Hesperian Health Guides

Protecting Soil from Erosion

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HealthWiki > A Community Guide to Environmental Health > Chapter 15: Sustainable Farming > Protecting Soil from Erosion

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When rain hits bare soil, it washes it away.

When soil is not protected, wind and water can erode or damage the thin layer of soil on top (topsoil) and also cause the soil to lose water. The soil that remains is often compacted, lacks nutrients, and is not good for growing crops. Preventing erosion and conserving soil and water are some of the farmer’s most important jobs.

What rain does to bare soil

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Purpose: To show the importance of keeping soil covered so it does not wash away

Time: 15 minutes

Materials: 2 pieces of clean paper or cloth, a watering can, or an old can with small holes in the bottom that makes water sprinkle like rain.

  1. Have the group meet on a piece of ground with no plants or weeds growing on it, just bare soil.
  2. Place a piece of clean paper or cloth on the ground. Pour water from the sprinkler to make rain on the ground beside the paper or cloth.
  3. See how many muddy spots were made on the paper or cloth when the water splashed on the ground. This is what happens when rain hits bare ground. The bare soil cannot hold the rain, and it washes away.
  4. With a new piece of clean paper or cloth, repeat the activity in a place where the ground is covered by grass, weeds, or mulch. The second paper or cloth should have fewer muddy spots on it than the first one because the plants hold the water and help it sink into the ground.
  5. Lead a group discussion of what happened and the importance of keeping the soil covered.

You may want to follow this activity with a farm experiment to show how mulch protects soil. Make a small demonstration plot and cover it with mulch after planting. Plant another plot with the same crop, but no mulch. At the end of the growing season, compare the results.