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Catastrophic Soil Erosion

Context:

  • Recently, a study ‘Geospatial modeling and mapping of soil erosion in India’ classified soil erosion on a pan-India basis for the first time.

About Soil Erosion:

  • The destruction of the soil cover is described as soil erosion.
  • It involves the breakdown, detachment, transport, and redistribution of soil particles by forces of water, wind, or gravity.
  • Agents: Wind and water are powerful agents of soil erosion because of their ability to remove soil and transport it.
  • Wind erosion is significant in arid and semi-arid regions.
  • Erosion by running water is more significant in regions with heavy rainfall and steep slopes.
  • Sheet erosion takes place on level lands after a heavy shower, and removes the finer and more fertile topsoil.
  • Gully erosion is common on steep slopes.
  • Gullies deepen with rainfall, cut the agricultural lands into small fragments, and make them unfit for cultivation.
  • According to the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), the extent of soil erosion, defined as soil loss of more than 10 tonnes per hectare per year, in cultivable land of the country was 92.4 million hectares.

The Extent of the Problem:

  • The study came up with six classifications for soil erosion — ranging from ‘minor’ to ‘catastrophic’ — in terms of soil eroded in tonnes over a hectare over a year.
  • It reveals that nearly 30% of India’s landmass is experiencing minor soil erosion, while a critical 3% faces catastrophic topsoil loss.
  • A region would be classified as ‘catastrophic’ if it reports over 100 tonnes of soil lost to erosion over a hectare during a year.
About Topsoil:

– It is the uppermost layer of soil and is vital for agriculture as it holds nutrients and moisture essential for plant growth.

– The organic materials have been incorporated with the mineral matter, nutrients, and water, which are necessary for the growth of plants.

The Worst-Affected Region:

  • Brahmaputra Valley in Assam: It is the biggest hotspot for soil erosion in India.
  • Data shows that the northeastern state of Assam lost close to 300 square kilometers or 31% of its surface soil to catastrophic erosion.
  • It has severe implications for the state’s agriculture and the livelihoods of its people.
  • Lower reaches of the Himalayas: These regions are characterized by moraine or loose soil and highly unstable slopes. It spans from the Kashmir Valley to the southern regions of Himachal Pradesh Uttarakhand and extends across the border into Nepal and parts of Odisha.
  • Odisha, which differs markedly from the Himalayas and the Brahmaputra valley in terms of topography and biodiversity, is also another hotspot for ‘catastrophic’ erosion.
  • This region stands as one of the most prominent erosion hotspots in the country, exacerbated by its susceptibility to seismic activity or earthquakes.

The Impact of Soil Erosion:

  • Soil erosion of this magnitude has far-reaching consequences. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, it could take up to 1,000 years to produce 2 to 3 centimeters of topsoil.
  • It means that the land lost to erosion will take centuries to regain its fertility.
  • The loss of soil not only affects the fertility of the land but also leads to a decrease in the water-holding capacity of the soil, affecting the overall ecosystem.
  • The increasing soil erosion is detrimental to the region’s globally important biodiversity.

The Need for Action:

  • The findings of this study underscore the urgent need for action. India needs a comprehensive strategy to combat soil erosion, which includes both preventive measures and efforts to restore eroded lands.
  • Without such measures, the country’s agricultural productivity could be severely impacted, threatening food security and rural livelihoods.

Conclusion:

  • The study provides valuable insights into the extent and severity of soil erosion in India. It underscores the urgent need for strategies to prevent soil erosion and restore degraded lands.
  • As the country strives to achieve its sustainable development goals, addressing soil erosion must be a top
    priority.