Desertification is the degradation of dry, semi-arid and sub-humid lands resulting from various factors, such as climatic variations and human activities,as defined by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). In other words, land is desertified when it can no longer support the same plant growth it had in the past, and the change is permanent on a human time scale. 96 million hectares or close to 29% of India’s area is undergoing degradation. The effect of severe droughts was estimated to have reduced India’s gross domestic product by 2-5 per cent over the 20 years from 1998-2017.
LINKAGE POINT: The following are the possible causes of increasing levels of desertification in India.
Growing demand: impact of market economy
Unsustainable agricultural practices- Salt accumulation on irrigated fields, overexploitation of groundwater, loss of soil fertility, conversion of forested lands to agricultural lands
Increasing population –unplanned urbanization, salt accumulation due to mining, water shortage because resources are limited, waste generation, consumerism
Deforestation and overgrazing – increase the loss of vegetation and reduces the soil’s ability to hold moisture.
Climate variations: Climate change- increase in air temperature strengthens arid climate and leads to a decrease in vaporability, precipitation and moisture loss on a global level
Prevention: The culture of prevention requires a change in peoples’ attitudes through improved incentives.
Crop rotation: the alternation of different crops on the same plot of land over different growing seasons.
Rotational grazing: the process of limiting the grazing pressure of livestock in a given area.
Terracing: the creation of multiple levels of flat ground that appear as long steps cut into hillsides. The technique slows the pace of runoff, which reduces soil erosion and retards overall water loss.
Contour-bunding: It involves the placement of lines of stones along with the natural rises of a landscape, and contour farming. These techniques help to capture and hold rainfall before it can become runoff. They also inhibit wind erosion by keeping the soil heavy and moist.
Windbreaks: They are the placing of lines of fast-growing trees planted at right angles to the prevailing surface winds. They are primarily used to slow wind-driven soil erosion but may be used to inhibit the encroachment of dunes.
Dune stabilization: It involves the conservation of the plant community living along the sides of dunes. The upper parts of plants help protect the soil from surface winds, whereas the root network below keeps the soil together.
Integrated land and water management: All measures that protect soils from erosion, salinization, and other forms of soil degradation effectively prevent desertification. Sustainable land use can address human activities such as overgrazing, overexploitation of plants, trampling of soils, and unsustainable irrigation practices that exacerbate dryland vulnerability. Management strategies include measures to spread the pressures of human activities, such as transhumance (rotational use) of rangelands and well sites, stocking rates matched to the carrying capacity of ecosystems, and diverse species Improved water management practices can enhance water-related services. These may include use of traditional water-harvesting techniques, water storage, and diverse soil and water conservation measures. Maintaining management practices for water capture during intensive rainfall episodes also helps prevent surface runoff that carries away the thin, fertile, moisture-holding topsoil. Improving groundwater recharge through soil-water conservation, upstream re-vegetation, and ﬂoodwater spreading can provide reserves of water for use during drought periods.
Protection of vegetative cover- Maintaining vegetative cover to protect soil from wind and water erosion is a key preventive measure against desertification. Properly maintained vegetative cover also prevents loss of ecosystem services during drought episodes. Reduced rainfall may be induced if vegetation cover is lost due to over-cultivation, overgrazing, overharvesting of medicinal plants, woodcutting, or mining activities. This is usually coupled with the effect of reduced surface evapotranspiration and shade or increased albedo.
Use of locally suitable technology : Applying a combination of traditional technology with selective transfer of locally acceptable technology is a major way to prevent desertification. Conversely, there are numerous examples of practices—such as unsustainable irrigation techniques and technologies and rangeland management, as well as growing crops unsuited to the agro-climatic zone—that tend to accelerate, if not initiate, desertification processes. Thus technology transfer requires in-depth evaluation of impacts and active participation of recipient communities.
Local communities: They can prevent desertification and provide effective dry-land resource management but are often limited by their capacity to act. Drawing on cultural history and local knowledge and experience, and reinforced by science, dry-land communities are in the best position to devise practices to prevent desertification. However, there are many limitations imposed on the interventions available to communities, such as lack of institutional capacity, access to markets, and financial capital for implementation. Enabling policies that involve local participation and community institutions, improve access to transport and market infrastructures, inform local land managers, and allow land users to innovate are essential to the success of these practices.
Desertification can also be avoided by creating economic opportunities in drylands urban centers and areas outside drylands: Changes in overall economic and institutional settings that create new opportunities for people to earn a living could help relieve current pressures underlying the desertification processes. Urban growth, when undertaken with adequate planning and provision of services, infrastructure, and facilities, can be a major factor in relieving pressures that cause desertification in drylands. This view is relevant when considering the projected growth of the urban fraction in drylands, which will increase to around 52% by 2010 and to 60% by 2030
INITIATIVES BY INDIA THAT CAN BE HIGHLIGHTED:
India is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Combating Desertification (UNCCD). The Government of India has set up a Desertification Cell under the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEF&CC). The cell represents India in UNCCD.
In the spirit of South-South cooperation, India is assisting fellow developing countries to develop land restoration strategies.
National Mission on Green India: It was approved in 2014 with the objective of protecting, restoring and enhancing India’s diminishing forest cover with a deadline of 10 years.
National level land degradation mapping- Desertification and Land Degradation Atlas of India‟ has been released by MoEFCC (published by ISRO). The Atlas provides a state-wise area of degraded lands
The Soil Health Card Scheme, Soil Health Management Scheme, Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojna (PKSY), Per Drop More Crop combats the effect of land degradation and also helps to reduce land degradation to some extent. Currently, the government has distributed over 23 crore soil health cards to farmers. Resultantly, balanced use of fertilisers has come about among farmers.
CONCLUSION: Effective prevention of desertification requires both local management and macro policy approaches that promote sustainability of ecosystem services. The focus on prevention should be high on a global level. This year, WORLD DAY TO COMBAT DESERTIFICATION AND DROUGHT was celebrated with the theme ‘Rising up from drought together’. It is a call for global communities and governments to actively work in this regard.
(Use: ‘SDGs 15.3- on achieving a land degradation neutral world by 2030’ in your answer)