Erosion Control: Soil Conservation

Authored by: Eric T. Craswell

Encyclopedia of Environmental Management

Print publication date:  December  2012
Online publication date:  December  2012

Print ISBN: 9781439829271
eBook ISBN: 9781351235860
Adobe ISBN:


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Soil erosion is a globally significant cause of water and air pollution. A natural phenomenon accelerated by the land cover change and poor land management commonly associated with agriculture, soil erosion by wind and water was historically the domain of policy makers, researchers, and practitioners concerned about its on-site impacts on the productivity of land for agriculture. Soil conservation focused on limiting land clearing and overgrazing and promoted land management practices such as contour banks, vegetative strips, and the retention of crop residues that slowed or stopped soil movement. The same principles formed the basis for indigenous soil conservation practices. While these approaches were successful to some degree, more recently, a paradigm shift has seen more attention given to a landscape approach that also emphasizes minimizing off-site impacts and enhancing ecosystem services. This new approach, applicable in developed and developing countries, relies on community involvement in watershed management that provides stakeholders with a framework to address the problem of soil movement in the context of broader issues such as the quantity and quality of water, greenhouse gas emissions, and ecological impacts including the protection of terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity. Recognition of the importance of land managers and the diverse ecosystem services they provide, such as clean water and adequate water flows, is part of a much-needed major shift in thinking about soil conservation. This approach provides win–win solutions that conserve soil and water and sustain productivity on agricultural land while minimizing off-site environmental impacts. Ensuring that these important environmental and productivity goals are achieved through the widespread adoption of watershed-based approaches in the many countries of the world presents a major challenge to mankind.

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