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Soil Erosion in Africa

Soil erosion in Africa threatens food and fuel supplies and can contribute to climate change. For over a century, governments and aid organizations have tried to combat soil erosion in Africa, often with limited effect. So where do things stand in 2015, the International Year of the Soil?

Currently 40% of soil in Africa is degraded. Degraded soil diminishes food production and leads to soil erosion, which in turn contributes to desertification.

This is particularly worrisome since, according to the UN"s Food and Agriculture Organization, some 83% of sub-Saharan African people depend on the land for their livelihood, and food production in Africa will have to increase almost 100% by 2050 to keep up with population demands. All of this makes soil erosion a pressing social, economic, and environmental issue for many African countries.

Erosion happens when wind or rain carry top soil away. How much soil is carried away depends on how strong the rain or wind is as well as the soil quality, topography (for example, sloped versus terraced land), and the amount of ground vegetation. Healthy top soil (like soil covered with plants) is less erodible. Put simply, it sticks together better and can absorb more water.

Increased population and development put greater stress on soils. More land is cleared and less left fallow, which can deplete the soil and increase water run-off.

Overgrazing and poor farming techniques can also lead to soil erosion, but it is important to remember that not all causes are human; climate and natural soil quality are also important factors to consider in tropical and mountainous regions.

During the colonial era, state governments tried to force peasants and farmers to adopt scientifically approved farming techniques.

Many of these efforts were aimed at controlling African populations and did not take into account significant cultural norms. For instance, colonial officers invariably worked with men, even in areas where women were responsible for farming. They also provided few incentives -

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