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Earthwatch Europe researchers identify opportunity for citizen science-led soil health monitoring to contribute to Sustainable Development Goal indicators

A new paper co-authored by Earthwatch Europe researchers Josephine Head and Martha Crockatt presents the poor representation of soil in various multilateral agreements focused on sustainability, including the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This is despite soils being vital to life on earth and essential to sustainable development.

The paper provides a review of existing citizen science methods and platforms for soil health monitoring which could be used to provide data for the SDG indicators relevant to soil health, in order to strengthen and fill gaps of other evaluations.

The SDGs with particular relevance to soils are:

  • SDG 2 (zero hunger)
  • SDG 3 (good health and wellbeing)
  • SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation)
  • SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities)
  • SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production)
  • SDG 13 (climate action)
  • SDG 14 (life below water)
  • SDG 15 (life on land)

However, according to lead author Josephine Head, ‘despite all SDGs having at least some type of dependence on healthy functioning soils, only one of the 17 SDGs includes a specific soil indicator, and to date the role of soil health in achieving the SDGs has not been well considered’.

The authors identify a host of citizen science methods and toolkits that are (or have the potential to be) appropriate for monitoring different aspects of soil health. However, it also demonstrates the lack of joined-up approaches that link these monitoring methods with soil health targets at national and global levels. The paper concludes that agreement on standardised testing and reporting methods is needed to make global progress against SDG targets, as well as efforts and funds comparable to those available for monitoring air, water and biodiversity. 

The paper also identifies the need to work with farmers and enable them to contribute effectively to soil health management by identifying the most accessible methods and developing simple, reliable, inexpensive soil health toolkits. Alongside this, the paper highlights the importance of collaboration between stakeholders and the role of citizen science in facilitating this and supporting a shift towards farmer-led, data-driven decision-making.  

Read the paper

Head, J.S., Crockatt, M.E., Didarali, Z., Woodward, M-J., Emmett, B.A. The Role of Citizen Science in Meeting SDG Targets around Soil Health. Sustainability 2020, 12(24), 10254

More in this category: « Save our soils


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