Understanding The Process of Water Infiltration

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About the author
Author Rolf Derpsch

Rolf Derpsch was born in Chile and has the Chilean and the German nationality. He studied agronomy in Chile, and obtained a M.Sc. degree from the University of Reading, UK. He has worked for GTZ, the German Agency for Technical Cooperation from 1966 to 2001. He has a 15 year working experience in Conservation Agriculture in Brazil and 16 years in Paraguay. Since September 2001 he is working as Freelance Consultant. He was among the first to research the No-tillage technology in Brazil and Latin America in 1971. He has been a consultant to FAO in several countries. The countries he has working experience include: Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Germany, Honduras, North Korea, Paraguay, Somalia, South Africa, and Tajikistan. He has been a key speaker to many international conferences.


Soil erosion is caused by non-infiltrated water that runs off a field. It is astonishing that often the process of water infiltration into the soil is not well understood by farmers, but also is not well understood by extension workers and scientists. Pictures showing the raindrop’s impact on a bare soil surface and information explaining the mecha- nisms of water infiltration into the soil go back to the 1940s.Despite scientific and empirical evidence explain- ing these processes,many people still think that the soil has to be loosened by tillage to increase water infiltration and reduce runoff.
Soil erosion by water runoff is often accepted as an unavoidable phenomenon associated with agriculture on sloping land. But soil loss by runoff is not an unavoidable process.According to Lal (1982), occurrence of erosion damage on culti- vated land is mere- ly a symptom of land misuse for that ecological environment. In other words, inap- propriate farming practices have been used. It is not nature (slope and rainfall intensi- ty), but rather irrational farming methods used by man,which are responsible for erosion and its neg- ative consequences.The farmer can, through the utilization of locally adapted farming systems and management practices, effec- tively control erosion, reduce runoff, and increase water infiltra- tion on his land. Runoff water is lost to crops,while infiltrated water can be effectively used by plants,which is very important in drier climates.


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