Ending The Human Degradation Of Land

In this special series of articles on the degradation of land and its impact on the Earth and mankind, Professor Emeritus at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Nils Nykvist, shares with us his invaluable insights.



Drawing on experiences from land surveys in many countries, including those with annual rainfall from about 8000 mm such as in South America, to those with less than 400 mm such as in Sudan, Professor Nils Nykvist explains why land degradation is something we need to be concerned about.

Through his sharing, we will learn why the lands of our world are becoming less infertile, leaving us poorer and our poorest people hungry:



We will also learn about the measures we can take to prevent more of our precious lands from going down the same death-path:



Lastly, we will learn if there is any hope of saving our already depleted soils.

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Foreword by guest writer, Professor Emeritus Nils Nykvist .

Why We Need To Care



Among the most obvious evidence of serious degradation of soils and vegetation is the severe floods now occurring in many tropical countries. The well-known Greek philosopher Plato described around the year 400 BC how, after the cutting down of forests, the rain-water useless ran away from the bare land into the sea. The bare hills and mountains of the Mediterranean today give a frightening example of what Man’s land use during the past centuries has caused.

Unlike earthquakes and other natural disasters, degradation of land is a slow process that is not noticed in the short term. People adapt to lower yields from agriculture and animal husbandry and therefore do not see the depletion of the soil, until a few dry years drastically reduce their living conditions.

Since the drought is most evident, many people believe that it is the likely cause of the failed crops. They are aware that plants can die from drought, but that the earth’s water storage capacity may be reduced by long-term misuse of the land is less well known to most people.
Cultivation of savanna soils in Zaire.

The degradation of land because of overexploitation of natural resources affects not only individual farmers, forcing many of them to move into the cities. The washing away of soil from slopes by soil erosion also leads to substantial costs to society through the siltation of dams and canals.

Despite considerable efforts over many years by the UN, individual governments, and aid agencies to reduce the ongoing degradation of land, several million people annually suffer from hunger in the poorest countries. The main reasons for this are the growing number of people living on already impoverished soils, and difficulties with, for example, the interpretation of the ownership of land.

These efforts have largely focused on areas that now are under cultivation. However, there are also large areas, particularly in the poorest countries, which earlier generations of people have gradually abandoned when the harvest has fallen too much. Numerous fires have then further depleted the soil, so that its production capacity over time has become very low.

The low production capacity of these soils is mainly due to lack of inorganic nutrients and low content of soil organic matter which is of great importance for the storage of water and nutrients in the soil.

Why we need to do something about it

As long as the soil is sufficiently deep, and there is enough rainfall, a forest plantation can improve its soil by increasing the amount of organic matter it contains.



A forest plantation also means better access to fuel wood so that people do not need to use cow dung and agricultural residues for cooking their food and warming their houses. Cow dung and agricultural residues are of great importance for soil fertility

For the poorest people in the world, living conditions can thereby be improved, as they receive better yields from their rejuvenated lands.

At the same time, greenhouse gases in the atmosphere can be reduced, since larger amounts of carbon can be stored in the vegetations and soil. This situation will benefit all the people all over the world.

Facts of interest

References

See list of references used in this series.


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