerative agriculture with its great openness to all other methods – organic is often right, but not always mandatory and certainly not reliably cost-covering. Soil to Soul advocates for politics to increasingly point out the problem of diminishing soil quality and not only manage the consequences of soil loss but also inform more, protect more, and invest more in the rebuilding of humus.


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