Interview with Pete Smith

Interview with Pete Smith

Interview with Pete Smith

For more than 25 years, I have been working on the topic of sequestering Soil Organic Carbon in agricultural soils. This is still a subject very close to my heart. When I was asked to become the leader of CIRCASA Work Package 1 - Strengthening the research community and structuring knowledge, I gladly accepted.

In WP1 we are working on stocktaking of research projects and programs on agricultural Soil Organic Carbon (SOC) sequestration on an international level to better connecting projects and networks and consequently to further the research and implementation. Additionally, we are working on a knowledge system and guidelines for data. With this structured (geo-referenced Meta) data, models and methodology we will be able to enhance international knowledge systems.

WP1 Results so far

Our scheduling for the WP is on target.  We have been mapping out the networks, projects, and programs and we are revealing possibilities for adding value in better connecting scientists, practitioners, and governments the world over.

Through collaboration, we have identified hypotheses for future research, from a survey that was sent out to researchers from all over the world to identify the main research challenges for the coming years. Results from the questionnaire were combined with best practices. From this, a number of testable hypotheses for increasing SOC are being formulated to tackle the SOC research challenges. I expect more hypotheses to follow as we progress.

The databases are shaping up well, for the research spatial information, and research outcomes. We are on track with the work.

Opportunities ahead

If we want to enhance our soil carbon sequestration efforts, we need to do so on a global scale. To do that, the main challenge I see is the difference in the state of research and in data collection across the globe. OECD (The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries are more on the frontline of SOC research, whereas developing countries have fewer researchers and less data. I see opportunities for the CIRCASA way of working, where exchange of good and best practices and capacity building, can lead to better research capacity, better data and ultimately, to allow SOC sequestration to be increased substantially.

CIRCASA legacy

What I hope for after the CIRCASA program ends and the funding stops is that we have left a lasting legacy, of networks, collaborations and people who will continue to tackle the challenges. Beyond this research funding, we hope that future finding from international, national, and regional governments will contribute to reducing carbon emissions, and to enhancing soil carbon sinks.

Form a research perspective, I would like CIRCASA to leave behind a solid foundation of research and data, which can be built upon over the coming years and decades.

The effect we are already seeing is that CIRCASA is going beyond European borders with some partners from further afield, and requests from others to be connected. This is a good thing, as we are helping each other to move forward.

Banging on our doors

Soil is becoming ‘hotter’, from the signing of the Paris Agreement and initiative such as the 4 per 1000 initiative have led to governments and policymakers banging on our doors for information. In the past, we were banging their doors, to spread the story that soils play an important role in SOC sequestration. Therefore, this is the momentum for better aligning with the work of other organizations, such as FAO, but also others working on Greenhouse gas emissions, such as the Global Research Alliance on agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. We need to take the opportunity to tell the soil carbon story now, as it is not as easy to tell, as for instance, the carbon story of growing of trees, which is much more visible.

Just let me end by saying, that I enjoy immensely the enthusiasm from all CIRCASA people in working together in this project.


Pete Smith

June 2019

Modification date : 28 August 2023 | Publication date : 11 July 2019 | Redactor : Erika Van Gennip, WUR