Soil is the most important layer of the earth, made up of dirt and rock. Plants need this soil to store nutrients, minerals and water for their growth. And for animals, the soil is shelter. In a basic sense, without soil, there would be no trees, grass, crops, or survival of humans and animals.
Soil Degradation and Soil Erosion
Soil degradation is a broad term that defines the loss of soil quality due to chemical, physical and biological reasons. While soil erosion is the part of soil degradation that defines how topsoil is topped off either by wind, water, and human-induced activities.
So let’s overview what soil degradation and soil erosion are. Also, what impacts they create in the environment and the best methods to help prevent the loss of soil and its fertility for better cultivation.
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What is Soil Degradation?
Soil degradation refers to the decline in soil quality either chemically, physically, or biologically. Soil degradation can be:
- Decline in soil fertility and quality
- Wind or water erosion
- Loss of key organic matter
- Changes in soil’s salinity, alkalinity, and acidity
- Effects of toxic chemicals or pollutants
- Flooding in excess
What is Soil Erosion?
Soil erosion is a part of soil degradation. In soil erosion, the topsoil washes away to faraway lands, valleys, rivers, etc. This commonly happens due to wind, rain, runoff water, harsh agriculture practices, deforestation, etc.
What is the main cause of Soil Erosion?
Soil erosion is caused by various factors like wind, rainfall, overgrazing by cattle, deforestation, and more. Here are these factors explained in detail:
1. Soil Erosion by Wind
When the heavy wind blows, the topsoil and organic matter can be blown easily. This happens when the soil is dry, loose and not covered by plants and grass. And wind washing away topsoil is called Soil erosion by wind. Wind erosion is very common in desert and semi-desert regions where strong breezes are very common.
- Wind erosion is very common in places where vegetation is very limited.
- You will see this kind of erosion mainly around lakes, sandy coasts of seas, and rivers located in dry and arid places.
- Small dust particles get in the air and move like a thin layer, easily carrying vast distances. However, the heavy soil particles are pushed or spread across the surface.
2. Soil Erosion by Water
During rains in hilly areas, the soil can get washed away towards the plain area. The heavy rainwater washes away the mineral-rich soil and carries it towards the river bed, which causes siltation or impacts water quality. Hence, this further leads to floods and loss of agricultural potential.
Soil erosion by water can be caused by running water, waves, ice, rainfall or any other watering method (when carried in abundance).
3. Overgrazing by Farming Cattle
When cattle enter the field to graze it, they may eat the grass by roots. The topsoil is exposed to direct wind and rainfall without grass and vegetation. Thus, it causes soil erosion through overgrazing by cattle.
Ever since humans have taken over forest lands to build houses and start industries, deforestation has increased. Deforestation, when done in abundance, can uproot the soil. Trees help in binding the soil together. When large areas of forests cleared by removing trees, the topsoil gets vulnerable to washing away by wind or rainfall.
What are the Impacts of Soil Erosion?
Soil erosion cannot be detrimental to the farming field and environment when done in a limited scope. However, if soil erosion is occurring in a constant manner in a big capacity, it can affect the field and environment in the following ways:
1. Loss of Arable Land for Agriculture
Arable land is land that is capable of being ploughed and cultivated to grow crops. Soil erosion causes the washing away of the topsoil. This layer is important for crops as its rich in the essential nutrients required by the plants. The degraded soil causes a loss of crop production. It causes soil to lose its fertility which causes the land to become less productive and viable for cultivating and performing agricultural activities.
2. Chocking of Waterways
The agricultural soil carries insecticides, pesticides, fertilizers, and various other chemicals. This further pollutes the water bodies wherever the soil flows to. Furthermore, the sediments accumulate in the water bodies, including rivers, oceans, and canals, and raise the water levels, which leads to flooding.
3. Air Pollution
Soil erosion causes dust particles to merge in the air, which results in air pollution. These particles contain toxic substances such as pesticides, fertilisers, and petroleum, which can be dangerous when consumed. The dust particles from the arid and semi-arid regions can lead to massive air pollution when the wind blows.
Soil erosion causes desertification. Desertification is the transformation of habitable regions into deserts. Deforestation and harsh use of land further worsen the situation. Desertification causes biodiversity loss, soil degradation, and alteration in the ecosystem.
5. Destruction of Infrastructural projects
Soil sediments can hamper their efficiency when washed away in dams along the banks. Soil erosion affects infrastructural projects such as dams, embankments, and drainage systems.
Why Preventing Land and Soil Degradation is Important?
Soil adds great vitality to the earth. If soil isn’t bounded to its roots, there would be:
- No crops
- No trees and vegetation
- And, No sustenance for animals and humans
Thus, it is very important to conserve soil to ensure the sustenance and growth of mankind. Let’s walk towards the factors or methods that can help curb the effects of erosion.
Factors to Curb the Effects of Land Degradation & Soil Erosion
1. Crop Rotation/Mixed Farming
During the time between harvesting one crop and planting the next crop, the fields are left idle. During this time period, the farmland does not have any crops. So during that idle time, farmers can grow grass or any other crops to sustain the effects of land degradation. Doing this will help help the soil to get back its lost minerals and nutrients.
means planting new trees and plants. We, humans, are alive because of plants that give us oxygen. Planting more and more trees, plants or any sort of vegetation can help keep soil intact and prevent the effect of soil erosion.
3. Terrace Farming
Terrace farming is done by cutting steps or terraces on the slopes of the hills. This design or pattern of steps helps slow down the flow of water. And soil washed away from one step can get deposited on the next step. Therefore, the soil preserved and not completely lost. This method can highly reduce the effects of soil erosion on the environment.
4. Using Quality Tractor & Farming Implements
Sometimes soil erosion caused by either improper or overuse use of tractors and farming implements. The maximum tillage or ploughing can make the soil dry and exposed to wind or running water.
This happens when the tractors or farming implements added aren’t a good match to the field and soil type. Tractors like Mahindra 265 DI, Swaraj 855 FE, and Farmtrac PowerMaxx 60 could be the best addition because these tractors from top brands are designed keeping Indian soil type in mind. Farmers can add them to their farming activities and get a good yield.
5. Development of Shelterbelts/Windbelts
Shelterbelts or wind belts can created by planting some trees or vegetation to minimise the flow f air. These belts will help protect the field from strong winds and, thus, would further avoid blowing away soil to faraway lands or in thin air.
6. Building Dams & Embankments
Floods are uncalled for. When they occur, they can wash away the entire field in a snap. Thus, if farming around the waterbodies, farmers must create embankments around the banks of the river to restrict the flood water from entering the fields. These embankments can help restrict the overflowing river water from entering the field.
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Soil is the most important element to survive mankind. Without soil, there would be no life. Though we cannot control natural acts of wind or rainfall from washing away the soil, we can level up some efforts to help minimise soil erosion’s impacts.
The above reasons are enough to understand how land degradation and erosion aren’t good if they continue for longer. And the above steps that curb the consequences of soil erosion proven methods by experts.
Farmers or agriculturists should take effective measures to sustain soil and its fertility; otherwise, this could alter land productivity. Afforestation, the creation of wind belts, terrace farming, and the use of the best tractor are a few ways to reduce the effects of soil erosion in India.
Frequently Asked Questions
Que. What is the difference between soil erosion and soil conservation?
Ans. Soil erosion is when the soil gets worn away due to wind, rain, heat, cold and other gravity factors. While soil conversion is the process by which topsoil protected from erosion. The soil protected to preserve its fertility and productivity.
Que. How many types of soil erosion are there?
Ans. Soil erosion is of 4 types rill erosion, wind erosion, sheet erosion, and gully erosion.
Que. What 4 factors cause soil erosion?
Ans. Wind, water, Ice, and gravity could be some factors causing soil erosion.
Que. What are the problems of soil erosion?
Ans. Soil erosion leads to air, water and land pollution that can be toxic for humans and other living beings.
Que. Where in India does soil erosion occur the most?
Ans. Parts of Meghalaya and Assam are the areas where the greatest rain-driven soil erosion occurs.
Que. What are human activities that cause soil erosion?
Ans. Deforestation, overgrazing, and human-invited climate change can be a few human-introduced reasons for soil degradation.
Que. What are the few methods to curb the disadvantages of soil erosion?
Ans. The impacts of soil erosion can be minimised by sowing more grasses and plants, performing terrace farming, contour bunding, and intensive cropping.
Que. What is topsoil?
Ans. Topsoil is the upper fertile layer of soil that is biologically active. Topsoil is rich in organic matter, minerals, and microorganisms such as fungi, bacteria, earthworms, and animals.
Que. Why is soil important?
Ans. Soil is important to anchor the roots of plants and store nutrients required to grow crops. It helps clean and filter the water and even helps prevent flooding.
Que. What are the natural causes of soil erosion?
Ans. Soil erosion naturally occurs from heavy rainfall, flowing water, and heavy winds.
Que. What are the harmful effects of soil erosion?
Ans. Soil erosion can wash away the topsoil, which carries essential nutrients required to grow crops.
Que. What are the effects of land degradation?
Ans. Land degradation is caused by the loss of fertile soil due to chemical, physical and biological reasons. This can lead to:
- Soil erosion
- Land becoming less productive for agriculture
- Polluting of waterways
- Altering landscaping and causing flooding
Que. What are the causes and effects of soil erosion?
Ans. The causes of soil erosion are water, air, overgrazing, etc. This further causes a loss of soil fertility and productivity to grow high-yielding crops.
Que. Is there any soil erosion project ongoing in India?
Ans. There is Watershed Development Component- Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojna (WDC-PMKSY). The WDC-PMKSY 2.0 has begun for the period of 2021-2026 with a central financial outlay of Rs. 8,134 crores and a physical target of 49.50 lakh ha.
Que. What are the main two effects of soil erosion?
Ans. Soil erosion can lead to loss of soil fertility and further cause air, water, and land pollution.