Land degradation

Land degradation is a process in which the value of the biophysical environment is affected by a combination of human-induced processes acting upon the land.[1] It is viewed as any change or disturbance to the land perceived to be deleterious or undesirable.[2] Natural hazards are excluded as a cause; however human activities can indirectly affect phenomena such as floods and bush fires.

This is considered to be an important topic of the 21st century due to the implications land degradation has upon agronomic productivity, the environment, and its effects on food security.[3] It is estimated that up to 40% of the world's agricultural land is seriously degraded.[4]

Karst following phosphate mining on Nauru
Serious land degradation in Nauru after the depletion of the phosphate cover through mining

Measures

There are four main ways of looking at land degradation and its impact on the environment around it:

  1. A temporary or permanent decline in the productive capacity of the land. This can be seen through a loss of biomass, a loss of actual productivity or in potential productivity, or a loss or change in vegetative cover and soil nutrients.
  2. Action in the land's capacity to provide resources for human livelihoods. This can be measured from a base line of past land use.
  3. Loss of biodiversity: A loss of range of species or ecosystem complexity as a decline in the environmental quality.
  4. Shifting ecological risk: increased vulnerability of the environment or people to destruction or crisis. This is measured through a base line in the form of pre-existing risk of crisis or destruction.

A problem with defining land degradation is that what one group of people might view as degradation, others might view as a benefit or opportunity. For example, planting crops at a location with heavy rainfall and steep slopes would create scientific and environmental concern regarding the risk of soil erosion by water, yet farmers could view the location as a favourable one for high crop yields.[5]

Different types

A potato field with soil erosion
Potato field with soil erosion

In addition to the usual types of land degradation that have been known for centuries (water, wind and mechanical erosion, physical, chemical and biological degradation), four other types have emerged in the last 50 years:[6]

Overall, more than 36 types of land degradation can be assessed. All are induced or aggravated by human activities, e.g. sheet erosion, silting, aridification, salinization, urbanization, etc.

Causes

Cattle
Overgrazing by livestock can lead to land degradation

Land degradation is a global problem largely related to agricultural use. Causes include:

Effects

Erosion
Soil erosion in a wheat field near Pullman, US

Overcutting of vegetation occurs when people cut forests, woodlands and shrublands—to obtain timber, fuelwood and other products—at a pace exceeding the rate of natural regrowth. This is frequent in semi-arid environments, where fuelwood shortages are often severe.

Overgrazing is the grazing of natural pastures at stocking intensities above the livestock carrying capacity; the resulting decrease in the vegetation cover is a leading cause of wind and water erosion. It is a significant factor in Afghanistan. The growing population pressure, during 1980–1990, has led to decreases in the already small areas of agricultural land per person in six out of eight countries (14% for India and 21% for Pakistan).

Population pressure also operates through other mechanisms. Improper agricultural practices, for instance, occur only under constraints such as the saturation of good lands under population pressure which leads settlers to cultivate too shallow or too steep soils, plough fallow land before it has recovered its fertility, or attempt to obtain multiple crops by irrigating unsuitable soils.

High population density is not always related to land degradation. Rather, it is the practices of the human population that can cause a landscape to become degraded. Populations can be a benefit to the land and make it more productive than it is in its natural state. Land degradation is an important factor of internal displacement in many African and Asian countries.[8]

Severe land degradation affects a significant portion of the Earth's arable lands, decreasing the wealth and economic development of nations. As the land resource base becomes less productive, food security is compromised and competition for dwindling resources increases, the seeds of famine and potential conflict are sown.

Sensitivity and resilience

Sensitivity and resilience are measures of the vulnerability of a landscape to degradation. These two factors combine to explain the degree of vulnerability.[5] Sensitivity is the degree to which a land system undergoes change due to natural forces, human intervention or a combination of both. Resilience is the ability of a landscape to absorb change, without significantly altering the relationship between the relative importance and numbers of individuals and species that compose the community.[9] It also refers to the ability of the region to return to its original state after being changed in some way. The resilience of a landscape can be increased or decreased through human interaction based upon different methods of land-use management. Land that is degraded becomes less resilient than undegraded land, which can lead to even further degradation through shocks to the landscape.

Climate change

Significant land degradation from seawater inundation, particularly in river deltas and on low-lying islands, is a potential hazard that was identified in a 2007 IPCC report.

IPCC
Assessment reports:
First (1990)
1992 sup.
Second (1995)
Third (2001)
Fourth (2007)
Fifth (2014)
Sixth (2022)
UNFCCC | WMO | UNEP

As a result of sea-level rise from climate change, salinity levels can reach levels where agriculture becomes impossible in very low-lying areas.

See also

References

  1. ^ Conacher, Arthur; Conacher, Jeanette (1995). Rural Land Degradation in Australia. South Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press Australia. p. 2. ISBN 0-19-553436-0.
  2. ^ Johnson, D.L., S.H. Ambrose, T.J. Bassett, M.L. Bowen, D.E. Crummey, J.S. Isaacson, D.N. Johnson, P. Lamb, M. Saul, and A.E. Winter-Nelson. 1997. Meanings of environmental terms. Journal of Environmental Quality 26: 581–589.
  3. ^ Eswaran, H.; R. Lal; P.F. Reich (2001). "Land degradation: an overview". Responses to Land Degradation. Proc. 2nd. International Conference on Land Degradation and Desertification. New Delhi: Oxford Press. Archived from the original on 2012-01-20. Retrieved 2012-02-05.
  4. ^ Ian Sample (2007-08-31). "Global food crisis looms as climate change and population growth strip fertile land". The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-07-23.
  5. ^ a b Stockings, Mike; Murnaghan, Niamh. (2000), Land Degradation - Guidelines for Field Assessment (PDF), Norwich, UK, pp. 7–15
  6. ^ Brabant Pierre, 2010. A land degradation assessment and mapping method. A standard guideline proposal. Les dossiers thématiques du CSFD. N°8. November 2010. CSFD/Agropolis International, Montpellier, France. 52 pp.
  7. ^ ILRI (1989), Effectiveness and Social/Environmental Impacts of Irrigation Projects: a Review (PDF), In: Annual Report 1988 of the International Institute for Land Reclamation and Improvement (ILRI), Wageningen, The Netherlands, pp. 18–34
  8. ^ Terminski, Bogumil, Towards Recognition and Protection of Forced Environmental Migrants in the Public International Law: Refugee or IDPs Umbrella (December 1, 2011). Policy Studies Organization (PSO) Summit, December 2011
  9. ^ Johnson, Douglas; Lewis, Lawrence. (2007), Land Degradation; Creation and Destruction, Maryland, US

Further reading

External links

Agricultural expansion

Agricultural expansion describes the growth of agricultural land (arable land, pastures, etc.) in the 21st century as a direct consequence of human overpopulation with an estimated 10 to 11 billion humans by end of this century and the required food and energy security. It is foreseen that most nonagricultural terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems of the world will be affected adversely (habitat loss, land degradation). The intensified food and biofuel production will particularly affect tropical regions.

Most modern agriculture relies on intensive methods. Further expansion of the predominant farming types that rest on a small number of highly productive crops has led to a significant loss of biodiversity on a global scale already.

In the light of the already occurring and potential massive ecological effects, the need for sustainable practices is more urgent than ever.

The FAO predicts that global arable land use will continue to grow from a 1.58 billion hectares (3.9×109 acres) in 2014 to 1.66 billion hectares (4.1×109 acres) in 2050, with most of this growth projected to result from developing countries. At the same time, arable land use in developed countries is likely to continue its decline.A well-known example of already ongoing agricultural expansion is the proliferation of palm oil production areas or the land conversion/deforestation for soy bean production in South America. Today's land grabbing activities are often a consequence of the strive for agricultural land by growing economies.

Desertification

Desertification is a type of land degradation in which a relatively dry area of land becomes a desert, typically losing its bodies of water as well as vegetation and wildlife. It is caused by a variety of factors, such as through climate change (particularly the current global warming) and through the overexploitation of soil through human activity. When deserts appear automatically over the natural course of a planet's life cycle, then it can be called a natural phenomenon; however, when deserts emerge due to the rampant and unchecked depletion of nutrients in soil that are essential for it to remain arable, then a virtual "soil death" can be spoken of, which traces its cause back to human overexploitation. Desertification is a significant global ecological and environmental problem with far reaching consequences on socio-economic and political conditions.

Economics of Land Degradation Initiative

The Economics of Land Degradation (ELD) Initiative is a global initiative which aims to increase awareness of the economic consequences of land degradation and promote sustainable land management. The ELD Initiative provides a platform for discussion between stakeholders from the policy, science, and private sectors, and is focused on developing globally relevant data and methodology on the economic benefits of land and land based ecosystems for decision makers. The Initiative highlights the benefits derived from adopting sustainable land management practices and seeks to establish a global economic analyses of land management. The ELD Initiative was co-founded by the Secretariat of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the European Commission (EC) and is hosted by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH. The ELD Secretariat is based in Bonn, Germany.

Environmental issues in Australia

Environmental issues in Australia describes a number of environmental issues which affect the environment of Australia. There are a range of such issues, some of the relating to conservation in Australia while others, for example the deteriorating state of Murray-Darling Basin, have a direct and serious effect on human land use and the economy.

Many human activities including the use of natural resources have a direct impact on the Australian environment.

These issues are the primary concern of the environmental movement in Australia.

Environmental issues in Iraq

Iraq has a number of environmental issues.

Environmental issues in Turkey

Turkey hosts more than three thousand endemic plant species, has high diversity of other taxa, and is almost entirely covered by three of the world's thirty-five biodiversity hotspots. "Yet, Turkey's environmental laws and conservation efforts are eroding, not improving. This has precipitated a conservation crisis that has accelerated over the past decade. This crisis has been exacerbated by legislative developments that may leave Turkey with a nature conservation, legal framework that is weakened, and severely out of line with globally accepted principles". The main environmental issues in Turkey are the conservation of biodiversity, air pollution, water pollution, greenhouse gases, and land degradation.

Environmental issues in the Niger Delta

The key environmental issues in the Niger Delta of Nigeria relate to its petroleum and industry.

The delta covers 20,000 km² within wetlands of 70,000 km² formed primarily by sediment deposition. Home to 20 million people and 40 different ethnic groups, this floodplain makes up 7.5% of Nigeria's total land mass. It is the largest wetland and maintains the third-largest drainage basin in Africa. The Delta's environment can be broken down into four ecological zones: coastal barrier islands, mangrove swamp forests, freshwater swamps, and lowland rainforests.

This incredibly well-endowed ecosystem contains one of the highest concentrations of biodiversity on the planet, in addition to supporting abundant flora and fauna, arable terrain that can sustain a wide variety of crops, lumber or agricultural trees, and more species of freshwater fish than any ecosystem in West Africa. The region could experience a loss of 40% of its inhabitable terrain in the next thirty years as a result of extensive dam construction in the region. The carelessness of the oil industry has also precipitated this situation, which can perhaps be best encapsulated by a 1983 report issued by the NNPC, long before popular unrest surfaced:

We witnessed the slow poisoning of the waters of this country and the destruction of vegetation and agricultural land by oil spills which occur during petroleum operations. But since the inception of the oil industry in Nigeria, more than twenty-five years ago, there has been no concerned and effective effort on the part of the government, let alone the oil operators, to control environmental problems associated with the industry'.

Environmental vegetarianism

Environmental vegetarianism is the practice of vegetarianism when motivated by the desire to not contribute to the negative environmental impact of meat production. Livestock as a whole is estimated to be responsible for around 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, significant reduction in meat consumption has been advocated by, among others, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and as part of the 2017 World Scientists' Warning to Humanity.Other than climate change, environmental concerns about the production of animal products may also relate to pollution, deforestation, unsustainability and the use of water and land.

Global Environment Facility

The Global Environment Facility (GEF) was established on the eve of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit to help tackle our planet’s most pressing environmental problems. The GEF unites 183 countries in partnership with international institutions, civil society organizations (CSOs), and the private sector to address global environmental issues while supporting national sustainable development initiatives. Since 1992, the GEF has provided over $17 billion in grants and mobilized an additional $88 billion in financing for more than 4000 projects in 170 countries. Through its Small Grants Programme (SGP), the GEF has invested $450million and leveraged similar levels of co financing supporting over 14,500 community based projects in over 125 countries.An independently operating financial organization, the GEF provides grants for projects related to biodiversity, climate change, international waters, land degradation, the ozone layer, persistent organic pollutants (POPs), mercury, sustainable forest management, food security, sustainable cities.

The GEF also serves as financial mechanism for the following conventions:

CBD Convention on Biological Diversity

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)

Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)

Minamata Convention on MercuryThe GEF, although not linked formally to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (MP), supports implementation of the Protocol in countries with economies in transition.

The Instrument for the Establishment of the Restructured GEF is the document that established the GEF after an initial pilot phase. It was accepted by the member countries and adopted by the Implementing Agencies in 1994. The Instrument may be considered the statutes and by-laws of the GEF, and contains provisions for the governance, participation, replenishment, and fiduciary and administrative operations of the GEF. It also lays out the roles and responsibilities of different actors in the GEF.

Human impact on the environment

Human impact on the environment or anthropogenic impact on the environment includes changes to biophysical environments and ecosystems, biodiversity, and natural resources caused directly or indirectly by humans, including global warming, environmental degradation (such as ocean acidification), mass extinction and biodiversity loss, ecological crisis, and ecological collapse. Modifying the environment to fit the needs of society is causing severe effects, which become worse as the problem of human overpopulation continues. Some human activities that cause damage (either directly or indirectly) to the environment on a global scale include human reproduction, overconsumption, overexploitation, pollution, and deforestation, to name but a few. Some of the problems, including global warming and biodiversity loss pose an existential risk to the human race, and overpopulation causes those problems.The term anthropogenic designates an effect or object resulting from human activity. The term was first used in the technical sense by Russian geologist Alexey Pavlov, and it was first used in English by British ecologist Arthur Tansley in reference to human influences on climax plant communities. The atmospheric scientist Paul Crutzen introduced the term "Anthropocene" in the mid-1970s. The term is sometimes used in the context of pollution emissions that are produced from human activity but also applies broadly to all major human impacts on the environment.

Land mine

A land mine is an explosive device concealed under or on the ground and designed to destroy or disable enemy targets, ranging from combatants to vehicles and tanks, as they pass over or near it. Such a device is typically detonated automatically by way of pressure when a target steps on it or drives over it, although other detonation mechanisms are also sometimes used. A land mine may cause damage by direct blast effect, by fragments that are thrown by the blast, or by both.

The name originates from the ancient practice of military mining, where tunnels were dug under enemy fortifications or troop formations. These killing tunnels ("mines") were at first collapsed to destroy targets located above, but they were later filled with explosives and detonated in order to cause even greater devastation.

Nowadays, in common parlance, "land mine" generally refers to devices specifically manufactured as anti-personnel or anti-vehicle weapons. Though some types of improvised explosive devices ("IEDs") are mistakenly classified as land mines, the term land mine is typically reserved for manufactured devices designed to be used by recognized military services, whereas IED is used for makeshift "devices placed or fabricated in an improvised manner incorporating explosive material, destructive, lethal, noxious, incendiary, pyrotechnic materials or chemicals designed to destroy, disfigure, distract or harass. They may incorporate military stores, but are normally devised from non-military components".The use of land mines is controversial because of their potential as indiscriminate weapons. They can remain dangerous many years after a conflict has ended, harming civilians and the economy. 78 countries are contaminated with land mines and 15,000–20,000 people are killed every year while countless more are maimed. Approximately 80% of land mine casualties are civilian, with children as the most affected age group. Most killings occur in times of peace. With pressure from a number of campaign groups organised through the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, a global movement to prohibit their use led to the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction, also known as the Ottawa Treaty. To date, 164 nations have signed the treaty.

List of environmental issues

This is an alphabetical list of environmental issues, harmful aspects of human activity on the biophysical environment. They are loosely divided into causes, effects and mitigation, noting that effects are interconnected and can cause new effects.

Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) is an Indian government ministry. The ministry portfolio is currently held by Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.The ministry is responsible for planning, promoting, coordinating, and overseeing the implementation of environmental and forestry programmes in the country. The main activities undertaken by the ministry include conservation and survey of the flora of India and fauna of India, forests and other wilderness areas; prevention and control of pollution; afforestation, and land degradation mitigation. It is responsible for the administration of the national parks of India.

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change is the cadre controlling authority of the Indian Forest Service (IFoS), one of the three All India Services.

National Society of Consulting Soil Scientists

The National Society of Consulting Soil Scientists (NSCSS), was integrated into the Soil Science Society of America as of August, 2011. NSCSS was a scientific and professional society of soil scientists, principally in the U.S. but with non-U.S. members as well. Members engaged primarily in environmental consulting, but consulting was not a requirement of membership, and the member body included soil science educators as well as government soil scientists. Society consulting soil scientists provided professional services in the form of agricultural and environmental consulting with respect to using soil as a natural resource, especially as it relates to nutrient management, waste management, septic systems, wetlands, erosion, slope stability, land use planning, and land degradation.

Nutritional anthropology

Nutritional anthropology is the interplay between human biology, economic systems, nutritional status and food security, and how changes in the former affect the latter. If economic and environmental changes in a community affect access to food, food security, and dietary health, then this interplay between culture and biology is in turn connected to broader historical and economic trends associated with globalization. Nutritional status affects overall health status, work performance potential, and the overall potential for economic development (either in terms of human development or traditional western models) for any given group of people.

Soil erosion

Soil erosion is the displacement of the upper layer of soil, it is one form of soil degradation. This natural process is caused by the dynamic activity of erosive agents, that is, water, ice (glaciers), snow, air (wind), plants, animals, and humans. In accordance with these agents, erosion is sometimes divided into water erosion, glacial erosion, snow erosion, wind (aeolean) erosion, zoogenic erosion, and anthropogenic erosion.

Soil erosion may be a slow process that continues relatively unnoticed, or it may occur at an alarming rate causing a serious loss of topsoil. The loss of soil from farmland may be reflected in reduced crop production potential, lower surface water quality and damaged drainage networks.

Human activities have increased by 10–50 times the rate at which erosion is occurring globally. Excessive (or accelerated) erosion causes both "on-site" and "off-site" problems. On-site impacts include decreases in agricultural productivity and (on natural landscapes) ecological collapse, both because of loss of the nutrient-rich upper soil layers. In some cases, the eventual end result is desertification. Off-site effects include sedimentation of waterways and eutrophication of water bodies, as well as sediment-related damage to roads and houses. Water and wind erosion are the two primary causes of land degradation; combined, they are responsible for about 84% of the global extent of degraded land, making excessive erosion one of the most significant environmental problems worldwide.Intensive agriculture, deforestation, roads, anthropogenic climate change and urban sprawl are amongst the most significant human activities in regard to their effect on stimulating erosion. However, there are many prevention and remediation practices that can curtail or limit erosion of vulnerable soils.

Soil resilience

Soil resilience refers to the ability of a soil to resist or recover their healthy state in response to destabilising influences. This is a subset of a notion of environmental resilience.

Soil science

Soil science is the study of soil as a natural resource on the surface of the Earth including soil formation, classification and mapping; physical, chemical, biological, and fertility properties of soils; and these properties in relation to the use and management of soils.Sometimes terms which refer to branches of soil science, such as pedology (formation, chemistry, morphology, and classification of soil) and edaphology (how soils interact with living things, especially plants), are used as if synonymous with soil science. The diversity of names associated with this discipline is related to the various associations concerned. Indeed, engineers, agronomists, chemists, geologists, physical geographers, ecologists, biologists, microbiologists, silviculturists, sanitarians, archaeologists, and specialists in regional planning, all contribute to further knowledge of soils and the advancement of the soil sciences.

Soil scientists have raised concerns about how to preserve soil and arable land in a world with a growing population, possible future water crisis, increasing per capita food consumption, and land degradation.

Terrafrica partnership

The TerrAfrica partnership is a US$4 billion, 12-year campaign supported by the African Union, World Bank, United Nations, European Commission, and regional sub-Saharan African governments, and aimed at fighting current, and preventing future desertification and other land degradation in Africa through sustainable land management.

It began October 2005.

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