Journal Article

Soil Erosion Impact on Agronomic Productivity and Environmental Quality

Soil erosion is a global issue because of its severe adverse economic and environmental impacts. Economic impacts on productivity may be due to direct effects on crops/plants on-site and off-site, and environmental consequences are primarily off-site due either to pollution of natural waters or adverse effects on air quality due to dust and emissions of radiatively active gases. Off-site economic effects of erosion are related to the damage to civil structure, siltation of water ways and reservoirs, and additional costs involved in water treatment. There are numerous reports regarding the on-site effects of erosion on productivity. However, a vast majority of these are from the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Europe, and only a few from soils of the tropics and subtropics. On-site effects of erosion on agronomic productivity are assessed with a wide range of methods, which can be broadly grouped into three categories: agronomic/soil quality evaluation, economic assessment, and knowledge surveys. Agronomic methods involve greenhouse and field experiments to assess erosion-induced changes in soil quality in relation to productivity. A widely used technique is to establish field plots on the same soil series but with different severity of past erosion. Different erosional phases must be located on the same landscape position. Impact of past erosion on productivity can also be assessed by relating plant growth to the depth of a root-restrictive horizon. Impact of current erosion rate on productivity can be assessed using field runoff plots or paired watersheds, and that of future erosion using topsoil removal and addition technique. Economic evaluation of the on-site impact involves assessment of the losses of plant available water and nutrients and other additional inputs needed due to erosion. Knowledge surveys are conducted as a qualitative substitute for locations where quantitative data are not available. Results obtained from these different techniques are not comparable, and there is a need to standardize the methods and develop scaling procedures to extrapolate the data from plot or soil level to regional and global scale. There is also a need to assess on-site impact of erosion in relation to soil loss tolerance, soil life, soil resilience or ease of restoration, and soil management options for sustainable use of soil and water resources. Restoration of degraded soils is a high global priority. If about 1.5109?ha of soils in the world prone to erosion can be managed to effectively control soil erosion, it would improve air and water quality, sequester C in the pedosphere at the rate of about 1.5?Pg/year, and increase food production. The risks of global annual loss of food production due to accelerated erosion may be as high as 190106?Mg of cereals, 6106?Mg of soybeans, 3106?Mg of pulses, and 73106?Mg of roots and tubers. The actual loss may depend on weather conditions during the growing season, farming systems, soil management, and soil ameliorative input used. Erosion-caused losses of food production are most severe in Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and elsewhere in the tropics rather than in other regions.

Publisher - Taylor and Francis

Subjects - Soil erosion

Collection: Section 2: Water Quality (2012)

Citation: Lal R. 1998. Soil Erosion Impact on Agronomic Productivity and Environmental Quality. Crit. Rev. Plant Sci.; 17(4):319-464