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September 2, 2022

Genesis, towards an indisputable rating

Quentin Sannié
A sample of Soil

The challenges of building an indisputable rating are considerable.

As a trusted third party, a rating agency must build its tools on an indisputable scientific and technical basis. At Genesis, we have chosen to measure the impact of agricultural supplies based on real measurements of the condition of soil health used for this supply. However, the soil is a heterogeneous space in surface and depth, which is complex to measure. Also, the notion of soil health is recent and is not yet the subject of a scientific consensus. The challenges faced by Genesis are therefore considerable.

Yet time is running out. In many scientific fields, such as the harmfulness of cigarettes or the impact of man on climate change, expert debates or vested interests have long held back the development of knowledge and the implementation of appropriate solutions. This is why we act with two simultaneous requirements: to rely on science and to provide a rapid operational solution.

Since 2018, the focus has been on science. Based on a rigorous approach led by a strong in-house soil and data team supported by leading global partners, this method initially involved identifying possible indicators of this state of health. More than 200 indicators were tested through 15 pilot projects in 5 countries in Europe and the United States. A Scientific Committee was set up to ensure the reliability of our practices.

As with human health assessment, the assessment of soil health is a process of continuous improvement. After more than 30 months of work, and four successive versions, the current rating is based on a triple mechanism:

  1. Composite samples are taken from parcels and analysed on three dimensions assessed with 35 indicators, considered to be good proxies for health status:
  • The biological state of the soil measured through a DNA analysis of bacterial genes involved in the major functions of the soil (nitrification, phosphorus, carbon, ...).
  • The stock and dynamics of organic carbon through the characterization of stable and active soil carbon to estimate both the sustainability of the resource and its availability for biodiversity
  • The sanitary state of the soil through the presence of heavy metals, salts or excess nitrates that can have an effect on both crops and water filtration.
  1. A reference system, currently under construction, which makes it possible to determine the expected values for each indicator according to the pedoclimatic context:
  • For biodiversity and carbon, soil texture (e.g. clay content) and climate (altitude, extreme and average temperatures, hygrometry) will be decisive. But each indicator may have a specific profile and thresholds that must be identified.
  • For pollution, the benchmark is the official environmental standards that set the alert thresholds.
  1. Scoring algorithms based on this benchmark to transform the measured data of each indicator into a universal score:
  • The score makes the health status of all parcels comparable. It does not depend on the cultivation method or the context.
  • As in human health, we seek to establish an objective diagnosis for a given person by integrating his or her age or gender context, for example (thus pedoclimatic for a soil). 

Beyond the scientific and technical issues, the credibility of a rating agency lies in its independence and incorruptibility. Founded and funded by entrepreneurs, Genesis is independent of any lobby or organisation linked to agriculture. Monique Barbut, President of WWF-France and former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, is an independent director on our Board of Directors. Her responsibilities include ensuring this independence.

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