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Dernière mise à jour : Mai 2018

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Participatory sciences at the service of soils

@INRAE, Bertrand Nicolas
At the heart of major health, environmental and social issues, soils have recently entered the public sphere. Citizens and scientists, including INRAE scientists, now collaborate on joint projects to improve soil quality.

Participatory sciences appeared in Anglo-Saxon countries at the beginning of the 20th century and arrived in France in 1989 with the first observatory for monitoring common birds (STOC). Since then, many projects have been launched, on a national or local scale, some of which concern soil.

    Participatory science and research are forms of scientific knowledge production in which civil society actors participate, alongside researchers, on an individual or collective basis, in an active and deliberate way. Charter of participatory science and research in France, 2017

Naturalist inventories, evaluation of soil quality in agricultural and urban ecosystems, impacts of innovative practices... participatory science projects bring together researchers and soil users (farmers, citizens, gardeners, consumers, planners...) whose involvement can range from a simple request for information to the construction or even financing of research projects.
Soil fauna, including earthworms, is frequently studied because it is easy to observe or well known by the public; microbiology has recently been emerging with complex molecular tools but simple interpretations.

Soil quality projects

Living organisms in the soil play a fundamental role in its functioning and its capacity to ensure essential functions - support, filter, buffer or reservoir. They are also good indicators of its evolution and the impacts of agricultural practices.

One spade, one tarp.... The participatory observatory #Bouché2022 proposes to inventory between 2019 and 2021, the species of earthworms present in France and to share the observations with scientists to discover how their distribution has evolved over the past 50 years.  #Bouché2022 is an action of the Tebis network - Ecological and biological traits of soil organisms, led by INRAE and its partners.

The Agrinnov project (Casdar, 2011-2015), coordinated by INRAE, brought together farmers and researchers in soil ecology with the aim of developing indicators (faunistic, microbiological and agronomic indicators) that can be used to diagnose the biological quality of agricultural soils and the impact of practices. Agrinnov has enabled the validation of the diagnostic sequence of agricultural soil quality by farmers. Theoretical and practical training courses on soil biology were also developed, as well as an operating procedure for the transfer of the project results. In addition to a large volume of data, Agrinnov has made it possible to identify improvement actions based on new benchmarks for analyzing the performance of a cropping system's soil and to move towards methods for supporting change.

Resulting from the previous project, the Network for Experimentation and Monitoring of Agricultural Innovation - REVA, with which INRAE is associated, provides project engineering, scientific expertise and tools for diagnosing the biological state of soils so that farmers can then evaluate their practices, experiment and move their agricultural models towards more sustainable agriculture. Created in 2016, REVA has gradually evolved to scale up: the tools for monitoring the impact of practices on the biological quality of soils have been refined to allow farmers to monitor them annually, a database and surrounding applications are now available, some agriculture suppliers are already considering outsourcing part of their R&D to REVA.

The EcoVitiSol project (AFB, 2019-2021), led by INRAE, aims to assess the impact of wine production methods (conventional, AB or biodynamic) on the microbiological quality of soils. Beyond filling a knowledge gap about the impact of production methods, this project should lead wine growers to better take into account the quality of their soils, the impact of their practices and to consider moving towards more virtuous production methods.

EcoVitiSol : meeting to present the results of the analysis of the quality of the vineyard soils to the wine growers
Back on the first meeting of restitution of the results of analysis of the physicochemical and microbiological quality of the soils of the plots of the wine growers of the Nuits Saint Georges and Beaune hillsides.

The Clés de solproject (Ademe, 2019-2021), in which INRAE is involved, aims to increase knowledge about soils by improving their mapping at territorial scales and by contributing to the dissemination of better information about soils and the issues they raise.  The sampling and simplified analysis protocols have now been stabilized, the educational tools are being developed, and the year 2021 will prepare for the project's deployment.

Urban soil quality and land use planning

Through the Dijon Sustainable Food 2030 project, winner of the "Territory of Innovation" call for projects of the Future Investment Program and with which INRAE is associated, Dijon Métropole wishes to show that the evolution towards a sustainable food system is an opportunity to transform the territory, from an environmental, economic and social point of view. The ambition is based on a global approach intervening on all the activities of production, exchange, transformation, distribution and consumption of the territory. In this project, a "Soil" action aims to establish a diagnosis of the quality of the soils of the Dijon urban area according to the modes of use. This component, carried out in an academic manner, will then lead citizens and soil users towards a "transformation of the territory" of Dijon Metropole. This will in turn allow, with the participation of soil users, to study the impact of changes in practices and global changes on soil quality.

The JardiBioDiv project, with which INRAE is associated, is interested in the biodiversity, still little known, present on the surface of the soils of urban gardens but also in other ecosystems such as rural gardens, market gardening plots, agricultural plots or even forest plots. Sampling protocols, descriptive sheets of the 28 groups of invertebrates likely to be present on the surface of soils, identification protocols... Jardibiodiv was co-constructed with the aim of proposing a fun tool for the public while being educational and robust since the database obtained can help scientists to investigate unresolved questions on soil biodiversity. A smartphone application is being created to facilitate the sending of data and promote exchanges between scientists and citizens.

These participatory projects, especially when they concern soils, facilitate and improve the awareness and education of citizens to global issues as well as the transfer of knowledge and research tools. They constitute a lever of interest for farmers to make their practices evolve towards greater sustainability. They give scientists access to large amounts of data, including data from private spaces, or at least those to which they do not have immediate access, such as private gardens.
This is a new way of conducting high-level research that is closer to society.