Soil erosion in Jaen

Campos de olivos enJaén

Soil erosion is one of the world’s biggest global environmental problems, particularly on sloping land. Every year millions of tons of soil are lost and end up in the lower areas, leaving sloping land with no soil and the bedrock flourishing. The olive groves of Jaén are no stranger to this destructive process and are a clear example of this worldwide phenomenon. Tillage has also been accelerating this environmental problem, as it leaves the soil looser and facilitates erosion.

The sources of erosion are diverse, and we will look at them. We will also give ideas and solutions to this serious problem that exists today.


  1. Soil erosion
  2. Types of erosion
  3. Examples of water erosion
  4. Solutions

Summary: Erosion is a major problem for the environment, agriculture and olive groves. Solar erosion is the loss of soil, and without soil, crops do not grow and there is no agriculture. This is a problem that affects olive groves, and therefore the production of extra virgin olive oil.

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1. Soil Erosion

Erosion is a physical and chemical process of soil erosion, mainly caused by water and air, which reduces the thickness of the surface soil, which is the most fertile, and outcrops the sandy, unfertile bedrock. This destruction of the soil can take up to two thousand years to recover, making it unfertile or very difficult for any crop to grow.

The problem with rainwater, especially if it falls a lot in a short period of time, is that if it does not penetrate the soil, it runs off and slides along the surface of the soil (runoff water), gaining strength on steep slopes, dragging soil particles and carrying them to lower parts.

The problem of erosion is more serious on sloping land and in crops with little vegetation cover, as in the olive groves of Jaén. These losses of soil can be very significant, causing olive trees to fall over and metres of land to disappear.

2. Types of erosion

There are several types of erosion, which are as follows:

a) Water erosion

Marine erosion. Marine erosion is the erosion caused by the sea on the coast, due to the sea currents and particles carried by sea water. As a result it creates cliffs and beaches.

River erosion: River erosion causes the displacement of soil and rocks from higher to lower areas washed away by surface water; rivers and runoff water.

This erosion is the most common in Spain and is increased by agriculture and especially by tillage, as tillage removes the soil, leaves it uncohered and with a little water, it is easily displaced downwards.

Glacial erosion: This type of erosion only occurs where there are glacial masses, which are displaced downwards by gravity and displace anything in their path.

Erosion by phase changes: The water can get between the cracks of the stones and when the cold arrives and the water passes to its solid state, the water gets by its expansion of volume to break the rocks. This erosion is typical of the mountains.

b) Wind erosion.

Wind erosion is due to wind that carries sand particles and wears away rocks on the earth’s surface. This erosion is more evident in desert areas, giving the fringes very peculiar shapes.

Gravitational erosion: It consists of the movement of rocks, earth and other particles by the action of gravity, from higher to lower areas.

3. Examples of water erosion

Our olive groves in Jaén suffer from this environmental problem. In order to reduce the damage caused by runoff water, farmers are looking for different options to reduce this erosion that can kill their crops for thousands of years.

One of the alternatives offered by agronomic science is the construction of gabions. Gabions are stone walls lined with wire mesh, which allow water to pass through but retain soil.

With the gabions it is possible to create small terraces, which slows down the runoff water. With the reduction of runoff water, the water loses energy, deposits its particles in suspension, does not drag other particles and has time to infiltrate deeper layers of the soil.

Ideally, all the water that falls from the sky is retained in the ground, and it is of little use if the water from a precipitation ends up mostly in a river.

Below are photos of the effects of runoff water on some of our olive groves in Jaén.

Photo 1: Gabion wall already in place and finished

Photo 2: Where you see how a gabion is mounted

Photo 3: The tractor brings the stones closer together to fill the gabion

Erosion control is costly and time-consuming. There are currently many methods to prevent and reduce erosion, which we are also using, but it is in more problematic and heavily damaged areas that we see the gabion as the best option.

We recommend that all farmers take this problem very seriously, as the recovery and formation of new soil is extremely slow.

4. Solutions

Among the solutions found to control erosion, we have the following:

a) Vegetative covers

Cover crops would be a good option to control soil erosion. They are cheap, increase the richness of the soil and help to increase water storage in the soil. They also capture CO2, thus helping to reduce the climate footprint of the olive grove.

Among the species to be cultivated, graminias are a good solution. Their root system fixes the soil very well.

b) Containment dykes

Once the gullies have formed and a lot of soil has disappeared, one solution is to use check dams. At present, retaining dikes made of recycled concrete are on the market, which can adapt very well to the ground and reduce the force of runoff water, and consequently reduce erosion very considerably.



Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

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