“The nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt
Land is one of the most important resources available to us. Our lives depend on it directly and indirectly. Unfortunately, it has come under serious pressure in the last few years leading to one of the biggest ecological challenge of our times.
Land degradation is the phenomenon by which land loses it fertility and turns useless from a productive sense. It is usually associated with green sprawling pastures turning to barren dry or semi-arid.
The ramifications are serious. It threatens to affect 2/3rd of the world’s population in the next few years itself. In India, almost 29% of the total land is already degraded and the area may expand in the future as well.
The majority of land degradation is currently concentrated in states like Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Punjab, etc. There is a fear that further land degradation in these states might lead to desertification, a phenomenon which literally means expansion of deserts. This will affect major part of the population as these states contribute a lot to agricultural produce as well as provide employment to millions.
There are several causes that can be traced to land degradation. These are just a few of the causes, there are many more:
- The use of fertilisers have been increasing in agricultural sector. As more and more farmers push for productivity, there fertiliser use has been increasing through the years, aided by government subsidies.
- The expansion or urban areas have contributed to land degradation in a major way. Major cities are expanding in an unsustainable way leading to formation of what we call a ‘concrete jungle’.
- Climate change has affected every aspect of our lives. Rising temperatures, less rainfall, more pressure on the land, all of these factors have contributed to further land degradation.
- Deforestation certainly affects the fertility of the land. As the demand for housing, infrastructure increases, the demand for land will also increase. This is already leading to deforestation of a major scale.
- Industries have been increasing mining and even expanding operations in high biodiversity areas that can have catastrophic results for the ecologically sensitive land.
Of course, the policymakers are aware of this issue, both nationally and internationally. There has been a sustained effort from the international community to address this issue.
India has been positively responding as well. The 14th Conference of Parties (COP-14) to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) was held in 2019. There were many positive outcomes of the conference including the Delhi Declaration —that addressed issues including gender and health, ecosystem, climate change, private sector engagement, Peace Forest Initiative of South Korea and recovery of five million hectares of degraded land in India.
There are various others steps being taken as well, to address the issue of degradation before it becomes a major hurdle for us socially, environmentally as well as economically:
- Community participation by the forest and agricultural departments in spreading awareness and assistance has improved the productivity as well as quality of land in many areas.
- A sustained afforestation drive has been planned by many states which have brought fruitful results in terms of ecosystem restoration.
- The recent advancements in technology are also aiding in land planning and restoration, like ISRO’s remote sensing capability shared with public and private sector has the potential to help millions of farmers. Better forecasts from the meteorological departments have also been helpful in better planning and restoration.
There are many more initiatives like these, but their proper execution and implementation is more important than planning. With the growing economy and rapid urbanisation, we must also not forget about our land. We need a multipronged, holistic effort to combat this on all levels. We need to identify and reverse land degradation as fast as possible.
Our future depends on it.