Soil degradation is the loss of a land's production capacity.

Industrial and commercial pollution, loss of arable land owing to urban growth, overgrazing, unsustainable agricultural practices and longterm climate changes are all factors that contribute to soil degradation.

Rainfall, surface runoff, floods, wind erosion, tillage and mass movements result in the loss of fertile top soil thereby degrading soil quality. Deforestation has a significant impact on the soil's aeration, water holding capacity and biological activity. With the rising population exploitation of natural resources has gone up, which means there is more encroachment of land and more deforestation.

Landslides in the hills have been caused by deforestation, unplanned settlements along slopes, unregulated road construction and improper land use for farming, all of which contribute to loss of soil productivity and quality.

Pesticides and chemical fertilisers are often overused and misused, killing beneficial bacteria and other microorganisms that aid in soil formation. Industrial activities and mining operations are the other sources of soil pollution. Mining damages crop cover and releases harmful substances like mercury into the soil, polluting it and rendering it useless for any other purpose.

On the other hand, industrial activities release toxic effluents and material wastes into the atmosphere, land, rivers and groundwater, which eventually damage the soil. There are certain agricultural practices that are environmentally unsustainable, one being tillage of agricultural fields, which breaks up the soil into finer particles and increases erosion rates. Other improper cultivation techniques such as farming on steep slopes and mono-cropping, row-cropping and surface irrigation wear away the natural composition of the soil and its fertility and prevent soil from regenerating. Overgrazing causes soil erosion by destroying surface crop cover and breaking down soil particles.

Soil's ability to naturally regenerate can be restored by reducing deforestation. One sustainable strategy to avoid soil quality degradation is to introduce conservation tillage, a method to make only minor changes to the soil's natural condition while increasing productivity.

Sustainable land management is crucial to feed the world's expanding population.

Soil carbon is important in controlling climate, water supply and biodiversity, and also aids in providing ecosystem services that are essential to human well-being. So we must collaborate and work to conserve soil. Strict rules and regulations must be made and wisely executed.

A version of this article appears in the print on December 23, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.