Save land from desertification

Save land from desertification

Pace of restoration must be stepped up

Representative image. Credit: iStock photo

India is experiencing desertification of land, including cultivable and fertile stretches and forests, at a pace not seen in the past. The government recently published the latest version of the country’s desertification and land degradation atlas prepared by the Indian Space Research Organisation, which provides details of degraded land for the period 2018-19. It also provides an analysis for the previous 15 years. It has been noted that about 30% of the land area has got degraded, and ironically the areas where the Green Revolution was most successful are very prone to degradation. Desertification is a natural geological process. But it has been given a push directly and indirectly by human activities, and so it has gained scale and speed as never before. It is a global problem but every country has to address it separately because the reasons and solutions vary widely. But there are also common issues that demand the adoption of common strategies.

Most of the human activities on the soil can cause desertification, especially if they are done collectively over large areas. Wrong land-use practices including some farming practices, overgrazing and deforestation are some contributory factors. Industrialisation and urbanisation cause degradation extensively all over the world. The latest threat is from climate change which poses a very long-term and even irreversible threat to the soil. Degradation saps the ability of the soil to support any kind of life, including plant life, as it loses the ability to conserve water. The economic cost of land degradation was estimated to be about Rs 3 lakh crore in 2014 or about 3% of the GDP, and it could only have gone up now. As many as 26 of the 29 states have witnessed increased desertification, though nine states accounted for most of it.

Efforts to prevent and push back desertification have been made for decades even as the activities and processes that cause it have also gained momentum. India has committed itself to land degradation neutrality by 2030, which is a Sustainable Development Goal. It is also a signatory to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in 1994, ratified in 1996. The 14th Conference of Parties (CoP) of the convention was held in Delhi in 2019 where India made a commitment to restore 26 million hectares of degraded land, five million hectares more than the promise it had made at the 2015 Paris climate conference. The country has also been implementing programmes like the command area development plan of 1970, the 1995 desert development programme, the 2000 national afforestation programme and the 2014 National Green Mission of India, which is a part if the climate action plan. Unfortunately, the pace of desertification is faster than the pace of implementation of the programmes.