land degradation: Saving the land for better use

Source: The post is based on the article “Saving the land for better use” published in Business Standard on 20th February 2023.

Syllabus: GS 3 – Environment and Bio-diversity Conservation.

Relevance: About land degradation in India.

News: “Arresting land degradation” was included among the top priorities by the G20 Working Group on Environment and Climate Sustainability. In India, the economic loss due to land degradation and changes in land use patterns was estimated in 2014-15 at Rs 3.17 trillion, equivalent to 2.5% of that year’s gross domestic product.

What is the present state of land degradation in India?

Land degradation in States: Rajasthan is the most land degradation-prone state. This is followed by Maharashtra and Gujarat. No state is, actually, immune to land deterioration due to some factor or the other. The most rapid deterioration in land quality is in the biodiversity-rich and ecologically sensitive north-eastern region.

Low per-capita availability of land: Arresting land degradation is highly relevant for India as it has to support 18% of the world’s population on only 2.4% of the land.

The per capita availability of arable land has shrunk from 0.48 hectares in 1950 to merely 0.16 hectares now. This is much lower than the global average of 0.29 hectares.

Reduction in land quality: A sizeable segment of India’s land has already lost part of its productivity and carrying capacity due to mismanagement and indiscriminate anthropogenic activity. Thus denoting ill for the livelihood of a large number of farmers and forest-dwellers.

Read more: Despite PM Modi’s assurance, land degradation, desertification increasing

What are the major reasons for land degradation in India?

The major reasons are a) deforestation; b) wind and water erosion; c) imprudent alteration of land use; d) excessive pressure on land beyond its carrying capacity; and e) flawed farm practices such as imbalanced use of chemical fertilisers; inadequate application of organic manures; indiscriminate tillage; and mismanagement of many other kinds, f) India does not have a precise data on the amount of degraded land. For instance, the data on National Bureau of Soil Survey and Land Use Planning, and the Space Application Centre (SAC) of the Indian Space Research Organisation vary vastly.

Read more: Land degradation in India hurts farmers and forest dwellers the most

How India has reclaimed the degraded land?

India is among the 123 countries that have committed themselves to achieve land degradation neutrality by 2030.

According to a recent report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, India has restored around 9.8 mha of degraded land between 2011 and 2018 — an average rate of reclamation of around 1.4 mha a year.

What should be done further to reclaim the degraded land?

The benefits of land restoration can be as high as 10 times the cost of reclamation and ill effects of land degradation, ranging from the drop in crop yields to the out-migration of the population. Hence, India should take steps a) to safeguard the physical, chemical, and biological health of the existing normal land, b) to invest in land improvement, and c) To evolve and meticulously enforce judicious land use policy based on the capability classification of land.

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