Soil erosion is described as the carrying away of soil. It is the theft of the soil by natural elements like water, wind, glacier and wave. Gravity tends to move soil down slope either very slowly as in soil creep or very rapidly as in landslides.
The present shape of land has been carved through thousands of years. Soil erosion has become now one of the major environmental problems and a serious constraint for agricultural production. There are many physical and social factors which determine the extent and severity of soil erosion.
The principal physical factors are erosivity of rainfall, erodibility of soil, severity of periodic floods, length and steepness of the slope. The important social factors are deforestation, overgrazing, nature of land use and methods of cultivation. Ravines, gullies and landslides are most serious and highly visible forms of land erosion. On the other hand, sheet erosion caused by rains and erosion due to winds are least visible but equally serious as they too take a heavy toll of our precious top soils.
Soil erosion by ravines and gullies is widespread in India, It has been estimated that 3.67 million hectares of soil surface is damaged. There are four major areas of ravines and gullies in India. They are:
- Yumuna-Chambal ravine zone
- Gujarat ravine zone
- The Punjab Siwalik foothills zone
- Chhotanagpur zone
There are other areas of substantial ravine erosion in the Mahanadi valley, upper Son valley, upper Narmada and Tapi valleys, Siwalik and Bhabar tract of the western Himalayan foothills and edges of Ganga Khadar in western Uttar Pradesh. The relatively less affected areas are whole of Deccan south of the Godavari, the Ganga-Brahmputra plains, east of Varanasi, Kutchchh and western Rajasthan.
Sheet erosion is widespread over sloping deforested terrain, unterraced uplands of Peninsular region, Sutlej-Ganga plains, Coastal plains, Western Ghats and North-Eastern hills.
The occurrence of landslides is common in earthquake sensitive belts, particularly the Siwaliks. Heavy rainfall and cutting of slopes for roads, buildings and mining activities trigger landslides. In the last 50 years, the Rajasthan desert has encroached upon 13000 hectares of land in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.
Glacial erosion is limited to high Himalayas and sea erosion is confined to coasal areas only. Soil erosion and soil exhaustion due to loss of soil nutrients pose serious threats to our efforts of increasing the productivity of soil faster than the population growth.