Countries and the global rate of soil erosion


Soil erosion is a major threat to food security and ecosystem viability, as current rates are orders of magnitude higher than natural soil formation. Governments around the world are trying to address the issue of soil erosion. However, we do not know whether countries have much actual control over their soil erosion. Here, we use a high-resolution, global dataset with over 35 million observations and a spatial regression discontinuity design to identify how much of the global rate of soil erosion is actually affected by countries and which country characteristics, including their policies, are associated with this. Overall, moving just across the border from one country to the next, the rate of soil erosion changes on average by ~1.4 t ha−1 yr−1, which reveals a surprisingly large country effect. The best explanation we find is countries’ agricultural characteristics.

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Fig. 1: The border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Fig. 2: Agriculture is the best explanation.
Fig. 3: A global map of countries’ soil erosion performance.

Data availability

Data can be retrieved from Wuepper et al.37 and from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

Code availability

Code and programs can be retrieved from Wuepper et al.37 and from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.


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Author information

D.W. contributed mainly to analysis and writing, P.B. contributed mainly to data preparation and R.F. contributed mainly to writing.

Correspondence to David Wuepper.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Figs. 1–7 and Table 1.

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Wuepper, D., Borrelli, P. & Finger, R. Countries and the global rate of soil erosion. Nat Sustain 3, 51–55 (2020).

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