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Coordination of International Research Cooperation on soil CArbon Sequestration in Agriculture

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - CIRCASA (Coordination of International Research Cooperation on soil CArbon Sequestration in Agriculture)

Reporting period: 2019-05-01 to 2021-02-28

The 2030 Agenda for sustainable development increases the demand on soils to provide food, water and energy security, protect biodiversity, and mitigate climate change, increasing the centrality of soils in global environmental and development policies. The societal debate on SOC management spans multiple policy areas and a wide range of stakeholders with different, and in part converging, agendas across world regions. It is therefore urgent to strengthen the international research community on this issue and to favor a better alignment of research on agricultural soil carbon sequestration.
CIRCASA project aimed at developing international synergies concerning research and knowledge transfer on agricultural soil C sequestration targeting four objectives:
- Strengthen the international research community
- Provide an improved understanding of agricultural soil carbon sequestration
- Synthesize stakeholder’s views and knowledge needs
- Preparing an International Research Consortium (IRC)
The CIRCASA team has gathered stakeholders’ perspectives on the potential for soil carbon management to contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation, sustainable intensification of agriculture and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The overarching methodology consisted of a public online survey translated into seven languages and answered by approximately 2,000 stakeholders around the world and of 10 regional workshops.
Drawing on the extensive stakeholder consultation across the globe, CIRCASA shows that farmers require knowledge that answers two overall questions concerning soil carbon sequestration – "What's in it for me?" and "How do I get there?". Farmers need information on the benefits, risks, trade-offs and time effort linked to improving soil organic carbon levels. Non-farming stakeholders prioritized the needs, also expressed by farmers, for more knowledge on effective financing options and on monitoring, reporting and verification methods, as well as on societal benefits of soil carbon.
Importantly, while more research is certainly required in some areas (e.g. on soil carbon balance monitoring and on some of the soil carbon processes), the access to existing knowledge is key in other areas (e.g. farm-level management). To improve access to knowledge and develop tailored context-specific guidance for farmers, innovative forms of knowledge creation and exchange need to complement traditional top-down approaches. Specifically, participatory forms of knowledge (co-) creation and exchange, which involve farmers in the research process, and therefore in defining the research question and in the collection of data, are promising. Examples are so-called living labs and the crowdsourcing of information.

An assessment of the scientific literature allowed identifying specific challenges for research and innovation. Researchers across the world were asked in a questionnaire to prioritize for future research the challenges. To address the challenges, testable hypotheses were designed for future research, spanning the physical scales and the scientific disciplines. Through testing at international scale these hypotheses, the knowledge base for soil carbon management in agriculture would be largely improved thereby allowing offsetting greenhouse gas emissions, building resilience of agricultural production, and taking steps towards a number of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

From the advanced understanding of the knowledge supply by science and of the knowledge demand by stakeholders, the CIRCASA project has developed a SRA to encourage further research on soil carbon sequestration and to pursue the question of how to create (research) infrastructures, which facilitate regionally applicable insights and exchange. All partners of CIRCASA have adopted the final version of this SRA, which shows clear priorities for alignment of European and international research and innovation (R&I) in the area of agricultural SOC paving the road to international research cooperation on relevant knowledge and innovation. The SRA is structured into four pillars resulting from the priorities agreed during the revision process which involved all project partners, the stakeholder advisory board, the research policy committee and the EC services:
Pillar 1 – Frontiers research: unlocking the potential of soil carbon
Pillar 2 – Soil carbon balance monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) system
Pillar 3 – Technological and agro-ecological innovations.
Pillar 4 – Enabling environment and knowledge co-creation

The SRA underlines the need to develop an IRC on SOC in agriculture with large potential benefits for stakeholders through highly interdisciplinary research and innovation (R&I) guided by stakeholder’s demands. An IRC would provide a knowledge bridge across continents. International cooperation for R&I can generate a large range of outputs for national and local stakeholders, including access to actionable knowledge, demonstration of new technologies and of new assessment methods, training and capacity building. Funders have to be able to see why they should invest in R&I activities within the IRC, end users need to see how specific activities will create desirable outcomes and researchers need to find funding and an attractive environment in this IRC. In this way, an IRC would enable a structured approach and improved international coordination to create breakthroughs, avoid duplication of activities and develop innovation on a large scale. CIRCASA has made first proposals for the governance and funding of this IRC and for its initial work plan, which also includes training and capacity building activities.

After three years, the CIRCASA project came to the end, holding a final virtual high-level conference. This was an opportunity to gather more than 220 participants from the 5 continents. Public and private sector stakeholders, global regions, and global initiatives expressed their interest in the development of an IRC on soil carbon and their support to the SRA.
The aim of CIRCASA has been to go beyond the state of the art, by:
- Creating a consensus between stakeholders and scientists on a Strategic Research Agenda,
- Bringing together scientific networks often working separately and coordinate the development of advanced geospatial data on a global scale. This has led to a new high-resolution map of SOC stocks and to novel model results on the deposition of carbon into soils, the SOC balance, the role of cropping practices and the costs of changes in these practices.
- Developing cooperative knowledge synthesis activities and a common knowledge information system shared online through an open collaborative platform. This information system works as a knowledge hub by including and harvesting reference data and meta-data from different existing repositories in one single place.
- Developing an Open Collaborative Platform to build the international scientific community and to support stakeholders by matching their knowledge demands, combining a social network for its members, a repository of projects and data, and geospatial maps on soil carbon management. This OCP will contribute to CIRCASA’s legacy, is accessible at and is completely free.
Knowledge Demands and Needs of Stakeholders
Preliminary vision of an International Research Consortium on agricultural soil carbon, showing t
Facilitating the establishment of an International Research Consortium. Policy-Science-interface
The innovative vision developed by CIRCASA for a global framework for MRV of SOC change. (Image m
Reviewing scientific and technical evidence. Challenges to SOC sequestration in agriculture
Barriers to the implementation of SOC sequestration options.
Stocktaking and linking research networks (CIRCASA partners in yellow)