The consequences of soil degradation in China: a review

Open access


More than 40% of China’s arable land is degraded. This paper reviews the direct and indirect consequences of soil degradation in China. Soil degradation has observable and measurable impacts, which include soil nutrient loss, salinization, acidification, and desertification. It also has a number of indirect consequences, in particular, a reduction of the agricultural output due to a drop in soil nutrient; an increase in the frequency and magnitude of floods and landslides; a decline in livestock production due to a decrease in grass density available to roaming livestock; an intensification of dust storms and sandstorms which affects health, the productivity of the land, and visibility; and a faster accumulation of silt in dams, which damages their structure, reduces their water storage capacity, and compromises their original functions, in particular their electricity generation capacity.

Blaikie PM (1985) The political economy of soil erosion in developing countries. Longman, London.

Chen Y, Fischer G (1998) A new digital georeferenced database of grassland in China. Interim Report IR-98-062. Luxenburg (Austria): International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. Retrieved from

Chen J (2007) Rapid urbanization in China: A real challenge to soil protection and food security. Catena 69(1): 1−15.

China Daily (2014) More than 40% of China’s arable land degraded: report. China Daily. Retrieved from

Cui Z, Zhang H, Chen X, Zhang C, Ma W, Huang C. … Dou Z (2018). Pursuing sustainable productivity with millions of smallholder farmers. Nature 555(7696): 363.

Currell M (December 2013) Shanghai ‘airpocalipse’: Can China fix its deadly pollution? Retrieved from

Delang CO (2017) China’s soil pollution and degradation problems. Routledge, London.

Delang CO, Wang W (2013) ‘Chinese forest policy reforms after 1998: The case of the Natural Forest Protection Program and Slope Land Conversion Program’. International Forestry Review 15(3): 290−304.

Delang CO, Yuan Z (2014) China’s grain for green program: a review of the largest ecological restoration and rural development program in the world. Springer, Heidelberg.

Ding J (2010) Chinese soil experts warn of massive threat to food security. SciDev.Net. Retrieved from

Duan X, Xie Y, Ou T, Lu H (2011) Effects of soil erosion on longterm soil productivity in the black soil region of northeastern China. Catena 87(2): 268−275.

Economy EC (2011) The river runs black: the environmental challenge to China’s future. Cornell University Press, Ithaka.

Feng Q, Ma H, Jiang XM, Wang X, Cao SX (2015) What has caused desertification in China? Scientific Reports 5: 15998.

Ford P (2011) China’s farmers see hope in effort to stem soil erosion caused by Three Gorges Dam. The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved from

Fukase E, Martin W (2016) Who will feed China in the 21st century? Income growth and food demand and supply in China. Journal of Agricultural Economics 67(1): 3−23.

Gao JH, Jia J, Kettner AJ, Xing F, Wang YP, Li J, Bai F, Zou X, Gao S (2015) Reservoir-induced changes to fluvial fluxes and their downstream impacts on sedimentary processes: The Changjiang (Yangtze) River, China. Quaternary International, in press.

Gilbert N (February, 2010) Acid soil threatens Chinese farms. Nature.

GYGA (2016) Global Yield Gap Atlas. China. Retrieved from

Guo JH, Liu XJ, Zhang Y, Shen JL, Han WX, Zhang WF, Christie P, Goulding KWT, Vitousek PM, Zhang FS (2010) Significant acidification in major Chinese croplands. Science 327(5968), 1008−1010.

Hao N (June, 2016) Country makes gains in fight against desertification. Beijing: The State Council of the People’s Republic of China. Retrieved from

Hou EQ, Wen DZ, Li JL, Zuo WD, Zhang LL, Kuang YW, Li J (2012) Soil acidity and exchangeable cations in remnant natural and plantation forests in the urbanized Pearl River Delta, China. Soil Research 50(3): 207–215.

Huang RQ, Li WL (2011) Formation, distribution and risk control of landslides in China. Journal of Rock Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering 3 (2): 97–116.

Hvistendahl M (February, 2010) Fertilizer Is Acidifying Chinese Land. Science Mag. Retrieved from

LADA (October, 2010) China National Level Report of Land Degradation Assessment in Drylands. Prepared by: LADA Project Team, P. R. China. FAO, Rome.

Li YX, Zhang WF, Ma L, Wu L, Shen JB, Davies WJ, Oenema O, Zhang F, Dou Z (2013) An analysis of China’s grain production: looking back and looking forward. Food and Energy Security 3(1): 19–32.

Li YX, Yu Y, Yang ZF, Shen ZY, Wang X, Cai YP (2016) A comparison of metal distribution in surface dust and soil among super city, town, and rural area. Environmental Science and Pollution Research 23(8): 7849–7860.

Liu C, Wang X, Yin M, Hou H, Dong H (2014) Risk analysis and stability assessment on the suspended river of the lower reaches of the Yellow River. Journal of Clean Energy Technologies, 2(2): 187−190.

Lorenz RD, Balme MR, Gu ZL, Henrik K, Klose M, Kurgansky MV, Patel MR, Reiss D, Rossi AP, Spiga A, Takemi T, Wei W (2015) History and applications of dust devil studies. Space Science Reviews, 1−33.

Liu J, Diamond J (2005) China’s environment in a globalizing world. Nature 435(7046), 1179−1186.

Lu JY, Chen G (2013) Impact of soil erosion on rural poverty. Asia Agricultural Research 5(2): 21−25.

Luo G, Chu T, Yan C, Liu H, Wen Y, Zhang L (1997) The stability of the suspended river on the lower reaches of the yellow river and its geo-environmental study. Geological Review 4: 441−448

Mao RZ, Fitzpatrick RW, Liu XJ, Davies PJ (2002) Chemical properties of selected soils from the North China Plain. Regional Water and Soil Assessment for Managing Sustainable Agriculture in China and Australia, ACIAR Monograph No. 84, pp. 173–186. Retrieved from

MEP (2003) The temporary regulation of ecological function zoning. Beijing: Ministry of Environmental Protection. Retrieved from

McKersie BD, Lesheim Y (2013) Stress and stress coping in cultivated plants. Heidelberg: Springer

Mofcom (2009) Geographical features of the People’s Republic of China. Ministry of Commerce, Beijing. Retrieved from

Oi JC (1993) Reform and urban bias in China. The Journal of Development Studies 29(4): 129−148.

Pan XC, Liu J (2011) Study on health effects of dust storms (Asian dusts) in China. Epidemiology 22(1): S26−S27.

Ran L, Lu XX, Xin Z, Yang X (2013) Cumulative sediment trapping by reservoirs in large river basins: A case study of the Yellow River basin. Global and Planetary Change 100: 308−319.

Rao E, Xiao Y, Ouyang Z, Yu X (2015) National assessment of soil erosion and its spatial patterns in China. Ecosystem Health and Sustainability 1(4): 1−10.

Salama RB, Otto CJ, Fitzpatrick RW (1999) Contributions of groundwater conditions to soil and water salinization. Hydrogeology Journal 7(1): 46−64.

SFA (2011) A bulletin of status quo of desertification and sandification in China. State Forestry Administration, Beijing. Retrieved from

Tan EL (2010) Nitrogen-laden fertilizer said to ruin some China croplands. Shanghai Daily Retrieved from

Tang J, Wu K (2013) Trend of acid rain over China since the 1990s. In: 2013 NOAA ESRL Global monitoring annual conference, Vol. 21. David Skaggs Research Center, Boulder, CO.

UNESCO (2003) Environmental consequences of desertification. In: Learning to combat desertification. UNESCO, New York. Retrieved from

Vidal J (2009) Dust storms spread deadly diseases worldwide. The Guardian. Retrieved from

Wang G, Wu B, Wang ZY (2005) Sedimentation problems and management strategies of Sanmenxia Reservoir, Yellow River, China. Water Resources Research 41(9): W09417, 1−17.

Wang P, Dong S, Lassoie JP (2013) The large dam dilemma: an exploration of the impacts of hydro projects on people and the environment in China. Springer Science & Business Media, Heidelberg.

Wang Y (2014) Polluted farmland leads to Chinese food security fears. China Dialogue. Retrieved from

Wang ZY, Lee JH, Melching CS (2015) Flood defense and water/sediment management − with particular reference to the Yellow River. In: River Dynamics and Integrated River Management. Springer, Heidelberg, pp. 337−395.

Wang X, Shen Y (2014) The effect of China’s agricultural tax abolition on rural families’ incomes and production. China Economic Review 29: 185−199.

Warr PG (2001) Welfare effects of an export tax: Thailand’s rice premium. American Journal of Agricultural Economics 83(4): 903−920.

Watts J (2012) The clean-up begins on China’s dirty secret – soil pollution. The Guardian. Retrieved from

Wei S, Dai Y, Liu B, Zhu A, Duan Q, Wu L, Ji D, Ye A, Yuan H, Zhang Q, Chen D, Chen M, Chu J, Dou Y, Guo J, Li H, Li J, Liang L, Liang X, Liu H, Liu S, Miao C, Zhang Y (2013) A China data set of soil properties for land surface modeling. Journal of Advances in Modeling Earth Systems 5(2): 212−224.

Wei X, Zhang Z, Shi PJ, Wang P, Chen Y, Song X, Tao F (2015) Is yield increase sufficient to achieve food security in China? PLoS ONE 10(2): e0116430.

World Bank (2018) Cereal yield (kg per hectare). Retrieved from

Wu RG, Tiessen H, Chen Z (2008) The impacts of pasture degradation on soil nutrients and plant compositions in alpine grassland, China. Agricultural, Food, and Environmental Sciences 2(2), 1−14

Xia X, Dong J, Wang M, Xie H, Xia N, Li H, Zhang X, Mou X, Wen J, Bao Y (2016) Effect of water-sediment regulation of the Xiaolangdi reservoir on the concentrations, characteristics, and fluxes of suspended sediment and organic carbon in the Yellow River. Science of the Total Environment 571: 487−497

Xu W (2016) Report forecasts first drop in wheat production for 12 years. China Daily. Retrieved from

Yang X., Zhang K, Jia B, Ci L (2005) Desertification assessment in China: An overview. Journal of Arid Environments 63(2): 517−531.

Yang J (2006, July) Recent evolution of soil salinization in China and its driving processes. In: The 18th Word Congress of Soil Science. A presentation in part 156(3.4).

Yardley J (2007) Chinese dam projects criticized for their human costs. New York Times. Retrieved from

Ye, J. (2015). Land transfer and the pursuit of agricultural modernization in China. Journal of Agrarian Change 15(3) 314−337.

Zhaoyong Z, Abuduwaili J, Yimit H (2014) The occurrence, sources and spatial characteristics of soil salt and assessment of soil salinization risk in Yanqi Basin, Northwest China. PLoS ONE 9(9): e106079.


The Journal of Jan Evangelista Purkyne University in Ústí nad Labem

Journal Information


All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 49 49 32
PDF Downloads 38 38 25