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Rural Case Studies (Land Degradation)

Causes of land degradation:

Deforestation. Growing demand for wood for fuel. Trees are
already scarce in the area and further deforestation removes root
systems which hold the soil together, reduces interception and
water storage leaving the soil dry and vulnerable to wind and water
Population increase. Desertification (Sahel) has caused people to
migrate southwards within the Sahel leading to increasing
population and increased pressure on already fragile land. Also
many nomads have been forced to settle in villages, leading to
greater food requirements and overuse of marginal land.
Overgrazing. Too many animals in an area leads to loss of
vegetation cover making it susceptible to water and wind erosion
and exposes soil to compacting of the soil, especially near water
Over-cultivation. This causes soil structure to break up, with
monoculture depleting the same nutrients each year. Reduced
fallow times means soil cannot recover its nutrients.
Overuse of irrigation. This can lead to salinisation of soil causing
need for salt-tolerant plants or further degradation.
Great Plains North America
On the Great Plains, the growing season diminishes northwards from
over 300 days to under 100 days.
Crops farmed from North to South include spring wheat, maize,
winter wheat, cotton.
Cattle ranching
The Dust Bowl of the 1930s i.e removed top soil be wind erosion
due to poor farming techniques.
Irrigated agriculture where water can be obtained from
o Reservoirs on the Missouri and other tributaries of the
Mississippi River
o Well pumping water from the Ogallala aquifer
Changes in Farming/Impacts on the Land
Farms expanded due to the use of technology. Large machinery such
as combine harvesters was more efficient to harvest large fields.
This causes rural depopulation as there were fewer jobs. Leading to
closing down of services and schools for example.
New strain of crop (GM Crops) allowed for large yields and
resistant to pests.
Pesticides and fertilizers were administered to encourage larger
Irrigation had increased to allow crops to grow more efficiently
(causing a rapid depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer).
Contractors are used for harvests to save on the cost of machinery.
Smaller farms (family owned) have been sold of
Increasing the number of cattle ranches and herd size.
Soil conservation strategies

North America most likely TVA area or Dust Bowl.

Contour ploughing ploughing round, rather than up and down,
slopes rain has more time to infiltrate rather than form rills and
gullies down slopes the water soaks into the land providing extra
moisture as well as preventing damage to the soil on the slope.
Shelter belts planting rows of trees at right angles to the
direction of the prevailing wind these act as a barrier for the land
behind by reducing the force of the wind the higher the
barrier/trees the greater the protection.
Crop rotation planting crops in diferent fields on diferent years
to allow nutrients to return to the soil.
Diversification of farming types diversifying the farm to have a
number of diferent types of crop but also encouraging other
business such as B&Bs and farm shops to allow for more income
rather than a reliance on one crop.
Keeping land under grass or fallow - allow land to have a
resting period after harvesting. By keeping grass on the land the
roots will hold down the top fertile soil.
Trash farming/ stubble mulching leaving the residue and
stubble of a harvest behind to let the land recover and allow
nutrients to return to the soil.
Strip cultivation/ intercropping by having a series of diferent
crops in strips can protect the land as they are harvested at
diferent times and therefore can protect the top soil in-between. It
also means that the soils are not being stripped of all the same
nutrients which one crop would do.
Increased irrigation an increase in artificial water would
encourage crops to grow more successfully meaning that fewer
fertilizers would need to be added. However it is important that the
irrigation is done efectively and efficiently to prevent water
resources from drying up.
Terracing stepping the land so that it is less susceptible to wind
Use of natural fertilizers to prevent hazardous chemicals being
added to the land a natural alternative can be more efective but
also cause less damage to the environment.