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France’s innovative 4 per 1000 Initiative: Soils for Food Security and Climate has made significant progress over the past year in preparation for the COP22 climate change conference taking place now in Marrakesh, Morocco.

As a reminder, the 4 per 1000 Initiative was launched by France in 2015 to bring together all willing partners (national governments, local and regional government, companies, trade organizations, NGOs, research facilities, and others) to commit together in a voluntary action plan to implement farming practices that maintain or enhance soil carbon stock on as many agricultural soils as possible and to preserve carbon-rich soils. Scientific studies have found that an annual increase of 0.4% of carbon stored in soils would make it possible to stop the present increase in atmospheric CO2, which is a major contributor to the greenhouse effect and climate change.

The aim of the Initiative is to demonstrate that agriculture, and agricultural soils in particular, can play a crucial role where food security and climate change are concerned. Some ways that agriculture can achieve this is by using innovative techniques such as no-till farming practices, which increase the amount of microorganisms present in soils and increase soil fertility and carbon sequestration. Other examples include the promotion of agroforestry, introducing more intermediate crops, restoring soil quality in places with poor conditions, and better landscape management. Increasing carbon sequestration in soils enhances soil fertility and combats land degradation aiming to improve food security.

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Adaptation of agriculture to climate change is another key component of the plan. Climate change will cause increasing disruptions to climate conditions, potentially rendering agricultural yields more unpredictable. Soil degradation poses a threat to more than 40% of the Earth’s land surface, and climate change is accelerating this rate of degradation and threatening food security, leading to potentially disastrous consequences for farmers and the food supply in parts of the world. A goal of the Initiative is thus to make agriculture more resilient in the face of these challenges.

Primarily composed of carbon, the organic matter in soils plays a role in four important ecosystem services: resistance to soil erosion, soil water retention, soil fertility for plants and soil biodiversity. Even small changes of the soil carbon pool have tremendous effects both on agricultural productivity and on greenhouse gas balance.

Maintaining organic carbon-rich soils, restoring and improving degraded agricultural lands and, in general terms, increasing the soil carbon, play an important role in addressing the three-fold challenge of food security, adaptation of food systems and people to climate change, and the mitigation of anthropogenic emissions. To achieve this, concrete solutions do exist and need to be scaled up.

The Initiative engages stakeholders in a transition towards a productive, resilient agriculture, based on a sustainable soil management and generating jobs and incomes, hence ensuring sustainable development.

Multiple actions were taken in 2016 to advance this ambitious, global-scale project. The international governance structure was finalized and put in place, creating a Consortium for the Initiative to create a general management structure, and is also composed of a Forum of the Partners to the Initiative, a Research Program and an International Scientific and Technical Committee to coordinate on and share research developments.

Additionally, the International Secretariat was established. The research program is also being finalized as well as a first set of reference criteria for the evaluation of potential projects and actions, founded on the principles and goals of the Initiative, especially for funding organizations.

At the COP 22, on November 17th, a major event for the 4 per 1000 Initiative will be held on the sidelines. It will constitute the first meeting of the governing bodies of the Initiative: The Consortium, the Scientific and Technical Committee and the Forum of the Partners. The goal will be to present the current state of the Initiative, the first “deliverables” (in particular, soil cartography and pilot projects), to adopt a roadmap for 2017-2018 and to provide a real-time exchange between the partners. The day will take place in the presences of numerous ministers, international organization, lenders and civil society actors (NGOs, private companies, etc.). The goal is to allow for real-time exchanges which will set a clear direction for the Initiative in the years to come.

For more information and updates on actions taken in the 4 per 1000 Initiative, please don’t hesitate to visit the Initiative’s website: www.4p1000.org