An EU-China seminar on the topic of farmland ecosystems and soil health took place on 25 January at the European Union (EU) Delegation in Beijing. Ahmatjan Rouzi attended the event on behalf of the DCZ and contributed to the discussion. The seminar marks the second exchange between the European Commission and the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture (MARA) on this topic. Both the EU and China face many common challenges as they seek solutions that will feed a growing world population while protecting global goods such as soils and farmland ecosystems.
The event commenced with opening remarks by XING Kexia, Director General of the Rural Environment and Energy Agency (REEA) at the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (MARA) and Catherine COMBETTE, Head of Unit Asia and Australasia, DG Agriculture of the EU Commission. Both speakers emphasized the importance of soil health for food security and advocated bilateral cooperation on soil-health related issues.
In a session on farmland ecosystem resilience, HAO Weiping from the Institute of Environment and Sustainable Development in Agriculture at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) discussed strategies to enhance soil resilience and productivity in dryland agriculture. According to his presentation, 40% of global soils can be classified as drylands, highlighting their significance for food security. He listed soil degradation, soil salinization, and desertification as major issues in these regions. According to Prof. Hao, soil health in these regions can be improved by increasing rain water productivity, enhancing biodiversity, as well as through measures that increase soil fertility and carbon storage. A new approach that explores the soil-surface-canopy nexus could represent a novel method to improve soil health, he stated.
FENG Hao from China’s Northwest A&F University put the focus on soil and water conservation in farmlands. Soil degradation and water loss are serious issues on China’s loess plateau, Prof. Feng told the audience, but joint soil restoration efforts by the local government and Northwest A&F University have successfully restored some grassland areas.
Manuel MARTINEZ from the Murcia Institute for Research and Development on Agriculture and Food, Spain shared experiences of dryland farming in Murcia. The region uses carbon sink methods to improve soils, making it center for organic almond production in Spain.
Luis SANCHEZ ALVAREZ from the DG Agriculture of the EU Commission introduced EU initiatives and regulations on soil health, including the EU Directive on Soil Monitoring and Resilience, the Mission Soil Initiative, the Farm-to-Fork Strategy, soil health and pollution map EDAPHOS, and others. He stressed that all these efforts use state-of-the-art digital technologies and decision support tools, assisting EU policy makers to come up with sensible soil protection measures.
A second session looked more closely at the protection of farmland ecosystem. JU Xiaotong from Hainan University discussed benchmarks for controlling nitrate pollution in farmland. Excessive use of nitrogen fertilizer is a major issue for soil health and ground water quality in China and a leading cause of eutrophication. Wheat-maize intercropping has proven very successful in reducing nitrate pollution, Prof. Ju told the audience. It is also part of a 2020 plan by the Chinese government to halt the increase in fertilizer use.
GAO Li from the Institute of Plant Protection at CAAS discussed the micro-biomes’ contribution to controlling wheat diseases such as dwarf bunt is caused by the soil-born pathogen Tilletia controvers. Prof. Gao’s research results showed the potential of some bacteria and fungus species to reduce disease in different wheat varieties.
Controlling nitrate in farmland was also the focus of a presentation by Victor HUIDOBRO JAUREGUI from the DG Land Use & Management of the EU Commission. He discussed the implementation of the EU Nitrate Directive (2016-2019) and its impact on regulating nitrate levels in agricultural water. Pangoes PANOS, Scientific Officer at the EU Commission, discussed soil phosphorous balances in the EU. While the EU has achieved a phosphorous surplus, using process-based models, phosphorous loss in China mainly stemmed from the large-scale deforestation campaigns carried out between 1980 and 2000, he explained.
In a third session on the remediation of farmland ecosystems, SU Shiming from the Institute of Environment and Sustainable Development in Agriculture at CAAS discussed remediation measures for heavy metal pollution in farmland soil. He outlined the severity of heavy metal pollution in Chinese soil and laid out national initiatives on soil remediation efforts. New technologies to remove some heavy metals through hyperaccumulation yielded some positive results. Promoting environmentally friendly agriculture is the best way to prevent or reduce heavy metal pollution, Prof. Su stressed.
LI Lingjuan from Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University discussed crop rotation and the role of fertilization in shaping the rhizosphere. Scientific Officer Felipe YUNTA MEZQUITA from the Joint Research Centre of the EU Commission discussed metal and pesticide pollution in agricultural land in the EU and introduced the LUCAS soil pesticide project.
In the concluding discussion, the participating scientists, diplomats, and the representatives of international organizations unanimously agreed that increased cooperation and exchange on soil health between Europe and China would be mutually beneficial in addressing common challenges such as food security and climate change.