In the Lithuanian soil study – both good and bad news

Farming land
Farming land, DELFI / Orestas Gurevičius

On the Lithuanian Banks’ Association (LBA) initiative, a group of scientists has prepared a geographic study on soil erosion risk assessment in Lithuania. In it, experts analysed the country’s current soil erosion risk situation and presented three scenarios of how the nature and intensity of farming activities and climate change could change it in the future. The findings of this study are of particular importance to the agricultural sector and the businesses that provide services to it and will also be used by the country’s financial institutions in assessing the environmental impact of their financial services, an expectation set by the European Central Bank, group of scientists stated.

The European Commission has launched its Green Deal policy to make Europe the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050. Financial institutions have an essential role to play in achieving this goal. As well as developing strategies for moving towards climate neutrality, they will also assess the environmental impact of their financial services, such as financing economic activities.

“The practical implementation of the Green Deal involves the assessment and data management of a wide range of climate risk factors. In order for financial institutions to assess the environmental impact of the activities they finance, they need data on the actual physical climate change risks posed by economic activities in Lithuania. Having noticed the lack of such data, it was decided to initiate studies, and the results of these studies are invited to be made available to all – both farmers themselves and experts who may be interested in such information”, says Dr Eivilė Čipkutė, President of the Association of Lithuanian Banks.

Independent experts carried out the Lithuanian soil erosion risk assessment study. Prof. Dr. Jonas Volungevičius, Prof. Dr. Darijus Veteikis and Dr. Laurynas Jukna. The scientists identified the degree of soil degradation and erosion risk in agricultural areas in Lithuania. They assessed the impact of the economic activities to be financed on the change in this risk. The data from this study and the earlier LBA-initiated study on Climate Change Risks for the Mid-21st Century are public and open to all.

“It is important that the findings of the study are used not only by the financial sector but also by experts in the field of agricultural strategy, land use and planning policy. The findings of this study are also relevant to the Government’s programme and municipal planning of agricultural land use. But the most important user of the study’s data is agriculture itself”, says Dr Jonas Volungevičius, one of the study’s authors.

The expert stresses that farmers should not be frightened by this report but should only use it as a guide to identify potential risks and management practices that can mitigate these risks and thus enhance soil sustainability.

According to Mr Volungevičius, the study findings are also helpful for companies importing tillage technologies, biochemical and chemical soil improvers and safety products into Lithuania. It will also benefit environmentalists in developing their strategies and making recommendations for optimising the intensity of agricultural activities.

Soil erosion – a consequence of human activity

In Lithuania, the problem of soil erosion in agricultural areas has developed over the last 70-80 years, when intensive agricultural strategies have been developed and implemented, and soil has been used to maximise the efficiency of farming activities.

“The fact that Lithuania’s territory looks relatively good in the context of soil erosion and relation to other European countries is not due to our country. It is due to geographical conditions,” says Mr Volungevičius. He says Lithuania is located in a zone of moisture surplus, with a predominantly flat, undulating or gently undulating terrain. These conditions are favourable for lush vegetation. Soil erosion is easily controlled in such a landscape by judicious farming.

According to the expert, the situation in Lithuania is different, which is due to the territorial distribution of hilly and plain agroecosystems. On average, about 18-19% of agricultural soils in Lithuania are eroded. The number of municipalities with above-average indicators is small – about 10, mostly in south-eastern Lithuania.

According to the researcher’s data, the most challenging situation is in the territory of Utena municipality, where 55% of agricultural land is eroded, and the situation is worse in Alytus, Zarasai and Molėtai municipalities. He points out that the share of eroded soil is calculated only on agricultural land.

The results of a study on the degree and risk of soil cover erosion in Lithuania have shown that, to optimise the development of the agricultural sector and its financing in the context of climate change and the ecological sustainability of the landscape, significant attention needs to be paid to regional agricultural policy and to the differentiation of the measures to support and stimulate farming activities in the agricultural sector.

Can be managed

Soil erosion can be tackled, but it depends on everyone working together – farmers, their financial partners and public authorities.

“In Lithuania, the problem of soil erosion arose because the land was intensively farmed during the Soviet period, with the main aim being to produce as much as possible. At that time, few people thought about environmental protection. That is why we are now dealing with a man-made problem,” says the study’s author.

The use of soilless technologies, mulching, composting, and organic fertilisers can restore and enhance the natural and, thus, the agroecological potential of the landscape.

“The natural accumulation of organic matter in the soil, the improvement of its qualitative parameters, the increase in biodiversity and the presence of all its functional groups are essential for the recovery and maintenance of soil quality. But for this to happen, appropriate agrotechnical, agrochemical, biochemical and crop rotation measures must be applied and coordinated. If we had listened to the geo-ecological potential of the landscape, the nature of the terrain and the natural potential of the soil 70-80 years ago, we would have avoided the formation of erosion hotspots or at least minimised their size,” says Mr Volungevičius.

The impact of soil erosion on climate change is enormous. The more intensively the land is farmed, the more organic matter is mineralised, and the more erosion is encouraged. This, together with the dissolution of carbonates in the soil, increases carbon dioxide emissions. Increasing amounts of carbon dioxide lead to temperature imbalances. This leads to droughts, winds and gusts, which lead to soil desiccation and atmospheric dusting, distorting the natural balance between emissions and temperature. These factors contribute significantly to climate change, affecting soil use, maintaining soil quality and creating new challenges.

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