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Soil degradation: a global problem endangering sustainable development

An Erratum to this article was published on 01 July 2002


Soil degradation, defined as lowering and losing of soil functions, is becoming more and more serious worldwide in recent decades, and poses a threat to agricultural production and terrestrial ecosystem. It is estimated that nearly 2 billion ha of soil resources in the world have been degraded, namely approximately 22% of the total cropland, pasture, forest, and woodland. Globally, soil erosion, chemical deterioration and physical degradation are the important parts amongst various types of soil degradation. As a natural process, soil degradation can be enhanced or dampened by a variety of human activities such as inappropriate agricultural management, overgrazing, deforestation, etc. Degraded soil means less food. As a result of soil degradation, it is estimated that about 11.9–13.4% of the global agricultural supply has been lost in the past five decades. Besides, soil degradation is also associated with off-site problems of sedimentation, climate change, watershed functions, and changes in natural habitats leading to loss of genetic stock and biodiversity. Therefore, it is essential to combat soil degradation at different levels and scales worldwide, not only for food security and ecological health, but also for the guarantee of global sustainable development.

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Jie, C., Jing-zhang, C., Man-zhi, T. et al. Soil degradation: a global problem endangering sustainable development. J. Geogr. Sci 12, 243–252 (2002).

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Key words

  • soil
  • soil degradation
  • erosion
  • food security
  • sustainable development