Dealing with contamination

Freiberg has a long mining history. Naturally high background values, mining and ore processing have led to high concentrations of heavy metals in the area, as well as in the downstream flood plains. During our visit to the Saxon State Agency for Environment, Agriculture and Geology, Dr Ingo Müller and Dr Natalja Barth have elaborated on the historic development, as well as monitoring and soil protection efforts by the State Agency. We have received a good overview on farming activities on soils with high heavy metal concentrations and also learned a good deal about the set up of the agency and its interactions with key stake holders.

Soils and agriculture

On Monday, we went to visit the Centre for Agriculture and Environment in Nossen. There, we received a warm welcome by Dr Bergfeld, head of the Agriculture Department of the Saxon State Agency for Environment, Agriculture and Geology (LfULG). After an introduction into the agency and its responsibilities, we got to follow the way soil samples take in the laboratory (see captions for details).

After lunch, Dr Trapp and her colleagues introduce us to the test done in Nossen and in other facilities of the LfULG, for example, to give recommendations on the varieties most suitable for local conditions.

The bigger picture

During our visit to the Helmholtz-Centre Potsdam – GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences we could upgrade our understanding of how soils and modern landscapes are a highly interconnected part of the Earth system. As director, Prof. Dr Dr h.c. Reinhard Hüttl introduced the manifold research activities of GFZ. Later, we got to build our own Earth system with the fantasic support of Prof. Dr Nils Hovius.

In the end of our stay, we could see firsthand, how climate proxies are being analysed in the GFZ laboratories.

Caring for soils

You will only take an interest in soils and protect them if you know about their importance, right?

Ackerdemia e.V. supports schools all over Germany who wish to set up school gardens where children and teenagers can explore the origins of food and land management together, with expert guidance. During our visit to the Ackerdemia office in the Berlin ‘Malzfabrik’, Jan Jansen introduced us to the association’s educational approach.


Soils in the landscape

We got to visit the Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research (ZALF) in Müncheberg, just east of Berlin. During the previous day, Prof. Jochen Schanze had introduced basic concepts of Integrated Water Resources Management in relation to land use. Some of these ideas have been fleshed out during our exchange with Dr Dagmar Balla from the ZALF Institute of Landscape Hydrology. For instance, we got to run a very educative model of the water cycle at the landscape scale and also received some insights into water reuse for agricultural purposes.

Exploring the ZALF campus …

The social dimension has been added in the afternoon when Dr Frieder Graef and his colleagues Michelle Bonatti, Festo R. Silungwe shared insights into a large trans-disciplinary R&D project on food security with the group. It has been particularly helpful to learn about educational approaches and techniques for a more sustainable use of land resources, besides an introduction into the project framework.

Why soils matter …

Water and soils are limited and endangered resources. It is estimated that at least a quarter of the usable earth surface is affected by strong degradation to an extent which is substantially reducing the potential production of biomass for food, feeding as well as for resources for materials and bio-energy. In the context of an ever-growing world population this is a serious threat. While the world population in the past four decades grew from 3 to over 7.4 billion people, the agricultural area increased by only 8%, mainly through the transformation of forest into arable land. Land consumption through urbanization is further reducing the fertile cultivation area. According to climate projections for the coming decades, rainfall patterns and temperature distributions will also change significantly.


The 22 participants from 19 countries in this short course, which started October 11th,  will deal intensively with the connections between land use and nutrient cycles in the context of water catchment areas as well as at a global level. They will be enabled to develop concepts for soil and water protection as an integral part of sustainable land management.

One of the first stops within the intense 4-weeks programme was the headquarters of the German Environment Agency (UBA) in Dessau. Here experts of the agency introduced the group to topics like land-take, soil protection and monitoring, as well as water reuse in the European Union among other things.


There are 3 more weeks ahead to discuss the value and importance of soil as a vital and finite resource for everybody: policy makers, development planners, soil scientists, agricultural extension officers, students and other practitioners.

photos by UN Photo & Anna Görner (CIPSEM)