Can effects of soil erosion be seen on your plate?

I’m sure quite a number of us would’ve read or at least heard about soil erosion in geography class. But who would’ve imagined it to be a reality? Sadly, yes soil erosion is real and had been a persistent problem in many countries for a few years now. Countries such as India, Indonesia, the Philippines, China, parts of Africa, Brazil, and many more are constantly battling this problem for years. But wait, shall we refresh our memories by reminding what soil erosion is before going further? Soil erosion is a degradation of the topsoil that contains all the essential nutrients vital for a healthy harvest. Topsoil is the topmost layer of the soil (yes soil has many layers) that contain minerals, water, and organic matter and loss of it prevents the plants from absorbing greenhouse gasses like CO2, nitrogen, etc.

Because of extreme climate changes like heavy winds or rainfall, the topsoil flows away and ends up choking the pathways of rivers, streams, and canals resulting in heavy flooding which further escalates the loss of life-stock, agricultural lands and gives way to further natural disasters. So you see it’s like a cycle that goes on and on. Removal of the topsoil may also reduce the natural ability of the soil to filter and absorb water, as a result again that brings us back to flooding, and the quality of water reserves is decreased. Also, did you know when soil is loosely packed, it is movable and hence, natural disasters like landslides can also occur? Let us now look at the most important part; food. As stated above, the lesser the nutrients in the soil (low quality of the soil), the lesser the roots can absorb the nutrients, and the lesser the nutrients are absorbed, the lower the quality of the produce. Besides, the low quality and less healthy produce are sold at a lesser price, which again is a contributing factor for poverty.

But can air and water be the only factors of soil erosion? How does human involvement play a role in the degradation of soil? With a population of 7.9 billion in the world, people need more space to live, eat, work, enjoy, feed pets, maintain farms and cattle; so to accommodate these needs and ease the pressure put on bustling cities, areas outside the cities aka forests, hills, etc. are being cleared so that more cities can be extended further to accommodate the rising human demands. Moreover, the wood from the trees is used in various forms also for firewood, houses, décor, the list is endless. Other than that over cropping and grazing for the cattle are also other contributing factors that degrade the soil.

So what measures are taken to resolve the issue? Practices that promote soil conservation are being encouraged, which has brought a huge change in age-old agricultural practices. Tilling practices are being discouraged, as they do more harm than good by deploying special drills that dig exactly where they are supposed to, causing less friction among the top layer and leaving it less disturbed that in turn yield a better harvest using less amount of fertilizers. Crop rotation is also another way to ensure a better harvest as it helps with issues of weeding and also helps to control soil erosion; legumes are planted alternatively to increase the amount of nitrogen in the soil. Contour farming is another way in which plants are planted along the slope lines and help to create pockets of water during rainfall. Windbreaking is another way in which the topsoil is prevented from flowing away with the wind by placing big tree and shrub barriers adjacent to the fields that act as a windbreaker (a natural barrier that slows down the strong winds).

New-age practices of organic farming are coming into the trend nowadays as many people are opting for its eco-friendly approach of using natural fertilizers and modern farming techniques to grow crops. The rising demand for organic vegetables and fruits is increasing as more people are opting for a health-conscious lifestyle. Natural fertilizers can help conserve the soil and do not allow nitrates to leak into groundwater, as it was in the case of traditional farming.

With coming time, as the awareness grows bigger, more unconventional approaches are being made to prevent damage to the soil, and small tweaks in the age-old practices can take us a long way in reducing the damage done and can help to prevent bigger calamities.

‘If we as mankind can take from nature, then we should also learn to give back; because to give and take was always a two-way road. We have a lot to lose if nature decides to fight back.


Aditi Pandit