Soil degradation in India is estimated to be occurring on 147 million hectares (Mha) of land, including 94 Mha from water erosion, 16 Mha from acidification, 14 Mha from flooding, 9 Mha from wind erosion, 6 Mha from salinity, and 7 Mha from a combination of factors. This is extremely serious because India supports 18% of the world’s human population and 15% of the world’s livestock population, but has only 2.4% of the world’s land area. Despite its low proportional land area, India ranks second worldwide in farm output. Agriculture, forestry, and fisheries account for 17% of the gross domestic product and employs about 50% of the total workforce of the country. Causes of soil degradation are both natural and human-induced. Natural causes include earthquakes, tsunamis, droughts, avalanches, landslides, volcanic eruptions, floods, tornadoes, and wildfires. Human-induced soil degradation results from land clearing and deforestation, inappropriate agricultural practices, improper management of industrial effluents and wastes, over-grazing, careless management of forests, surface mining, urban sprawl, and commercial/industrial development. Inappropriate agricultural practices include excessive tillage and use of heavy machinery, excessive and unbalanced use of inorganic fertilizers, poor irrigation and water management techniques, pesticide overuse, inadequate crop residue and/or organic carbon inputs, and poor crop cycle planning. Some underlying social causes of soil degradation in India are land shortage, decline in per capita land availability, economic pressure on land, land tenancy, poverty, and population increase. In this review of land degradation in India, we summarize (1) the main causes of soil degradation in different agro-climatic regions; (2) research results documenting both soil degradation and soil health improvement in various agricultural systems; and (3) potential solutions to improve soil health in different regions using a variety of conservation agricultural approaches.
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