Soil degradation is defined as a change in the soil health status resulting in a diminished capacity of the ecosystem to provide goods and services for its beneficiaries. Degraded soils have a health status such, that they do not provide the normal goods and services of the particular soil in its ecosystem.
These definitions, which follow largely the LADA definition of land degradation, are important to capture the complexity of the degradation processes and their subjective evaluation by different stakeholders in soil and land.
Soil Erosion is a common term that is often confused with soil degradation as a whole, but in fact refers only to absolute soil losses in terms of topsoil and nutrients. This is indeed the most visible effect of soil degradation, but does not cover all of its aspects. Soil erosion is a natural process in mountainous areas, but is often made much worse by poor management practices.
Land degradation has a wider scope than both soil erosion and soil degradation in that it covers all negative changes in the capacity of the ecosystem to provide goods and services (including biological and water related goods and services – and in LADA’s vision - also land-related social and economic goods and services).
Desertification is another common term used for (a) land degradation in dryland areas and/or (b) the irreversible change of the land to such a state it can no longer be recovered for its original use.
Prevention implies the use of conservation measures that maintain natural resources and their environmental and productive
Mitigation is intervention intended to reduce ongoing degradation. This comes in at a stage when degradation has already begun. The main aim here is to halt further degradation and to start improving resources and their functions. Mitigation impacts tend to be noticeable in the short to medium term: this then provides a strong incentive for further efforts. The word ‘mitigation’ is also sometimes used to describe the reductions of impacts of degradation.
Rehabilitation is required when the land is already degraded to such an extent that the original use is no longer possible and the land has become practically unproductive. Here longer-term and often more costly investments are needed to show any impact.