Life on Land: The Antecedents of Land Degradation

One of mankind’s most precious asset and usually overlooked is the ‘land’. But come to think of it, the land is the life source that provides us and our environment with important ecosystem services. It gives us food and shelter and it also holds the treasure of other important resources like oils, minerals, freshwater, and trees that give oxygen and wood. Last but not the least, it is the final recycling factory to produce reusable resources from the environment; the soil provides nutrients that allows the growth of plants which are then eaten by animals.

Unfortunately, in this age, the fertile and productive land is becoming scarce due to a global problem called ‘land degradation’. To define clearly, land degradation according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is the deterioration or total loss of the productive capacity of the soils for present or future use. Land degradation is the result of complex interactions among various factors but ‘climatic variations’ and ‘human activities’ are regarded as the two main causes of land degradation.

Climatic variations that exacerbate land degradation are climate change, drought, and moisture loss on a global level. But in terms of anthropogenic factors, there are countless human activities that cause the decline in land quality or reduction in its productivity. Some of the most obvious human-induced land degradation factors are the following:

Overgrazing

According to studies, agricultural lands used for livestock rearing are more susceptible to degradation than non-agricultural land. If an area is allowed to be overgrazed, the soil becomes free of vegetation that makes the soil more susceptible to erosion caused by wind or water. 1

Agricultural activities

Monoculture, salination, overuse of fertilizers and chemicals, or farming on sloping grounds are only some of the contributing agricultural activities that lead to land degradation. These damages the land by increasing the carbon dioxide levels that worsens climate change. 2

Deforestation or removal of the natural vegetation cover

Without the sunlight-protecting capability of forests,  the land or soil is more prone to drying out. The plants that should supposedly help perpetuate the water cycle by returning water vapor to the atmosphere are removed during deforestation turning forest lands into barren deserts. 3

The following are also deep-rooted drivers for land degradation:

Population growth

As the population increases, there is an increase in the amount of pressure put on the agricultural sector. Farming is a major human activity that has transformed the land masses and it has become a direct route in which humans have affected the environment. 4

Poverty

Impoverished communities, unaware of the errant, harmful ways in which they use natural resources, such as forest wood and soil, are continuing the destructive cycle that spirals the environment further downward. 5

Lack of markets and infrastructure

The lack of well-designed infrastructure projects can pose serious threats to the environment and resultant quality of life. Land degradation, for instance, is one of the results from poorly designed projects that seriously degrade living conditions, especially for the poor who lack the resources to compensate for the impacts. 6

Poor governance and weak institutional frameworks

Many problems of resource depletion and environmental stress arise from inadequate institutions to deal with environmental issues. Corruption can further aggravate these conditions, increasing the potential for abuse and the amount of damage inflicted. 7

Inadequate education

Proper education is also vital for the protection of the environment. Through education, people shall become more aware of environmental issues and thus shall be encouraged to use natural resources (e.g. soils and water) more efficiently. 8

With so many factors affecting land degradation, solving the issue is indeed a daunting task.  But if we want to save our planet and to secure everyone’s future at the same time, we should start thinking of long-term solutions and address land degradation via sustainable land management practices. It is the only way we could preserve one of mankind’s most precious natural resources.

References:

  1. “Negative Effects of Overgrazing for Native Species.” Intensive Agriculture, Greentumble, 03 February 2017, https://greentumble.com/negative-effects-of-overgrazing-for-native-species/.
  2. Rodriguez, Elizabeth, Ryan Sultan, and Amy Hilliker. “Negative Effects of Agriculture on Our Environment.” ResearchGate. Web. January 2004.
  3. “Deforestation.” Climate 101: Deforestation, National Geographic, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/deforestation/
  4. Preston, Samuel H. “The Effect of Population Growth on Environmental Quality.” Population Research and Policy Review, Volume 15, No. 02, 1996, pp. 95-108, jstor.org/stable/40230088.
  5. Owens, Chante. “How Poverty Impacts the Environment.” The Blog, The Borgen Project, 02 October 2013, https://borgenproject.org/how-poverty-impacts-the-environment/.
  6. Shiling, John D. The Nexus Between Infrastructure and Environment: From the Evaluation Cooperation Group of the International Financial Institutions. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank, 2007. Print.
  7. Leitao, Alexandra. “Corruption and the Environment.” Journal of Socialomics, 5:173, https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/corruption-and-the-environment-2471-8726-1000173.php?aid=74547.
  8. “Education Increases Awareness and Concern for the Environment.” World Education Blog, Global Education Monitoring Report, 8 December 2016, https://gemreportunesco.wordpress.com/2015/12/08/education-increases-awareness-and-concern-for-the-environment/.
  9. EFA Global Monitoring Report Team. “Education For All 2000 – 2015: Achievements and Challenges.” UNESCO Publishing, 2015, http://www.unesco.org/education/gmr_download/chapter2.pdf

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