Soil Degradation: Causes and Prevention

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soil degradation

Soil Degradation or land Degradations refers to the human-induced or natural process which impairs the capacity of the land to function and grow crops.

It involves a different process that decreases the fertility of the land. These are acidification, contaminations, desertification, erosion, and or salination.

Soil acidification might be good for the soil, however, it can degrade land and lower crop productivity, and increase its vulnerability to contamination and erosion.

Moreover, soil acidification increases with the use of nitrogenous fertilizers and by the effects of acid precipitation.

Another cause of soil degradation is Deforestation.

It is mediated due to the increased leaching of soil nutrients in the absence of tree canopies.

Soil contamination is often observable in the soil’s capacity to treat and assimilate waster material.

Soil biota can treat waste by transforming it, by microbial enzymatic activity.

soil degradation 2

Moreover, soil organic matter and minerals can absorb the waste material and decreases its toxicity.

Many waste treatment processes can damage soil biota and limit the soil function, thereby, decreasing the fertility of the soil.

For instance, diffuse pollution with contaminants is copper accumulation in vineyards and orchards to which fungicides are applied even in organic farming.

Another cause is desertification which is an environmental process of ecosystem degradation in arid and semi-arid regions and is due to overgrazing and excess harvesting of firewood.

Now let us discuss the direct and indirect causes of Soil Degradation

Direct Causes of Soil Degradation

There are different causes of soil degradation, however, some of them directly affect the soil and decrease its fertility and some indirectly affect the fertility.

Let us first discuss the direct causes of Soil Degradation.


Deforestation causes both land degradation and water erosion. When land is cleared it becomes sloppy and steep or has shallow or easily erodible soil and therefore causes degradation.

Moreover, it is the leading cause of water erosion in steep and sloping humid environments,

It is also a cause of wind erosion, decline in soil fertility, and salinization.

Overcutting of Trees and Plants

People in the rural area cut natural forests, woodlands, and shrublands to obtain wood like timber, fuelwood, and other forest products.

soil degradation 1

Moreover, with an increase in this cutting, it becomes unsustainable. This is most observable in semi-arid environments.

Moreover, you can observe this phenomenon where fuelwoods were present but now there is a shortage and is very severe.

The impoverishment of woody covers of trees and shrubs is also a major factor causing both water and wind erosion.

According to GLASOD, 98% of the semi-arid land is affected due to wind erosion.

This assessment also cites it as a cause that contributes to an increase in salinization in the land and soil.


When natural pastures at stocking intensify above the livestock carrying capacity, it is Overgrazing.

It directly leads to a decrease in the quantity and quality of the vegetation cover and is not only the cause of soil erosion but also water erosion.

soil degradation 3

Both degradations of the vegetation and erosion lead to a decline in soil organic matter and physical properties of the land and hence in resistance to erosion.

Moreover, degradation occurs when the recovery of vegetation and soil properties during periods of rainfall does not reach its previous state.

Other Direct Causes

Other direct causes of Soil Degradation are:

Soil-Conservation Management Practices

To check water erosion on sloping lands, management practices are carried out by farmers and researchers.

Moreover, in drylands, measures to check wind erosion are also necessary on lever land.

These practices are:

  • Biological methods
  • Earth Structures
  • Maintaining soil resistance to erosion

Crop Rotations

Farmers are using cereal-based intensive crop rotations. It is because of the increase in population, land shortage, and economic pressures.

Most of this farming includes intensive farming of rice and wheat in places of more balanced cereal-legume rotations that were present in the past.

This is a cause of soil fertility decline.


To maintain crop yields, due to extended cultivation or erosion, they are now using fertilizers.

use of fertilizers

The use of nitrogenous and phosphorous fertilizers might have increased the yield of crops, however, it is leading to a nutrient imbalance in the crops.



Since 1930, the application of water in excess of natural rainfall has led to a rise in the water table.

When the water table reaches close to the surface, waterlogging occurs leading to evaporation of water contaminating salts to salinization.

To reduce or avoid this problem, the initial implementation of irrigation schemes should be inclined.

Shifting Cultivation

Shifting cultivation in the past was a sustainable form of land use.

It was especially beneficial at a time when low population densities allowed forest fallow periods of sufficient length to restore soil properties.

With an increase in population and shortening of fallow periods, it has led to non-sustainable soil with decreasing fertility and natural minerals in the soil.

It is most observable in the hill areas of Northeast India and is the major cause of soil erosion and decline in soil fertility.

Underlying Causes of Soil Degradation

The direct causes of land degradation have been explained above, and causes large scale problems, shower, the underlying causes of soil degradation are as follows:

Land Shortage

With an increase in population both in rural and urban areas, the land shortage has led to a decrease in the already small areas of agricultural land.

However, it was not the case in the past. According to studies, a relative decrease in land per person over 190 to 1990 was 14% in India and 22% in shortage

The phenomena of land degradation are most observable in South Asia, where all of the best lands are already under usage.

Moreover, it cannot be used agriculturally on a sustainable basis.

Land Tenure

Different property rights led to tenancy and open resources.

Despite different efforts by legislation and land reform programs, the occupation of tenants is still widespread.

These tenants lack the incentives to maintain good conditions of the land, however, they are mainly interested in immediate harvesting of crops.

Open access land resources are for anyone and do not fall under government ownership.

In common land ownership, the law restricts to members of a community, village or clan, and is subject to constraints, socially applied.

For example, pastoralists often have customs for when certain areas from grazing rest, villages restrict the cutting of communal woodland. land tenure

On the other hand, on open access land, there are no such constraints.

With no legal basis for their use, the incentive to farm the land other than for immediate needs is completely lacking.

This is a serious cause of deforestation followed by water erosion.

Other Causes

Economic Pressure

Economic pressure on farmers to farm more food and income to meet the increasing needs leads to small landholdings.

This moreover, leads to improper crop rotations and unbalanced use of fertilizers.

Increase in Population

With an increase in population and land shortage, there is a great demand od food.

With this increase in food demand and population, the farmers are now using land continuously which depletes off the minerals and nutrients of the soil, therefore leading to soil degradation.

Prevention of Soil Degradation

The effects of soil degradation are preventable through the use of sustainable farming techniques and better land management.

Because, erosion is a primary concern with soil degradation, there are different ways to control the effects of erosion.

Here are a few steps to prevent soil degradation:

  • Wind Breaks

Artificial and natural windbreaks like shrubs can help reduce the effects of erosion in the case of wind erosion.

Moreover, plants also have the benefit of anchoring the soil, therefore, reducing the effects of erosion from water.

  • Terracing

Terracing for the cultivation of rice on the slopes of hilly or mountainous areas reduces the effects of water runoff.terrace farming

Moreover, this helps conserve the rainwater. This rainwater helps to retain water in the terraces which helps in increasing the growth and fertility of the soil.

  • Strip Farming

An alternating stripe of different types of crops helps to reduce the effects of erosion.

  • Crop Rotation

Crop Rotation involves planting different crops in the same field in a specific order.

Monoculture is the planting of the same crops.

Moreover, according to studies, crop rotation helps to increase the nutrients of the soil.

It also held to reduces pest and crop diseases, thereby increasing the fertility of the land.

Impact on Climate and Society

Soil degradation is the loss of physical, chemical, and biological qualities of the soil either by human activity or natural processes.

The major causes of soil degradation threaten the ecological functions and are erosion, organic matter decline, loss of biodiversity, and others.

Moreover, the severity of land and soil degradation depends on the initial status of the land, the magnitude of the pressure on land, responses of the land system, etc.

According to UNEP, the United Nations Environment Programme, an estimate of 20,000km/2 of land will be destroyed by desertification.

Soil degradation has increased in recent decades all around the world, and estimates suggest a potential global increase in soil erosion due to the expansion of agricultural land.


Continous soil degradation directly affects the environment and our ability to feed the growing global population. It undermines the ability to use land optimally and at its worst can lead to desertification, rendering land unusable.

There are different types of soil, soil structure, and agricultural practices. The natural soil contains natural resources, however, when we continuously use it, the soil losses its fertility.

Moreover, controlling and reducing land degradation, using sustainable agriculture and arable land is more about creating awareness of the issue and encouraging innovative approaches in land management techniques.

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