Solution Cluster 3.3.3

Coalition of Action 4 Soil Health (CA4SH)

Soil health is the foundation of our food systems. It is also critical to climate change mitigation and adaptation, enhancing above and belowground biodiversity, contributing to environmental restoration goals, and increasing food and nutrition security. Today’s soils face an unprecedented crisis. Over 40% of the Earth surface is currently degraded. Topsoil is being lost at a rate of around 75 billion tons annually, and soil carbon stocks are depleted by around 40-60%, equal to USD $400bn in lost agricultural production. Degraded agricultural soils negatively impact around 3.2 billion people.

Numerous soil-focused initiatives, hubs and platforms already exist, providing information, data and advocacy roles on a range of issues, including enhancing soil biodiversity, and protecting soil carbon. Yet, farmers and land managers face critical economic, structural, and technical capacity barriers to adopting and scaling healthy soil practices. These include:

  • Lack of an effective coordination mechanism along value chains to deliver soil health and broader ecosystem restoration, including mineral and organic (peatland) soils;
  • Few sustainable finance and investment models that facilitate scaling and are inclusive of smallholder farmers;
  • Dearth of policies and incentives for promoting soil health and conserving agro-ecosystem services;
  • Lack of tools, frameworks, and innovation to cost-effectively measure soil health

These constraints disproportionally impact the world’s 1.7 billion smallholder farmers who are regularly excluded from accessing finance, productive inputs and information needed to optimize farm production. Empowering them and addressing the present public and private gap in nature investment, holds to the key to widespread adoption of soil health practices.

Dialogues and actions in the run up to the UNFSS are shining a light on the importance of healthy soils in delivering the productive and sustained ecosystems needed to transform food systems to nature-, people and climate-positive. The need to restore soils, and in particular enhance and protect its organic carbon content, has gained momentum over recent years through the UNCCD Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) goals. By promoting investment in profit-generating sustainable land management and land restoration projects, LDN is contributing to not only the symptoms arising from degraded soils, but also the causes that perpetuate unsustainable soil management. Traction is also building through the “4 per 1000” initiative adopted at COP21 in Paris, 2015; Adapting African Agriculture launched at COP 22 in Marrakech, 2016, and Platform on Climate Action in Latin America at COP 25 in Madrid/Santiago, 2019. The launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) adds further weight to calls to galvanize local, national, and global actions to restore degraded ecosystems.

The 2018 publication, The Business Case for Investing in Soil Health indicates growing interest from the private sector in investment opportunities that recognise soil, and particularly soil carbon, as a critical value-chain asset and attractive return on investment. Furthermore, a session organized during the November UNFCCC Race to Zero event co-hosted by the 4 per 1000 Initiative, World Farmers Organisation and WBCSD Soil as a Climate Solution: Getting to Scale, has coalesced a number of organizations around the topic. More recently, a joint publication with the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers in Action (USFRA), Transformative Investment in Climate-Smart Agriculture, highlighted the scope and scale of the opportunity in the United States. The Coalition to Soil Health Call to Action submitted by the Private Sector Guiding Group (PSGG) to the Pre-Summit, identified the development of more effective financial mechanisms and investment solutions as key to supporting farmers in their adoption of better soil management practices and scaling healthy soil agricultural practices.

About this Solution Cluster

Establish a multi-stakeholder coalition to facilitate the adoption and scaling of restoration practices that improve soil health in productive landscapes through investment and policy action. Specifically, value-added proposition of CA4SH is to develop global coordinating and operating mechanisms and processes (including tools for monitoring outcomes across different scales) to guide and catalyze public and market-based private sector investments in soil health as a foundational and proactive response for addressing food and nutrition security, climate change, socioeconomic returns and growth, productivity, and rural livelihoods), biodiversity, climate and nature.

Establishing CA4SH provides an opportunity to enhance collaboration and galvanize a critical mass of members states, civil society, research institutions, UN agencies, development actors, and food and agriculture companies, and other key stakeholders to:

  • Enhance collaboration amongst the multiple actors working on soil health issues to attract support from those interested in food and nutrition security. biodiversity, climate change, sustainable and equitable livelihoods, rural development, and other related issues.
  • Engender a systems perspective to addressing barriers to the adoption and scaling of practices to restore soil health.
  • Develop and support globally coordinating and operating mechanisms and processes (including tools for monitoring outcomes across different scales) to guide and catalyze public and market-based private sector investments that incentivise farmers and land managers to restore, manage and protect soil health.
  • More effectively advocate for a unified, systems-focused soil-health agenda across development, environment, and business activities, amplifying voices and mobilizing a strong sense of collective purpose.
  • Aggregate resources and capitalize on increased capacity to leverage funding opportunities, maximize co-benefits across global challenges and sectors, and minimize duplicate efforts and transactions costs.
  • Acknowledge different enabling environments and data contexts and gain support for a tiered system for tracking and monitoring commitments.
  • Develop and promote the use of scientific evidence, standardized indicators, monitoring and evaluation protocols.
  • Build evidence for, and communicate, the business case for public and private investment in soil health, including quantitative and qualitative returns on investment.
  • Encourage and support multi-stakeholder networks and peer-to-peer learning at all levels through virtual platforms.
  • Establish and garner support for a standardized global investment assessment framework, including standards for generating soil carbon credits, credit accounting and monetizing value streams, and aligning financial mechanisms to the famer context.
  • Advocate for widespread repurposing and reform of production incentives where they fail to enhance soil health.
  • Ensure human rights-based approaches address the systemic challenges experienced by priority constituencies, particularly women, Indigenous Peoples, youth, and food producers and food workers within the soil health agenda and actions.

The commitments made by the Coalition are voluntary and include engagement and actions aimed at:

  • being an active member and supporter of the Coalition.
  • aligning soil health related policy across the development, environment, and climate change domains, and along value chains.
  • extending research and development into soil health practices, monitoring and evaluation, and financial tools and mechanisms.
  • better aligning current investments in food production to value chains that enhance soil health.
  • increasing investment in actions that support soil health.

The CA4SH will be operationalized through different regional hubs that are able to support the specific needs and priorities of stakeholders in different geographies. Actions will include:

  • Convene public and private investors and develop stakeholder engagement approaches designed to guide investment into effective soil health actions.
  • Promote research and development that builds on current knowledge and methods for restoring and managing soil health and embeds science in farmer-focused solutions, alongside rigorous monitoring to support evidence-based decision making.
  • Coordinate with the many ongoing science-based initiatives – including those led by farmers – with knowledge and experience to provide mechanisms and guidance for linking investment decisions to soil management best practice.
  • Work with farmers and private sector to design economic incentives and support mechanisms to enable implementation.
  • Establish tiered national and global tracking mechanisms and systems to provide empirical and quantitative data to support a soil health investment framework.
  • Engage in public-private sector policy dialogue to ensure that an enabling environment for promoting soil health.

CA4SH will link with existing initiatives, including 4 per 1000, UNCCD LDN goals, Global Soils Partnership, Living Soils in the Americas, WOCAT, the Soil Health Initiative, RECSOIL, Soils4Climate, the Soils Investment Hub of WBCSD, as well as UNFCCC and CBD and UNFCC Action Track 5, Build Resilience to Vulnerabilities, Shocks and Stress. Together, CA4SH will function as a coordination centre and clearinghouse focused on achieving global soil health by developing a multi-stakeholder platform and bridging between different sectors (public, private, research). Activities will focus on 3 pillars:

A. Science effectively guiding public and private soil health investment, finance, and practices (enable focus on effective efforts)

  • Making the case for ROI on soil health over different spatial-temporal scales (actionable science).
  • Developing investment guidance and indicators with science-based targets.
  • Multi-tiered data system that allows for the combination of systematic measurement and monitoring of soil health with assisted farmer (citizen) collected data.
  • Implementation science roadmap (methods and strategies to apply scientific advances and guidance at different scales).
  • Cost effective soil MRV tools and calibration.

B. Strengthened enabling environment (soil governance and investment reaching farmers)

  • Promote regional and national soil health policies.
  • Develop sustainable public/private financing mechanisms (including those that reach smallholders).
  • Catalyse public private partnerships.
  • Capacity development.

C. Increased innovation, knowledge and access to resources and technology

  • Advance acceptability, accessibility and availability, and affordability.

What is New?

CA4SH brings several new features to the efforts to enhance soil health in food production landscapes:

  • A focus on soil as a unifier across the complex and inter-related global challenges of food and nutrition security, climate change and biodiversity loss.
  • Championing the business case for private investment in soil as a capital asset, and alternative to the current limited number of commodity-focused investments (e.g., coffee, cocoa, palm oil).
  • Alignment of multiple public and private stakeholders to address the nature investment gap and incentivize and reward farmers implementing actions to enhance soil health.
  • Adopting a systemic approach to improving soil health aimed at simultaneously delivering co-benefits to agricultural production, the environment and climate change initiatives that address both adaptation and mitigation.
  • Alignment of grower, investor, financial markets and other key stakeholders along value chains, to collectively address systemic social, economic and technical barriers experienced by farmers in adopting healthy soil practices.

Shift from prescribed actions to enhance soil health, to evidence -based outcomes delivered by non-prescriptive agronomic management approaches.

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