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This year, the World Food Council joined with the United Nations Convention in its fight against desertification in order to give out its prestigious Future Policy Award 2017. The 4 per 1000 Initiative, aimed at increasing the storage of carbon in agricultural soils, is one of the seven policies being considered for the award this year, which will be given out in September during the COP 13. The 4 per 1000 Initiative, initially launched by France, is now an international initiative with a global governance structure.

Organized each year by the World Future Council foundation, the Future Policy Award is designed to encourage innovative public policies that will have positive effects for future generations. In each edition, the foundation chooses a particular theme for which new policies are distinguished in order to create a more just and sustainable future.

Taking advantage of the 13th Conference of the Parties (COP) on the fight against desertification, which will take place in China from Sept. 6 to 16 of this year, the World Future Council is hoping this year to distinguish the most remarkable initiatives against soil degradation and desertification. In this spirit, a jury of experts coming from governments, universities, international organizations and civil society selected seven exemplary public policies for consideration, one of which is the innovative 4 per 1000 Initiative.

According to the United Nations, the loss of arable soils is today 30 to 35 times more rapid than in the past. Desertification and deforestation, caused by human activities and climate change, are major challenges with disastrous repercussions on the lives and means of subsistence of populations. It is estimated that 135 million people risk displacement if no action is implemented to rehabilitate degraded lands. The cause of this is the lack of continuity in policies but also deforestation, the overgrazing of fields and low performance irrigation systems.

Based on the observation that soils constitute the largest stock of carbon, researchers from the French Institute for Agronomic Research (INRA) set up the principle of 4 per 1000. By capturing CO2 in the air through photosynthesis, a plant absorbs carbon. When this plant then decomposes in the soil, the carbon is then transferred to the soil in the form of organic matter. The soil then becomes more fertile and resilient.

By thus increasing the organic matter in soils each year by 4 grams per 1000 grams of CO2 already stocked, we would be able to address a triple challenge: assure better food security for populations, adapt food systems to climate change disruptions, and lessen greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere.

Launched on the international scene during the COP21 global climate summit in Paris in November 2015, the 4 per 1000 Initiative invited all signatory partners of the common declaration to spread information about and put in place concrete actions for storing carbon in the soils, as well as the best methods for doing so (agro-ecology, agroforestry, or conservation agriculture, for example).