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Desertification Indicator System for Mediterranean Europe

1. Definition

Brief definition

Actions taken to reduce soil erosion caused by various factors such as surface water runoff, tillage operations, wind blowing, etc.

Terraced olive groves in which water runoff and sediment loss is adequately reduced by the construction of terraces (photo by C. Kosmas)
Unit of measure Percentage of an area adequately protected from soil erosion by erosion control actions.
Spatial scale  
Temporal scale  

2. Position within the logical framework DPSIR

Type of Indicator Response

3. Target and political pertinence

Objective Contribution to the measures to combat desertification.
Importance with respect to desertification One of the most important processes of desertification is soil erosion, particularly affecting hilly areas. Soil erosion control measures are related to implementation of programs for protecting areas from erosion and desertification.
International Conventions and agreements There exists a variety of transboundary legislation as well as EC directives for land protection from degradation. The CCD has emphasized the need for actions to combat desertification and promote sustainable development.
Secondary objectives of the indicator Evaluation of the best land management practices in combating desertification.

4. Methodological description and basic definitions

Definitions and basic concepts

Soil erosion control measures may be considered to include: contour farming, stabilization structures, vegetated waterways, strip cropping, terraces and small water reservoirs.

  • In contour farming, tillage operations are carried out as nearly as practically possible along the contour. Contour farming has been recently applied in large areas cultivated with winter crops. Following the contour farming, each furrow acts as a reservoir to receive and retain the runoff water.
  • Construction of stabilization structures along water ways consists of reinforced concrete or monolithic reinforced concrete such as drop spillways, drop inlets, as well as temporary structures made by rocks, logs, brush, woven wire and other nondurable materials. The purpose is to dissipate the energy of running water and stabilize the soil in cuts from landslides.
  • Vegetated waterways are channels protected by vegetation which absorb the energy of surface runoff water without damage. Whenever water flows over bare soil it may pick up and carry along soil particles. If such runoff water is concentrated by natural topography or works of man, gullies may develop and destroy valuable land. Stabilization of waterways is necessary where runoff occurs from natural watersheds, terracing systems, contour furrows and diversion channels.
  • Strip cropping is the practice of growing alternative strips of different crops in the same field. The strips are always laid on the contours.
  • Terracing is another method of soil erosion control accomplished by constructing broad channels or benches across the slope. Two major types of can be distinguished: the bench terrace which reduces land slope and the broad base terrace which removes or retains water on sloping land.
  • Constructions of small water reservoirs along waterways in hilly areas for irrigation as well as protecting the land from erosion, from flooding of the lowland and for conserving water by increasing infiltration to the aquifers are considered as measures to control erosion in a broad area (watershed).
Construction of small reservoir along a waterway for storing water and protecting the land from erosion (photo by C. Kosmas)
Benchmarks Indication of the values/ranges of value

Level of soil erosion control measures

  • Adequate
  • Moderate
  • Low
  • None
Methods of measurement The efficacy of the existing soil erosion control measures are defining on a self explanatory way.
Limits of the indicator This indicator is assessed qualitatively subjected to personal judgment.
Linkages with other indicators Soil erosion (USLE), Infiltration capacity, Flooding frequency, Runoff water storage, Soil water conservation measures, Terraces (presence of), Sustainable farming.

5. Evaluation of data needs and availability

Data required to calculate the indicator Land management practices and existing soil erosion control structures in an area, and assessement of efficacy of the existing soil erosion measures in protecting soil from erosion.
Data sources Necessary data are usually available and accessible.
Availability of data from national and international sources Data can be obtained from national agencies, various regional institutions involved in management of natural resources.

6. Institutions that have participated in developing the indicator

Main institutions responsible Agricultural University of Athens.
Other contributing organizations Universities of Lisbon, Murcia and Basilicata.

7. Additional information

Bibliography Troeh, H.R., Hobbs, J. A., and Donahue, R. L. 1980. Soil and water conservation for productivity and environmental protection. Prentice-Hall, Inc., Emglewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 320-359 pp.
Other references Burke, S, and Thornes, J. 1998. Actions taken by national governmental and nob-govermrntal organizations to mitigate desertification in the Mediterranean. European Commission, Environment and Climate Programme, Directorate-General Science Research and Development, EURO 18490 EN. 349 p.
Contacts Name and address

Dr. C. Kosmas
Agricultural University of Athens,
Laboratory of Soils and Agricultural Chemistry,
Iera Odos 75,
Athens 11855, Greece

email: lsos2kok@aua.gr