Indian Lands Turning Into Deserts | Land Portal

By: Kota Sriraj
Date: November 10th 2016
Source: The Pioneer

Fast desertification of lands must be stopped. The ‘Green Wall of China Project’ can be a guiding line for the Indian Government to halt desertification across the country. For this, prompt legislative measures should be initiated

As India battles climate change amid rising temperatures and pollution levels, the threat posed by desertificationhas been slowly but steadily rising. Currently, 25 per cent of India’s total land is undergoing desertification while 32 per cent is facing degradation. This has severely affected the productivity, livelihood and food security of millions of people across the country.

As much as 105.19 million hectares (Mha) of the country’s total geographical area of 328.73 Mha is being degraded, while 82.18 Mha is undergoing desertification. Desertification is majorly occurring in the forms of land degradation including soil erosion, which accounts for over 71 per cent of the total degradation, and wind erosion that comprises another10.24 per cent. Other causes for desertification include water logging and salinity-alkalinity.

According to studies, nearly 68 per cent of the country is prone to drought, due to the impact of climate change, particularly in dry lands. These conditions are being made worse due to land desertification that is on the rise, thanks to deforestation and unsustainable fuel wood and fodder extraction.

Besides this, the shifting of cultivation, encroachment into forest lands and recurrent forest fires have taken a toll on the condition of the land. Additionally, the problems of cattle overgrazing, inadequate soil conservation measures, and improper crop rotation combined with indiscriminate use of agro-chemicals has only accelerated the deterioration of land.

Agriculture is turning out to be the single largest casualty of land desertification. More than a quarter of India’s land is gradually turning to deserts and the rate of degradation of agricultural areas is increasing according to an analysis of satellite images collated by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). Furthermore, according to the ISRO report, land desertification and degradation — defined in terms of  loss of productivity —is estimated at 96 million hectares, or nearly 30 per cent of Indian land.

A detailed analysis of the ISRO satellite report shows new areas in the northern State of Jammu & Kashmir and eastern Indian States like Odisha and Jharkhand turning arid, with nine States together accounting for nearly 24 per cent of desertification.

This alarming threat faced by agriculture on account of desertification is very serious since there is no coherent plan backed by specific legislation to reverse the process and impact of land desertification. As a result of the absence of an established set of rules and regulations governing the subject of desertification, harmful agricultural activities such as improper management of irrigation systems and excessive extraction of ground water continue to be practiced. Due to this, there is an acute loss of biological potential, which eventually restricts the transformation of dry lands into productive ecosystem.

India needs to look at global case studies in order to fight the problem of desertification. China for instance, has been battling with the problem of ever expanding deserts. Nearly 20 per cent of China is desert, and persistent droughts across the northern region of China is worsening the problem further resulting in the deserts spreading at an annual rate of more than 1,300 square miles. Due to this problem, many villages and livelihoods have been lost. In order to reclaim land and arrest the expanding deserts, the Chinese Government began a gargantuan reforestation effort in 1978 of planting 66 billion trees.

The project— colloquially referred to as the ‘Green Wall of China’ — is a multi-generational mega project due to be completed by 2050. The end target is the creation of 405 million hectares of new forest — covering 42 per cent of China’s territory — and increasing global forest cover by 10 per cent.

The goal of this new tree line is to prevent erosion and desertification by creating a barrier of stable soil across the north of the country. The Chinese project to halt desertification in its tracks can serve as an apt benchmark for India, provided legislative action combined with stable political guidance is made available.

The international focus on combatting desertification is already in full swing with specific emphasis on the inclusive global cooperationto restore and rehabilitate degraded land and contribute towards achieving the overall ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs). Goal 15 of the SDG’s specifically advocates protection, restoration and promotion of sustainable terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.

India needs to achieve its SDG’s and join the global effort in eradicating the problem of desertification.This alone will ensure sustainable land management and provide food, water and livelihood security to people besides safeguarding the environment.

(The writer is an environmental journalist)

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