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Restoring Soil Quality to Mitigate Soil Degradation


  • Rattan Lal

    () (The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210, USA)


Feeding the world population, 7.3 billion in 2015 and projected to increase to 9.5 billion by 2050, necessitates an increase in agricultural production of ~70% between 2005 and 2050. Soil degradation, characterized by decline in quality and decrease in ecosystem goods and services, is a major constraint to achieving the required increase in agricultural production. Soil is a non-renewable resource on human time scales with its vulnerability to degradation depending on complex interactions between processes, factors and causes occurring at a range of spatial and temporal scales. Among the major soil degradation processes are accelerated erosion, depletion of the soil organic carbon (SOC) pool and loss in biodiversity, loss of soil fertility and elemental imbalance, acidification and salinization. Soil degradation trends can be reversed by conversion to a restorative land use and adoption of recommended management practices. The strategy is to minimize soil erosion, create positive SOC and N budgets, enhance activity and species diversity of soil biota (micro, meso, and macro), and improve structural stability and pore geometry. Improving soil quality ( i.e ., increasing SOC pool, improving soil structure, enhancing soil fertility) can reduce risks of soil degradation (physical, chemical, biological and ecological) while improving the environment. Increasing the SOC pool to above the critical level (10 to 15 g/kg) is essential to set-in-motion the restorative trends. Site-specific techniques of restoring soil quality include conservation agriculture, integrated nutrient management, continuous vegetative cover such as residue mulch and cover cropping, and controlled grazing at appropriate stocking rates. The strategy is to produce “more from less” by reducing losses and increasing soil, water, and nutrient use efficiency.

Suggested Citation

  • Rattan Lal, 2015. "Restoring Soil Quality to Mitigate Soil Degradation," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 7(5), pages 1-21, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:gam:jsusta:v:7:y:2015:i:5:p:5875-5895:d:49518

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Rozelle, Scott & Huang, Jikun & Zhang, Linxiu, 1997. "Poverty, population and environmental degradation in China," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 22(3), pages 229-251, June.
    2. R. Lal, 2009. "Soil degradation as a reason for inadequate human nutrition," Food Security: The Science, Sociology and Economics of Food Production and Access to Food, Springer;The International Society for Plant Pathology, vol. 1(1), pages 45-57, February.
    3. Atapattu, Sithara S. & Kodituwakku, Dekshika C., 2009. "Agriculture in South Asia and its implications on downstream health and sustainability: A review," Agricultural Water Management, Elsevier, vol. 96(3), pages 361-373, March.
    4. Berazneva, Julia & Conrad, Jon & Guerena, David, 2014. "Agricultural productivity and soil carbon dynamics: a bio-economic model," 2014 Annual Meeting, July 27-29, 2014, Minneapolis, Minnesota 170171, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    5. Joy Ogaji, 2005. "Sustainable Agriculture in the UK," Environment, Development and Sustainability: A Multidisciplinary Approach to the Theory and Practice of Sustainable Development, Springer, vol. 7(2), pages 253-270, June.
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    Cited by:

    1. Vigani, M. & Berry, R., 2018. "Farm economic resilience, land diversity and environmental uncertainty," 2018 Conference, July 28-August 2, 2018, Vancouver, British Columbia 276979, International Association of Agricultural Economists.
    2. Darija Bilandžija & Željka Zgorelec & Ivica Kisić, 2016. "Influence of Tillage Practices and Crop Type on Soil CO 2 Emissions," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 8(1), pages 1-10, January.
    3. Honglei Jiang & Xia Xu & Mengxi Guan & Lingfei Wang & Yongmei Huang & Yinghui Liu, 2019. "Simulation of Spatiotemporal Land Use Changes for Integrated Model of Socioeconomic and Ecological Processes in China," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 11(13), pages 1-18, July.
    4. Tiziano Gomiero, 2016. "Soil Degradation, Land Scarcity and Food Security: Reviewing a Complex Challenge," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 8(3), pages 1-41, March.
    5. Trung Thanh Nguyen & Siegfried Bauer & Ulrike Grote, 2016. "Does Land Tenure Security Promote Manure Use by Farm Households in Vietnam?," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 8(2), pages 1-19, February.
    6. José Camilo Bedano & Anahí Domínguez, 2016. "Large-Scale Agricultural Management and Soil Meso- and Macrofauna Conservation in the Argentine Pampas," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 8(7), pages 1-25, July.
    7. Maria Cristina Collivignarelli & Alessandro Abbà & Andrea Frattarola & Marco Carnevale Miino & Sergio Padovani & Ioannis Katsoyiannis & Vincenzo Torretta, 2019. "Legislation for the Reuse of Biosolids on Agricultural Land in Europe: Overview," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 11(21), pages 1-22, October.
    8. repec:gam:jsusta:v:8:y:2016:i:3:p:281:d:66100 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Luciene Gomes & Silvio J. C. Simões & Eloi Lennon Dalla Nora & Eráclito Rodrigues de Sousa-Neto & Maria Cristina Forti & Jean Pierre H. B. Ometto, 2019. "Agricultural Expansion in the Brazilian Cerrado: Increased Soil and Nutrient Losses and Decreased Agricultural Productivity," Land, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 8(1), pages 1-26, January.
    10. repec:gam:jsusta:v:8:y:2016:i:2:p:178:d:64024 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. repec:gam:jsusta:v:8:y:2016:i:1:p:90:d:62450 is not listed on IDEAS
    12. Amanuel B. Abraha & Eyob H. Tesfamariam & Wayne F. Truter, 2019. "Can a Blend of Amendments Be an Important Component of a Rehabilitation Strategy for Surface Coal Mined Soils?," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 11(16), pages 1-17, August.
    13. Galloway, Craig & Conradie, Beatrice & Prozesky, Heidi & Esler, Karen, 2018. "Opportunities to improve sustainability on commercial pasture-based dairy farms by assessing environmental impact," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 166(C), pages 1-9.
    14. Vassilis Aschonitis & Christos G. Karydas & Miltos Iatrou & Spiros Mourelatos & Irini Metaxa & Panagiotis Tziachris & George Iatrou, 2019. "An Integrated Approach to Assessing the Soil Quality and Nutritional Status of Large and Long-Term Cultivated Rice Agro-Ecosystems," Agriculture, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 9(4), pages 1-25, April.

    More about this item


    soil resilience; climate change; soil functions; desertification; soil carbon sequestration;

    JEL classification:

    • Q - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics
    • Q0 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - General
    • Q2 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Renewable Resources and Conservation
    • Q3 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Nonrenewable Resources and Conservation
    • Q5 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics
    • Q56 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environment and Development; Environment and Trade; Sustainability; Environmental Accounts and Accounting; Environmental Equity; Population Growth
    • O13 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Agriculture; Natural Resources; Environment; Other Primary Products


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