soil degradation

Soil degradation: causes and consequences

Soil degradation, its causes and consequences occur for various reasons and result in productivity loss, besides causing social and environmental impacts. This problem is usually caused by land misuse and poor conservation, which can be consequences of natural processes or human activities.

This occurrence may be linked to unplanned and unsustainable occupation. Thus, the soil demonstrates nutritional imbalance, decreased biological activity, compaction and spraying, loss of structure, acidification, salinisation, reduced organic matter levels, and permeability, among others.

Thus, the land becomes impoverished, and the plants have difficulties developing, which will, in turn, directly affect the region’s production capacity.

With this in mind, we prepared this article for you better to understand soil degradation, its causes and consequences.

Factors that can cause soil degradation

There are many phenomena and attitudes that can cause soil degradation. These processes can occur naturally or not. Learn about some of them below!


Erosion is a natural process, but it can be intensified by human activity. It is caused by the soil’s transformation and wear due to external agents’ action such as rain, wind and sun. The destruction of natural vegetation eradicates soil protection and results in increased surface wear.

This phenomenon also causes several other environmental problems, that can range from the intensification of leaching and may result in gullies and silting. Landslides from the slopes and hills and desertification can increase, which makes the soil even more infertile.


Salinisation also occurs naturally and is intensified significantly by the application of incorrect agricultural methods, like bad irrigation. The phenomenon is characterised by the accumulation of mineral salts in the soil.

This problem occurs when the water evaporation rate is very high, which occurs most often in regions of arid or semi-arid climate. In addition, the rain’s low intensity impairs the surface’s desalination.


Desertification is the process of soil degradation and depletion that causes a significant change in the landscape, which also occurs in regions of arid and semi-arid climate. In these places, the low rainfall rate makes evaporation greater than infiltration.

Although it has natural causes, the main determinants of desertification are associated with anthropic practices, such as burning, deforestation, mining, incorrect irrigation and intensive land use by agriculture.


Compaction is characterised by increased soil density. Consequently, its porosity and permeability are reduced, caused by the surface’s significant friction or the continuous pressure it receives. The main reasons for this are cattle treading, agricultural machinery traffic and soil management in inadequate humidity conditions.

This process causes alterations in the soil’s physical and chemical characteristics, negatively influencing plant growth and development. It also reduces water movement on the subsurface, which results in gas exchange reduction, inferior nutrient displacement and low infiltration rate.

Chemical degradation

This is one of the present-day’s main environmental problems. The main consequences of this process are soil unproductivity and infertility and the probable loss of local fauna. The indiscriminate use of agricultural pesticides, the incorrect disposal of industrial waste, unsupervised dumps and deforestation are the leading causes of chemical contamination.

In addition to the problems already mentioned, this type of degradation can affect the water table and local vegetation, damaging the entire ecosystem’s performance and interactions.

Ways to prevent soil degradation

Given so many consequences caused by soil degradation, it is crucial to know how to avoid the problem and have a productive and quality field to carry out your activities.

Correct planting

Using quality agricultural inputs, choosing good seeds, distributing them with the shortest possible and uniform spacing, planting at the right time and having a suitable irrigation system is essential for pasture formation.

A well-formed pasture covers the land and protects the soil, facilitating water infiltration and preventing nutrient loss. In addition, it is essential to keep the machines and seeding equipment well regulated.

Area Reforestation

Reforestation consists of planting trees and plants in places that have suffered deforestation. It is also possible to invest in green fertilisation, which is the cultivation of plants that will later be incorporated into the soil through decomposition.

These processes bring several benefits, because they protect the riverbank, filter sediments, increase soil porosity, increase the rate of nutrients available, reduce surface runoff, and allow the refuge of fauna.

Proper management

Proper soil management is one of the cheapest actions available to the farmer. When the process is done incorrectly, in any of its steps, it can cause pasture degradation.

Some management actions are fertilisation, maintenance of organic matter, shading and proper pasture planning. Pasture fertilisation, for example, should be done annually to replace nutrients and prevent crop productivity decrease.

Crop rotation

A sound crop rotation system is vital to annually change the plant species distributed in the same agricultural region. It is essential to choose plants with different roots and nutritional needs.

In addition to avoiding the negative consequences of soil degradation, this practice improves the chemical, physical, and biological characteristics of the surface, helps in diseases and pests’ control, diversifies production, restores organic matter, and protects the weathering terrain action, among other benefits.

Understanding the soil degradation process, its causes and consequences are fundamental to avoid its occurrence. In addition to occupational planning, it is essential to take some preventive measures so that its use is always rational and sustainable. These attitudes should be adapted to each type of soil, vegetation and local climate, in order to reduce the impacts of the activities developed in them.

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