RESilient to Climate CHange Extremes MeDiterranean AgricUltural Systems: LEveraging the Power of Soil Health and Associated Microbiota

The Soil Health Concept and its Evolution

The first report including the term “Soil Health” appeared in the literature in 1910. Until 1990s when a formal definition appears (Pankhurst et al., 1997), the term soil health is rarely reported (Brevic, 2017). Thereafter, the concern on soil health concept followed an exponential increase. Currently, several organizations or agencies have provided definitions. For instance:

“The continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living system, within ecosystem and land-use boundaries, to sustain biological productivity, promote the quality of air and water environments, and maintain plant, animal, and human health” (Pankhurst et al., 1997).

“The capacity of soil to function as a living system, with ecosystem and land use boundaries, to sustain plant and animal productivity, maintain or enhance water and air quality, and promote plant and animal health. healthy soils maintain a diverse community of soil organisms that help to control plant disease, insect and weed pests, form beneficial symbiotic associations with plant roots; recycle essential nutrients; improve soil structure with positive repercussions for soil water and nutrient holding capacity, and ultimately improve crop production” (FAO, 2008).

“The continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans” (USDA).

“The continued capacity of soils to provide ecological functions for all forms of life, in line with the sustainable development goals and the green deal” (EC Board of Soil Health and Food, 2020).

Although conceptually these definitions converge towards the living component of soils and ecosystems in general, and more recently further extended to explicitly establish links with environmental benefits and developmental goals (Mission, 2020), operationally no widely accepted assessment framework exists (up to 65). Particularly, the EC Mission recommends the inclusion of biodiversity as key indicator of soil health, but several challenges yet exist. RESCHEDULE aims to operationalize and leverage the information derived from microbial diversity to enable its use for soil health evaluation as well as improve the resilience of farming systems to climate change.

Expected impacts

In summary, RESCHEDULE outcomes are expected to have a strong impact on the adaptation of the Mediterranean smallholder farms to climate change and variability through the evaluation, adaptation and promotion of ecological-friendly solutions targeting the restoration of SOM and soil microbiota. RESCHEDULE activities minimize the adverse effects of smallholder farms on key resources leading to positive impacts on a wide spectrum of societal challenges, including human health, environmental quality, food security, land degradation, and economic prosperity.