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Agri-Environmental Indicators / Soil

Erosion is the process by which soil is removed from a certain region due to the action of natural factors (wind, water, ice), of livingorganisms, and of gravity. Erosion is a natural process, but human activities can greatly influence its rate, especially through agriculture and deforestation. According to the U.N. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, approximately 40% of the world's agricultural land is seriously degraded. In natural conditions, only very severe meteorological events will cause erosion, as the vegetation cover, the leaf litter and the organic matter will protect the soil absorbing rain impacts and preventing soil removal. Removal of the natural vegetation cover due to practices such as: deforestation; overgrazing; or industrial farming practices (e.g. tillage), leaves the soil exposed to the action of climatic factors, such as rain and wind. The global survey on human-induced soil degradation is the GLASOD (Global Assessment of Human-Induced Soil Degradation), prepared jointly by ISRIC and UNEP during the 1980’s. The GLASOD database is the only global dataset available on soil degradation. However, there are issues related to its quality, which is not homogeneous, and therefore statistics obtained from these maps are not always reliable (Sonneveld and Dent 2007). Better statistics on soil degradation will be possible with the new version of the FAO GLADIS dataset which should be released shortly. Soil quality can be defined as “the capacity of a specific kind of soil to function, within natural or managed ecosystem boundaries, to sustain plant and animal productivity, maintain or enhance water and air quality, and support human health and habitation. Soil quality is defined according to the soil functions (e.g. bearing function, production function, habitat function, resources function, reactor function) and cannot be measured by a single parameter. However, soil organic carbon has been defined by EUROSTAT as the more appropriate indicator for soil quality. High organic carbon content corresponds to good conditions from an agro-environmental point of view. Soils with organic carbon content less than 1% in weight are generally affected by soil degradation processes and erosion. On the other hand, soils with 1-10% organic carbon content have high agricultural value. The data used for the production of this indicator are geo-spatial raster data contained in the Harmonized World Soil Database (HWSD) released by FAO, IIASA, ISRIC, ISSCAS, and JRC in 2008 with a spatial resolution of 30 by 30 arc seconds (approximately 1 Km). Spatial data were extracted through appropriate queries from the geo-database and then spatial statistics were calculated at the country level.

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