FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia

Serbia project to restore soil health through improved detection methods

Creating healthy soil, and keeping soil healthy, is one of the greatest challenges of our times, with pollution being a significant stumbling block. Starting today, a Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) project is helping Serbia to assess the risk of diffuse agricultural soil pollution. It will also facilitate the proper use of remediation practices on agricultural land in Serbia, with the ultimate goal of protecting the environment and promoting sustainable agricultural production.

To this end, the project will bridge the gap in assessing and managing diffuse agricultural soil pollution, and address the lack of data on the usage of fertilizers and pesticides. Specifically, it will assist the Serbian authorities in identifying highly concerning substances, increase the knowledge and awareness of farmers in order to reduce the risk of diffuse soil pollution, and improve pesticide and fertilizer management.

Diffuse soil pollution – as opposed to local soil pollution – refers to the presence of a substance in the soil due to human activities emitted from moving liquid or gaseous sources, covering a large area, or from multiple sources, including from agricultural activities. Unsustainable agricultural practices reduce organic matter in soil and can contribute to the release of pollutants into groundwater, potentially making them absorbable by plants and enter into the food chain.

“In Serbia, the technical capacity to assess and manage diffuse pollution of agricultural soil is limited,” said Tania Santivanez, FAO agricultural specialist. “A monitoring system for the use of pesticides and mineral and organic fertilizers is lacking, which makes it impossible to report these at national and international levels.”

“Pollutants accumulate in plant tissue, and get eaten by grazing animals and birds, and even by humans that consume them,” added Santivanez.

Within the project, FAO plans to undertake a case study covering a selected area in nature in Serbia that is designated as a protected area, to provide information on the extent of diffuse agricultural soil pollution, and then compare that with international cases.

The project’s opening workshop brings together leading organizations, experts, and partners working on soil-related topics to discuss issues of common concern – such as soil pollution, and the impact of unsuitable agricultural practices. Participating organizations include universities, research institutes, and various units of the Serbian Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water management, and Ministry for Environmental Protection. They will learn about the current status of soil pollution in Serbia, the connection between soil and environmental protection, and pesticides in the soil–water–air–human system, among other topics.

“Agriculture is not only part of the problem, it is also a means to reverse the negative trend of soil pollution,” Santivanez highlighted. “Healthy soil means a healthy life.”

6 July 2021, Belgrade, Serbia