SP.20.008 – Feed the soil to feed the planet

Route: Sustainable production of safe and healthy food

Cluster question: 015 How can we make agricultural production systems more sustainable as the worldwide demand for healthy, safe food continues to grow?

There is great societal and environmental need for enhancing the sustainability of agricultural production systems that can feed a growing population. Such agricultural systems can be theoretically painted out, as they require more productive, yet healthy and robust plant-soil systems. In order to solve this societal problem, we need to solve the scientific question how to achieve an optimal balance between above- and below-ground plant growth. This requires a major shift in thinking, as until now most efforts have focused on achieving high aboveground yields at the expense of investment into belowground plant parts. In our conceptual model, plant photosynthesis needs to be improved for two reasons: it will enhance yield; and part of the carbon will be used to produce more roots that feed the soil biota through exuded carbon-based compounds. This will result both in enhanced agricultural productivity and in a more complete and well-developed soil food web, which is known to promote soil health. Thus, we will search for ways to enhance plant photosynthetic capacity that will benefit the soil properties, leading to improved plant water and nutrient availability. Our improved soil will also sequester more atmospheric CO2, which helps to control major greenhouse gas emission and, therefore, mitigates climate change. This ambition is known as the ‘4 per mil’ initiative launched during the Paris 2015 – COP21 meeting on climate change, which is supported by the Netherlands. In support to this policy agreement, we will investigate and determine optimal plant characteristics related to high photosynthesis, optimal root system development, high resource use efficiency of water and nutrients, and high capacity for promoting a well-developed soil food web and carbon storage in the soil. This approach has three benefits: sustainable growth of food production, mitigating climate change, and healthier soils with more biodiversity and less disease outbreaks.


Photosynthesis, soil health, sustainable production system

Other organisations



Organisation Wageningen University & Research (WUR)
Name Prof. Dr. Mark Aarts
E-mail mark.aarts@wur.nl
Website https://www.wur.nl/nl/Personen/Mark-prof.dr.-MGM-Mark-Aarts.htm