Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Resource Economics

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin | Thaer-Institute | Resource Economics | Research challenges | Problem dimensions | Soil Degradation und Desertification including Land Conversion

Soil Degradation und Desertification including Land Conversion

Soil as a basis for human life serves as a natural habitat for human beings, plants and animals, as well as a factor for production. It is a filtration media for solid and liquid matter, carbon sink and it goes through several transformation processes such as conversion and decomposition (Blum 2008). Against the background of the rapid global population increase and technical progress that took place in the process of economic development, soil is under increasing pressure. Main consequences are degradation due to agricultural production, desertification caused by long dry periods and high land conversion due to increasing urbanization.

Soil degradation has several faces and facets: Agricultural land use is the main source of soil degradation such as soil compaction, soil erosion and nutrient loss. In areas with intensive irrigation, for example in the Mediterranean regions, salinization is the main reason for soil degradation, whereas in Africa it is primarily overgrazing. In arid regions of the world such as Africa and parts of Asia and South America desertification is a threat to soil as a natural habitat. Climate change and inadequate agricultural practices are causal factors.

Despite the fact that the German Federal Government aims at reducing land consumption to 30ha/day until 2020, soil loss due to urbanization and infrastructure development remains high in Germany (Statistisches Bundesamt 2011). In many emerging countries such as China land conversion is much higher. The agricultural area decreases not only by soil sealing but also because more and more land can no longer be cultivated due to erosion and droughts. Serious social consequences such as rural exodus, land use conflicts and others more are the result.

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, the Kyoto Protocol and the Convention on Biological Diversity are examples for several international agreements that take soil and the protection of soils into account. At European level the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) provides a regulatory framework targeting inter alia soil conservation, however, in the end this framework does not provide the respective incentives or regulations are not sufficiently implemented (Gay et al. 2009). Obviously soil degradation is a problem of institutions calling for the analysis of relationship between transactions, actors, institutions and governance structures for the design and implementation of political and technical measures.

This problem dimension has been addressed in the following research projects:

  • GoCon
    Governing Farmland Conversion in the Quest for Sustainability: A comparative study of China and Germany
    Soil conservation and policy measures: case studies (SoCo-CS)


Kasymov, Ulan

Designing Institutions in a Post-socialist Transition Process: Local institutions regularizing access to and management of pasture resources at local level in Kyrgyzstan

Stupak, Nataliya

Institutional Analysis of Black Earth Soils Degradation and Conservation in the Ukraine

Tan Rong

Governing Farmland Conversion in China: Seeking efficient utilization of a collectively owned natural resource in transition

Yu Lu, M.Sc.

Impact of Institutional Change and Governance Reform on Farmers’ Behaviour in Grassland Use - Comparative studies of Ningxia and Inner Mongolia, China

Akhter, Tasneem (2011)

The Role of Property Rights for Land Degradation and Land Use Conflicts - The case of wetland in Gujranwala Published on March 11, 2011

Dirimanova, Violeta (2007)

Economic Effects of Land Fragmentation: Property rights, land markets and contracts in Bulgaria. Institutional Change in Agriculture and Natural Resources, Vol. 29. Aachen: Shaker


  • Blum, W.E.H., 2008: Characterisation of soil degradation risks: an overview. In: Tóth, G., Mon-tanarella, L. und Rusco, E. (Hrsg.), Threats to Soil Quality in Europe. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, S. 5-10.
  • Gay, S.H.; Louwagie, G.; Sammeth, F.; Ratinger, T.; Maréchal, B.; Prosperi, P.; Rusco, E.; Terres, J.; van der Velde, M.; Baldock, D.; Bowyer, C.; Cooper, T.; Fenn, I.; Hagemann, N.; Prager, K.; Heyn, N.; Schuler, J., 2009: Final report on the project ‘Sustainable Agriculture and Soil Conservation (SoCo)’. Luxembourg, European Commission. Abrufbar unter:
  • Statistisches Bundesamt 2011. Umweltökonomische Gesamtrechnung. Nachhaltige Entwicklung in Deutschland. Indikatoren zu Umwelt und Ökonomie. Wiesbaden, Statistisches Bundesamt. Available at:,property=file.pdf