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Soil Erosion

All over the world, farmers who own fields have to deal with the environment wearing down and destroying the fertility of their land. Different environmental factors such as wind, ice, and water act as erosive agents and erode the topsoil, which decreases soil fertility, and negatively affects crop yields.


Background

The topsoil is the upper-most layer of the ground (5-10 inches) in which plants have most of their roots since this layer is the most fertile one. Although soil erosion is a naturally-occurring event, humans have accelerated it to a point where it has become extremely problematic for the environment and all who inhabit it. Not only does soil erosion deplete the fertility of the land, but it can also change the whole state and shape of the land that is eroded, creating huge valleys in places that once had flat land. Soil erosion also damages different parts of the environment besides land as it contributes to major siltation. Siltation can be described as the deposit of mud, sand, soil, and dirt into bodies of water, thereby polluting them with eroded material which affects the marine life and overall cleanliness of the water.

Case Study in Myanmar

Soil erosion is a grave threat to the people of Myanmar, who depend largely on fish as a source of food. Multitudes of farmers have carried out unsustainable farming practices in the countryside which has led to numerous rivers, lakes, and ponds being polluted and the fish being killed and drastically decreasing in numbers. Their practices of logging, slash-and-burn agriculture, cutting trees for fuel, mining operations, dam building, clearing land for livestock grazing, and oil extraction have even created major natural disasters like hurricanes, floods, droughts, and fires that has brought the country’s use of natural resources into a heated discussion. On one hand, Myanmar is a 3rd world country that relies heavily on its natural resources to boost its economy, but on the other hand, farmers are losing their land and siltation along with natural disasters, like the Cyclone Nargis of 2008, are completely changing the terrain and usability of the natural resources. To combat soil erosion, the government has tried to decrease deforestation and instate mandatory reforestation by the citizens, but people have taken the problem into their own hands. Over the last decade, farmers have started to plant fast growing trees, institute crop rotation, and build terraces, which are similar to small dams that hold the soil on hillside fields. Although it will take a while to recover from the effects of destructive practices, the efforts of the people and government in Myanmar are slowing down soil erosion at a steady pace. Besides the agricultural practices of uncaring farmers, deforestation, urbanization, and mining are also major factors which add to soil erosion and desertification. Much of the world’s original forests have been logged. Many of the tropical forests that remain are currently the site of logging because North America and Europe have already harvested many of their trees and are now importing timber and forest-harvested resources from third world countries. The soil that erodes from logging forests can clog lakes and rivers, and can even bury entire coral reefs, something that people from Myanmar had a hard time dealing with after they cut down too many trees to export. Logging is also commonplace in areas where urbanization is spreading, so the entire natural landscape is changed to accommodate the construction of roads and buildings, which churns up the ground and exposes soil to erosion.

Mass-Mining in Ukraine

Of course one cannot talk about humanity’s impact on the planet without mentioning the mass-mining issue that has scarred the earth’s terrain permanently. Mines can be spread over thousands of acres and can go more than a half mile down into the earth. Obviously the topsoil is far gone after mining takes place in a region, but the aftereffect of having high amounts of waste in the earth come back up and cause surrounding areas to be toxic makes mining one of the largest causes for erosion and desertification. The giant craters and hundreds of mud-filled acres left behind in Ukraine after the amber mining craze are evidence of the destruction and damage that mining causes to areas that were once evergreen and lush with hectares of natural vegetation and forests. Soil erosion causes permanent change to entire regions and so it needs to be taken more seriously and dealt with in the right manner.

Prevention

To prevent further erosion, firstly we must cut down on the things that we are currently doing to accelerate erosion beyond nature’s scope. This change would have to come from solidified rules and regulations world-wide to make a large scale impact on the current situation and methods that are in place. Secondly, as many farmers in Myanmar have done and continue to do, we must take the matter into our own hands and plan to do our part to stop erosion from harming our planet. Some things that we can do are planting permanent vegetation and cover crops, as data from the Iowa State University shows that permanent vegetation cover effectively reduces soil loss by more than 50 percent. Deep rooted plants are great for holding the soil and making sure that even natural processes don’t erode the soil. On terrains that are flat or have a mild slope but have some exposed spots where the soil might be removed, mulch may be the perfect thing from preventing erosion. On steeper slopes, one may consider using erosion control blankets to protect the soil. Learning from the farmers in Myanmar, we can even build terraces and place large rocks and stones in the ground to hold the soil in place. There are many ways that we can take to do our part to prevent erosion, some might be more suitable than others depending on the specific landscape that is in question, but overall there needs to be an initiative taken by people and governments around the world to combat this problem before too many permanent changes are made in the earth’s surface and in the lives of all those that inhabit it.


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