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The Typical Crernozem Soils of the Balti Steppe

Date of Submission: 19/09/2011
Criteria: (v)(ix)(x)
Category: Mixed
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of the Republic of Moldova to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Balti City
Coordinates: N47 46 15 E27 52 07
Ref.: 5647

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The property comprises five long-term field experiments on Typical Chernozem soil on the Balti Steppe of Moldova. The area is n hectares within the total area of n2 hectares of the Selectia Research Institute of field crops, which provides a buffer zone.

The chernozem is the best arable soil in the world and, historically, the breadbasket of Europe and North America.. The chernozem of the Balti steppe is closely associated with the foundation of soil science by V.V. Dokuchaev in the late 19th century; he described the soil of this locality as "first class" and typical in its great thickness, structure and stock of humus. During the last century and a half, under increasingly industrial farming, chernozem soils have undergone profound but largely un-noticed changes that threaten the stability of the whole agro-ecosystem. Long-term field experiments monitor and evaluate the impact of different agricultural practices (crop rotations, monoculture, and different systems of tillage, fertilization, and irrigation) on crop yields and soil fertility. The accumulated data from the experiments at Baiti demonstrate the negative influence of human activities on the productivity and ecological functionality of chernozem and, also, ways in which this functionality and fertility may be restored.

The current field experiments have been established for up to 50 years; three date from the era of the Green Revolution which depended on inputs from non-renewable sources of energy and their derivatives (mineral fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides). The other two experiments have been initiated more recently to find ways to more sustainable agriculture. All experiments are components of the research program of the Dept of Sustainable Farming Systems at the Selectia Research Institute of Field Crops.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The Balti chemozem was at the heart of the foundation of soil science in the late nineteenth century. More than this, the Property is of outstanding universal value for determining the interaction between intensive agricultural practices and the environment. Chernozem soils are fundamental to global food security but, at the same time, they are threatened by irreversible changes — in particular the loss of humus under arable which makes them a significant source of atmospheric CO2. Potentially, these soils can and should be a globally significant carbon sink.

Long-term field experiments evaluate changes in agro-ecosystems relative to natural ecosystems. The field experiments at Balti monitor carbon sequestration and emissions that have direct impact on climate change, leaching of nitrates and pollution of groundwater, the influence of management and climate change on crop yields and the combined influence of climatic change and soil management on soil carbon stocks. They also demonstrate the influence of different agricultural practices and fanning systems on above- and below-surface biodiversity, including threatened species of outstanding universal value and innumerable species as yet unknown, Under this proposal, it is, further planned to expand the small area presently under meadow to re-establish the native Steppe ecosystem which will provide a more direct biological and hydrological yardstick.

Criterion (v): Irreversible changes in chemozem, driven by various human activities are causing losses of soil function and integrity with far-reaching known (and unknown) consequences. Erosion of the topsoil is an acute and obvious symptom but the chronic, unseen loss of humus under conventional farming systems, unattended, eventually leads to a catastrophic shift to a different and unstable ecosystem. Monitoring the influence of different agricultural practices on physical, chemical and biological proprieties of chemozem is a key to understanding these processes and devising better agricultural practices that may reverse them. Only long-term field experiments can provide hard data and tangible evidence of insidious changes that operate over decades and, also, distinguish between processes driven by human activities and natural cycles such as meteorological droughts.

Under this proposal it is planned, further, to re-create natural steppe habitat as a biological and hydrological yardstick.

Criterion (ix): The effects of agricultural practices on global warming, leaching of nutrients and pollution of streams and groundwater, and the diversion of rainfall away from replenishment of soil and groundwater resources to destructive runoff are pressing issues for our generation - and will press harder on future generations. Sustainability absolutely requires that these negative consequences be arrested. The evidence of long-term field experiments and the scientific skills and experience that they nurture will be increasingly valuable to society; public appreciation of soils and soil science from the perspectives of food and water security, biodiversity, climate change, and the cultural importance of the black earth to societies on the steppe is critical for wise policy and management.

Criterion (x): More than half of terrestrial biodiversity is below ground - in the soil. It accomplishes, inter alia, carbon and nutrient cycling, waste disposal and the maintenance of soil permeability on which the hydrological cycle depends. Thanks to the long-term trials on the Property, interdisciplinary teams of specialists from different fields of knowledge can study the influence of different agricultural practices and farming systems on both terrestrial and soil components of flora, fauna and microorganisms in order to understand and manage in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including threatened species of outstanding universal value.

By safeguarding this unique ecosystem and monument to civilization, we may determine ways and means for sustainable development of society, and agriculture in particular.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The integrity of the Property is determined by:

·   All elements necessary to express its outstanding universal value;

·   Size adequate to ensure the complete representation of the features and processes which convey the property's significance;

·   Suffers from adverse effects of development and /or neglect.

Industrialization of agriculture has ignored the negative consequences of various agricultural practices on the soil, the wider environment and on public health. Long-term field experiments enable a systematic evaluation these consequences and the sustainability of farming systems; the Property to be included on the World Heritage List comprises long-term field experiments going back as much as fifty years. In addition, the surrounding property of the Selectia Experimental Station provides a substantial buffer zone that maintains the integrity of the site.

The biological diversity of the habitats within both natural and agricultural ecosystems at the landscape level will allow interdisciplinary teams of scientists to assess the contribution of biodiversity to the health of the soil and the sustainability of agro-ecosystems.

Comparison with other similar properties

There is no other World Heritage Site for soil.

The Property at Balti may be compared, on the one hand, with the long-term field experiments at Rothamsted in England, now established for more than 150 years and, on the other hand with the V.V. Alekhin Central-Chernozem Biosphere State Reserve near Kursk, in Russia which is built around well-managed native steppe habitat.

The property at Balti stands out by virtue of its historical association with the foundation of soil science and the scientific, educational and cultural significance of its long-term experiments. The data obtained demonstrate the influence of different farming systems and of particular agricultural practices on the fertility of chemozem and emissions of greenhouse gases; and the pollution of soils and groundwater with nitrates and agrochemicals. Such investigations have great but under-appreciated value at global level. World Heritage listing will create a standard for an entire science and an educational and cultural resource.