Harmful effects of soil erosion

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Harmful effects of soil erosion
Crops wither and die in soils lacking nutrients. (David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images)

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature -- previously known as World Wildlife Fund -- soil erosion is a naturally occurring process caused predominantly by the action of water and air. Soil erosion is associated with many harmful and potentially harmful effects. It’s a global issue that hits particularly hard in areas where soil is already depleted.

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Reduced crop growth

A reduction in crop growth is a possible harmful effect of soil erosion. This can occur when soils lose their nutrients, either because they are blown away, or leech through the soil as a result of water penetration. Humankind uses crops for all kinds of things. Further, crop growers try to produce just as much of each crop as the world needs per year, so there will be no waste. Soil erosion is a continual threat to this finely balanced system.

Not enough food

According to some estimates, two billion more human beings will be born in the next four decades. With so many more mouths to be fed, the world needs more soil, not less. However, 75 billion tonnes of soil are being lost every year, in the estimation of the United Nations. Humankind needs to almost double its food production levels, in preparation for the looming population explosion, but there is a looming crisis.

Water pollution

According to soil erosion model-makers V. Wickenkamp, R. Buttman and T. Mosimann, soil erosion can be directly responsible for water pollution. When agricultural land is covered with fertilizer and sprayed with pesticides, soil erosion can cause a lack of ground penetration by the aforementioned chemicals. Unable to integrate with soil particles, the chemicals instead run off the fields into gulleys, streams and even rivers, where they may affect drinking water supplies.

Economic impact

Soil erosion is bad news for emerging economies. Effective economic emergence in the face of deteriorating agricultural land stocks is tricky. This is true even where a nation’s main exports are not agricultural products, because of political ecology, defined as the relationship between nature and society. According to former land degradation researcher Chris J. Barrow, sustainable economic development, particularly with emerging economies, will only be achievable with radical changes to human behaviour to safeguard precious land resources.

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