7 PM | Land Degradation | 2 February 2019

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The preliminary assessment report circulated by the Secretariat of UNCCD finds that between 2000 and 2015, 20% of the world’s productive and healthy land has degraded.

What is land degradation?

  • Land degradation generally signifies the temporary or permanent decline in the productive capacity of the land.
  • According to of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, desertification means “land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities.”

Status of Land Degradation:

  1. The proportion of degraded land for all land is 19.2% or more than 17.5 million km2
  2. The proportion of degraded land for UNCCD regions amounted to 27% in Latin American countries, 24% in Asia, 17% in Africa, 13.7% Northern Mediterranean and 6.7% Central and Eastern Europe



According to Report released by ISRO,

  • During 2011-2013, 29.3% of land in India underwent land degradation representing an area of 96.4 million hectares.
  • Compared with 2003-2005, the country experienced a 0.57% increase in land degradation. The increase in degradation compared with 2003-2005, was high for Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, and the north-eastern states
  • The area under desertification (dryland areas) was 82.64 mha in 2011-2013, which rose by 1.16 mha from 2003-2005.
  • The top processes leading to degradation/desertification in India were water erosion (10.98% in 2011-2013) followed by vegetation degradation (8.91%) and wind erosion (5.55%)

Causes of Land Degradation:

  1. Deforestation: The removal of trees and other vegetation for firewood, commercial logging or to clear land for farming and settlements is a key factor for land degradation.
  2. Overgrazing: Overgrazing is the grazing of natural pastures at stocking intensifies above the livestock carrying capacity. It leads directly to decreases in the quantity and quality of the vegetation cover and consequent exposure to water and wind erosion.
  3. Extension of cultivation onto fragile or marginal lands: Population increase and poverty has led to the widespread use of fragile lands such as sloping lands, areas of shallow or sandy soils, or with laterite crusts, etc. for cultivation which result in consequent degradation of land in the area.
  4. Improper crop rotations: As a result of population growth, land shortage and economic pressures, farmers in some areas have adopted cereal-based, intensive crop rotations, based particularly on rice and wheat, in place of the more balanced cereal-legume rotations which has led to consequent soil fertility decline.
  5. Unbalanced fertilizer use: Excessive use of fertilizers have resulted in nutrient imbalance in soil and land degradation.
  6. Over pumping of groundwater: The excessive abstraction of water in excess of natural recharge by rainfall and river seepage has led to decline in water table and contributed to increased soil salinity and consequent soil and land degradation.
  7. Pollution: Pollution caused by dumping scrap metal, plastics and industrial pollutants is a major cause of degrading soil health and land productivity.
  8. Mining: Mining damages the soil and the underlying structure of the land. Chemicals used or mined themselves pollute soil and water courses.
  9. Climate Change: Anthropogenic climate change is recognized as one of the major factors contributing to land degradation by increasing extreme weather events and consequent rise is water and wind erosion.

Impact of Land Degradation:

  1. Climate Change: Land Degradation contributes to climate change through two main processes: production of green-house gases (by reducing carbon storage capacity of plants and soils and accelerating carbon emissions) and direct contributions of dust to the atmosphere.

2. Impact on local/regional climate: Land degradation significantly affect climate due to land surface changes that impact temperature and rainfall. For example: studies show deforestation in Central America has negatively impacted rainfall in adjoining regions.

3. Dust storms: increased frequency and severity of dust storms is one of the manifestations of land degradation; particularly in dry lands.

4. Impact on Biodiversity: Land degradation results in genetic erosion of vegetation, destroys habitats of animal and plant species and reduces crop species

5. Impact on water: Land degradation cause increased pollution and sedimentation in water bodies, clogging waterways and causing declines in fish and other species

6. Impact on food security and relation with poverty:

  • Land degradation decrease agricultural productivity and has significant impact on food security, rural incomes, and rural livelihoods.
  • Land degradation is often closely related to poverty. Rural regions or households with high poverty levels often overlap with those suffering from food insecurity and low and declining agricultural productivity.

  1. Human displacement: Land degradation can also lead to human displacement through greater impacts from natural hazards such as droughts, famines, flash-floods, heat-waves and dust storms. For example: Human displacement from Sahel zone in Africa.


International Response to Land Degradation

United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD):

Established in 1994, UNCCD is a legally binding international agreement that seeks to combat land degradation and desertification.

Sustainable Development Goal: SDG 15.3- “by 2030, combat desertification, and restore degraded land and soil, including land affected by desertification, drought and floods, and strive to achieve a land-degradation neutral world”.

  • The concept of Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) has been adopted under SDG. LDN is defined as a state whereby the amount and quality of land resources necessary to support ecosystem functions and services and enhance food security remain stable or increase within specified temporal and spatial scales and ecosystems

India’s Response:

National Action Programme (NAP) to combat desertification:

The objectives are:-

  • Community based approach to development
  • Activities to improve the quality of life of the local communities
  • Awareness raising
  • Drought management preparedness and mitigation
  • R&D initiatives and interventions which are locally suited
  • Strengthening self-governance leading to empowerment of local communities.

Other schemes to mitigate concerns over desertification and land degradation:

  • Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana
  • Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana
  • National Rural Livelihoods Mission
  • Integrated Watershed Management Programme
  • National Mission for a Green India
  • National Afforestation Programme


Way Forward:

  1. Watershed Management: To combat soil loss by water erosion it is important to undertake watershed management initiatives including afforestation and other programmes aimed at checking soil erosion, improving soil moisture, increasing recharge, stabilising river basins and making agriculture and communities climate resilient
  2. Reducing Severity of degradation/desertification: proper land use policy, protection of prime agricultural lands and regular monitoring of highly vulnerable areas should be taken up to reduce severity.
  3. Landscape Restoration: Measures should be taken to assist ecological restoration. For example: natural regeneration can be supported through development of community grazing plans that include seasonal rest.
  4. Soil Conservation Practices: Soil conservation practices should be taken up to prevent or reduce physical loss of

It is important to secure land rights and access to natural resources for the poor. Further, alternative livelihood opportunities should be provided to rural poor in vulnerable areas.


Source: https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/climate-change/a-fifth-of-the-world-s-healthy-land-degraded-in-15-years-63014

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