Main Article Content
A number of processes of degradation threaten soil functions. Ten of them are acknowledged by the European Union and fifteen by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), but at least another seven have been indicated by different authors in Italy and in other parts of the world. This short review paper summarizes the nature, economic relevance, and territorial impact of soil degradation in Italy, and with reference to Europe as a whole, and highlights the most relevant research needs in soil conservation. The direct annual costs of the main soil degradation processes are estimated to be over 38,000,000,000 euro per year in Europe as a whole, while in Italy, only for landslides, floods, and soil erosion, costs amount to 900,000,000 euro. Loss of the ability to produce food commodities because of soil degradation is particularly important in Italy, since selfsufficiency in food has recently decreased to less than 80% and Italian agricultural soils are hit by several problems, such as limited soil drainage, unfavorable texture and stoniness, shallow rooting depth, and poor chemical properties. On average, soil sealing, reduction in organic matter, and soil compaction in Italy are comparable with those of many other countries, but the occurrence of soil erosion, floods, and landslides is more widespread than in most parts of Europe, and also the presence of salt-affected soils is becoming a major worry. The fight against soil degradation in Italy is certainly more difficult than in other countries because of the high environmental variability. However, according to the current trends, Italy is mostly probably destined not to achieve the European objective to significantly reduce main soil degradation processes by the year 2020. There are several research needs in the field of soil conservation in Italy. These include: i) a better basic knowledge about many soil degradation processes and of pedodiversity; ii) reliable, sensitive, and locally validated models for main degradation processes; iii) assessment of resilience of different soils against degradation processes, as well as of their reaction to the measures foreseen in the current European agricultural policy.
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