Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation
Justice, Peace, Integrity<br /> of Creation

Soil defence, a common good and a priority

17.12.2022 Gianfranco Laccone Translated by: Jpic-jp.org

Soil performs a strategic function (we live on it) and, as with other goods, everyone would have an interest in keeping it in good condition. Inexplicably, it is neglected and the reasons for this are paradoxically rational, since they are aimed at justifying the productive activities that insist on the soil.


Why we must defend the soil

Agriculture is one of the human activities that shows evidence of this paradox and is the one that best identifies the human species’ effects on the changing behaviour on the land. The numerous studies that have analysed these changes have listed their effects in the transition from traditional agriculture, to capitalist agriculture and, finally, to globalised market agriculture, the result of the introduction of finance into agricultural exchange systems and the inclusion of trade in agricultural products in the WTO (World Trade Organisation). Erosion, soil salinisation, and the planet desertification of the vast areas are largely due to human intervention, and on this fact no longer is the isolated researchers’ point of view, but the construction of international agreements between states has begun.  

Since everyone agrees that it is necessary to restore certain aspects of agricultural soil efficiency and fertility that its excessive use has dissipated, soil protection would seem to be something widely shared.

Instead, the economic recipes used have gone in the opposite direction and investments have considered soil as something that can be enhanced through its more intensive use. Crushed under climate change, war, pandemics, economic and food crises, we consider soil protection, a minor handmaiden of development, as non-priority, preferring investments with higher returns, capable of having an immediate impact on companies and states’ budgets. The danger of abandoning soil conservation activities therefore becomes real.

Why the market economy does not help to protect the soil

After decades of socio-economic analysis, we can say that the more we try to address a strategic vision of soil by linking it to a collective interest, the more the proposed solutions must address economic issues from a different perspective than the historical one of growth and development, even in its sustainable version. The reason for this lies in the fact that there only the market seems to provide legitimacy for any intervention to protect the soil.

A first piece of evidence for this statement is that soil protection is not considered a normal activity linked to the utilisation cycle of the soil asset, as is the case for any other economic asset whose reintegration is accounted for with depreciation quotas. For soil, the reinstatement function is dependent on the various economic activities that take place on it: the value of which varies according to their market value and in relation to the functions performed (improvement of the productive structure, depollution, and land reclamation).

Thus, land value only partially incorporates the value of soil defence and the economy, pushing for increased production (and profit) marches at a pace and in a direction very different from the pace and direction required by defence and protection processes.

One should not be surprised if soil is only defended when it becomes economically rentable and if its defence is made a market subject, with the consequent application of all its relevant laws and rules.

Parcelling, privatisation and the division between town and country have led to soils being regarded very differently depending on whether they fall into the category of urban or rural soils. The basic problem is that soil protection is at the urban populations’ benefit -the our continent majority population -, who do not understand this interest and offload every aspect of the problem onto agriculture, a sector occupying the majority of soils with its economic activity and which in Europe engages only a small minority of the population. Even in the field of agriculture, there is little interest in soil protection for a variety of reasons. Among the main economic reasons is the fact that production does not repay an investment in this direction and the division of ownership makes it even less attractive for individuals to take action that has a considerable cost disconnected from profit in the short term.

For soil protection, due to climate change and an instable situation of this productive base, there is a need to find not only adequate technical tools but also timely and capillary communication systems. There is also a need to include actions in a coordinated intervention of all administrations (public or private, central or decentralised) that acts according to a less narrow logic than that resulting from 'market failure' and offers less limited solutions than those derived from it. Emblematic is the insufficiency and inadequacy found in the monetisation of pollution rights and the intervention developed in almost all cases of major pollution so far on the planet. A different theory from market failures can only result from a different market theory and from a system of values disregarding the current assumption that the market is always and in any case the community or the state social life independent centre.

Why a different cultural approach is needed

Why is it that after catastrophes caused by soil neglect, we fail to act differently?

It is not because the problems were not clear enough before. In Italy, “We experienced the floods in Polesine, Florence, Calabria, Valtellina, Liguria; we followed Law 183 and understood that soil is an issue that is to be dealt with the consciousness of responsibility. There is no constant commitment; there is no real culture of soil defence in preventive terms. There is the culture of repairing damage." These are the terms in which the problem was presented in 1992 in the report Investigation of hydraulic-forestry works by the then Head of the Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Resources Italian Forestry Corps.

In its conclusions, the research team said, “Prevention is one thing, restoration is another, and reconstruction is another. According to the research, the heritage of works carried out in the past in the mountain basins is in a satisfactory state of conservation. It confirms the goodness of their execution, but in order to guarantee efficiency in the future as well, it is necessary to urgently implement a careful and continuous maintenance action, in order to obtain, in the areas subject to intervention, the maximum environmental effects through a prudent work of naturalistic recovery."

If not all this has been achieved in thirty years, perhaps it is not just a matter of ill will or malfeasance, but of a way of thinking incapable of prioritising medium- and long-term problems. It is current market ideology the immediate profit search and the privilege of low-cost action making it difficult to carry out soil protection measures. This removal is easier if one is not directly involved (as in the case of urban dwellers) and if the responsibility for action is dispersed among different institutions or left to the initiative of private individuals, as in the case of restoration and protection of small inter-country works. If the problem is to react to market stimuli, medium- and long-term evaluations are limited to factors with a high market value or capable of attracting capital in the long term, and soil protection does not appear belonging to this sphere, as works such as 'the bridge over the Strait of Messina' do.

When values other than exclusively economic ones came into play, the path of development reconsideration was interrupted and thirty years were not enough time to propose acceptable solutions at the various world conferences; the same agreements signed and renewed from conference to conference (from Rio, to Kyoto, to the present day), have suffered slowdowns and postponements.

If such is the situation with regard to the major problems linked to the fate of the planet, it is not surprising to see the indifference in which issues such as soil conservation have been abandoned, dismissed as local facts or, rather, as specific and limited problems: emergencies to be dealt case-by-case and on case-by-case basis. Marginalising agricultural activity and reducing it to a cost-efficiency issue has contributed to this effect, paradoxically pushing back the development of the countryside and cutting the use of new technologies from the relationship with the land.

Parochialisation, privatisation and the division between town and country must be overcome through complex interventions that make their sum greater than the value of individual interventions.

Considering the protection of the land as a common good is the only way forward so that farmers and citizens, large companies and small landowners, state-owned land and urban complexes can find common foundations for truly integrated economic systems, in which the global and the local can have a common language. How this can be achieved and by what means is the task of a renewed theory of the 'economic fact', not independent of the 'social fact' as has been the case up to now, but functional to it and linked to a system of relations between persons adapted to the needs of the times.

See, La difesa del suolo, bene comune, una priorità?

Leave a comment