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Global Land Degradation

Due to the diminishing conditions of soil from climate change and chemically dependent agriculture, many acres of land have become unusable for the growth of plant life and equally unable to function as a suitable habitat for wildlife.

Because soil is needed for vegetation to grow and create energy, without soil, to put it simply, there is no life.

Yet the world is facing global soil degradation that threatens our ability to provide  a stable food source for our growing population. The problem can be found in virtually every country, among both developed and developing communities.

On a global scale, the main factors contributing to land degradation are overgrazing and deforestation. This was further broken down by the UN’s global survey of soil degradation, which found the main cause for degradation in North and Central America to be agricultural activities, leading to soil loss. The same survey found overgrazing to be the main factor in Oceania and Africa, and deforestation as the main source of degradation in Asia, Europe, and South America.

While it would be nice if we could simply replace poor soil, this is not an option.

Soil is generated by weathering, a process that can be lengthy in duration. One millimeter of new soil alone takes around a hundred years to produce. The weathering process is quickened in areas where a lot of soil is already present, as rocks can weather into it.

However, due to erosion and human activity, much of the world’s topsoil is being lost. Often this loss is irreplaceable. Natural erosion does occur less on areas with vegetation than it does with bare soil, but again, due to land degradation the amount of soil that can host vegetation continues to decrease, so continues a viscous cycle.

It seems our current options to help remedy the situation are soil amendment, as well as growing crops that can tolerate poor soil conditions. The latter would require close regulation, however, to ensure such climate-adaptable crops don’t become invasive to foreign landscapes.

Although conservation practices can help slow degradation in moderately damaged soil, it cannot often return its fertility.

Meanwhile, the restoration efforts of severely damaged or eroded land are nearly impossible for developing countries to implement due to the extensive cost and labor needed to perform such efforts, which include digging large ditches for drainage, building terraces to hold soil in place, reseeding programs, and mechanized deep plowing to remove compaction.

The loss of topsoil has been hitting countries hard economically as well, and currently costs the U.S. an upward of $125,000,000,000 per year.

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