Land Degradation: Impact and Steps Taken by Government
A land resource is one of the major constituents of all the life forms on Earth. It provides the base for the survival of living beings and holds everything that constitutes terrestrial ecosystems. Land degradation refers to the deterioration or loss of the productive capacity of the soil. It is a global challenge that affects the earth through loss of vegetation cover, soil fertility, food insecurity, environmental hazards, loss of biodiversity, and ecosystem. The increasing demand for land in modern times due to the rise in human population and resultant activities has resulted in land degradation. Land degradation is happening at an alarming rate and causes a dramatic decline in the productivity of croplands worldwide. In addition to erosion, soil quality is also affected by other aspects of agriculture like compaction, loss of soil structure, nutrient degradation, and soil salinity. Soil erosion is estimated to be more than 100 times higher than the soil formation rate. In the last 150 years half of the Earth’s topmost layer, i.e soil has lost its productivity. According to a United Nations estimate, about 1.9 billion hectares of land have lost their productivity and 2 billion people are affected by land degradation globally. If the degradation of land continues at this pace then 95 per cent of the Earth’s land areas would be degraded by 2050.
A. Major Causes of Land Degradation:
Land degradation is the result of the exploitation of land without protecting it. It is a global phenomenon and occurs because of unsustainable land management practices such as excessive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, mono-cropping; loss of vegetation cover and deforestation; soil erosion due to poor soil management practices such as over-cultivation, overgrazing, and waterlogging; soil and water pollution, mainly caused by poor waste management practices and dumping of plastic waste; climate change which decreases the natural ability of the land to recover and economic activities like mining and extractive industries.
B. Impact of Land Degradation:
1. Loss of Soil Fertility:
Land degradation leads to a decline in the productive capacity of the land. Soil erosion removes the topmost layer of soil and reducing soil nutrients causes a decline in agricultural productivity which in turn impacts the livelihood of rural people and causes economic distress. According to an estimate, India suffers an annual production loss of 13 million tons due to erosion which amounts to a loss of rupee 205 billion.
Desertification is one of the major consequences of land degradation and is defined as a process that creates arid and semi-arid areas. Loss of soil cover due to rainfall, wind erosion, water erosion, and surface runoff is one of the biggest reasons for desertification. In India, the area under desertification was 83.69 million hectares in 2018-19.
3. Loss of Biodiversity:
Land degradation leads to loss of biodiversity, affecting the ecosystem balance and eventually disturbs the ecosystem functions such as nutrient cycle, water, and energy regulation. It also leads to the extinction of many species from the Earth’s surface.
4. Causes Floods and Droughts:
Deforested lands have reduced the water holding capacity of the soil, which increases the runoff volume and reduces infiltration, thus increasing the risk of flooding as the vegetation cover acts as a natural barrier to flooding. Further land degradation leads to an excess runoff which in turn increases the levels of river siltation and causes flooding in the nearby areas. In arid and semi-arid areas, land degradation causes drought-like conditions. The dryland population vulnerable to water stress and drought intensity is projected to reach 178 million by 2050 under ideal conditions of a 1.5°C increase in global temperature.
5. Climate Change:
Land degradation leads to biodiversity loss, which is a major contributor to climate change. On land degradation, soil carbon and nitrous oxide gas are released into the atmosphere which makes land degradation one of the major contributors to climate change. By 2050, it is estimated that global crop production would reduce by at least 10 per cent globally and by 50 per cent in certain regions, mainly through land degradation and climate change. According to the United Nation, Land degradation was responsible for about 4 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions between the years 2001 and 2010 and this figure has gone higher since then.
6. Water pollution:
Soil erosion from the land carries pesticides and fertilizers applied to fields and dumps them into streams and waterways. The sedimentation and pollution can damage freshwater and marine habitats. It also leads to water eutrophication which destroys the whole marine ecosystem.
C. Steps were taken by Govt to Prevent Land Degradation:
1. Desert Development Program:
It was launched in 1977-78 to minimize the adverse effect of drought and control desertification through rejuvenation of natural resources of the identified desert areas. It was launched to achieve ecological balance, promote overall economic development and improve the socio-economic conditions of such areas. Primarily it was launched for the desert areas of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana, and the cold desert of Jammu & Kashmir.
2. Integrated Watershed Management Program:
It was launched in 2009-10 and implemented by the Department of Land Resources of the Ministry of Rural Development to restore ecological balance by conserving natural resources such as water, soil, and vegetative cover. After 2015, this scheme became a part of the umbrella scheme Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana under NITI Aayog.
3. United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD):
India became a member of the UNCCD in 1994. The Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MoEFCC) is the Nodal Ministry to oversee the implementation of the Convention in the country. India commits to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal target of achieving land degradation neutrality (LDN) and working to restore 26 million hectares of degraded land. Recently India hosted COP 14 to UNCCD (Delhi Declaration) and expressed its commitment to ecosystem restoration, taking action on climate change, private sector engagement, peace forest Initiative.
4. National Afforestation Program:
It was launched in 2000-01 under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) for the ecological restoration of degraded forests areas and to develop the forest resources with the participation of people, with a focus on improvement in livelihoods of the forest communities.
5. National Mission for Green India:
It was launched in 2014 with the objective of protecting the biological resources against the adverse effect of climate change and recognizing the vital impact of forests on ecological sustainability, biodiversity conservation, and livelihood security. It aims to protect, restore and enhance India’s diminishing forest cover within 10 years.
6. Drought Prone Area Program (DPAP):
It was the earliest area development program launched by the Government of India in 1973-74 with the basic objective of minimizing the adverse effects of drought on the production of crops, livestock, and productivity of land which ultimately leads to drought-proof areas. It also aims to promote overall economic development and improve the socio-economic conditions of the fragile areas which are regularly affected by severe drought conditions.
7. Sustainable Land and Ecosystem Management Program:
It is a joint initiative of the Government of India and the Global Environment Facility (GEF). It aims to contribute to poverty alleviation in India by effective use of the natural resources, by improving the productivity of land and ecosystem, and by protecting from extreme weather events, such as climate change. One of its objectives is to control land degradation by restoration of degraded lands and biomass cover and make sustainable use of natural resources.