While for thousands of years, humans have benefited from land use, studies later revealed that much of the planet’s soil has degraded due to misuse and over use. Soil degradation refers to a process instigated by human activities, which caused land to lose its productive capacity or fertility.
Degradation of the soil occurs whenever a landscape loses its function as a vital component of an ecosystem. A healthy soil can sustain biological productivity, help maintain the quality of water and air, as well as promote the health and well being of all living things. Otherwise, land that has degraded becomes waste land mainly because the soil has lost its life-sustaining property.
Currently, it is estimated that only 44% of the potentially active land are available for cultivation while the remaining 56% are used for non-cultivation purposes. In both cases, land misuse or over use has resulted to soil degradation.
Common Causes of Soil Degradation
Soil degradation or soil health deterioration happens as a result of any of the following factors:
1. Water or wind erosion that strips a land of its fertile topsoil. Water erosion is in fact considered as the most severe cause of soil degradation. In the US alone, about 200 million hectares or 36% of the country’s total area have become barren due to water erosion.
2. Chemical contamination that depletes the soil of nutrients as the acidity or alkalinity of the toxic substances causes disruptions in the natural balance of nutrients possessed by the soil.
3. Biological factors that affect the balance of microbial activities among microorganisms that subsist in the soil. Microbial activities are widely recognized as vital to soil health because soil microorganisms are responsible for nutrient cycling, which benefits plants and helps in maintaining good soil structure.
4. Other factors that cause, or accelerate soil degradation are deforestation, extensive and improper cultivation practices, misuse of fertilizers, overgrazing, excessive irrigation, mining and adverse weather occurrences.
A recent study of current trends in human activities suggested that intensive foot traffic and use of heavy construction equipment on bare earth can also cause soil degradation.
Land that is subjected to excessive and uneven pressure can result to soil compaction, a condition that makes the quality of the soil more dense and less porous. Poor porosity prevents the soil from absorbing water, which makes it susceptible to runoffs that result in erosion.
To address soil compaction issues, there are now various types of protective ground coverings like cranè mats, composite mats and wood mats that can be rented or purchased from spartan mat.