- “Arresting land degradation” was included among the top priorities by the G20 Working Group on Environment and Climate Sustainability in its meeting held recently in Bangalore.
- This issue is highly relevant to India, which has to support 18 percent of the world’s population on only 2.4 per cent land.
- More worryingly, a sizeable segment of this land has already lost part of its productivity and carrying capacity due to mismanagement and indiscriminate anthropogenic activity.
- The per capita availability of arable land has shrunk from 0.48 hectare in 1950 to merely 0.16 hectare now. This is much lower than the global average of 0.29 hectare.
Present State of Land Degradation in India
- Almost all states have reported an expansion in degraded areas during the past couple of decades, with the most rapid deterioration in land quality being in the biodiversity-rich but ecologically sensitive north-eastern region.
- The National Rainfed Area Authority of India notes that 121 million hectares (mha) of land in the country has been affected by degradation which amounts to 36.8 per cent of the land mass i.e. nearly one-third of the country’s land has become substandard.
- Rajasthan is the most land degradation-prone state due to its soil and climatic conditions followed by Maharashtra and Gujarat.
- In India, the economic loss due to land degradation and changes in land use pattern was estimated in 2014-15 at Rs 3.17 trillion equivalent to 2.5 percent of that year’s gross domestic product.
Causes of Land Degradation
- The major causes of the land degradation are
- wind and water erosion
- imprudent alteration of land use
- excessive pressure on land beyond its carrying capacity
- flawed farm practices
- imbalanced use of chemical fertilisers
- inadequate application of organic manures
- indiscriminate tillage.
- India is among the 123 countries that have committed themselves to achieving Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) by 2030.
- This essentially means upgrading land to a state where it can perform its normal ecological functions and services, including supporting biodiversity, ensuring food security, and meeting other needs.
- India had originally set the target of land restoration at 21 mha and it raised it to 26 mha during the 14th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, held in 2019.
- The stability and sustainability of the reclaimed land has to be ensured.
- Steps are also needed to safeguard the physical, chemical, and biological health of the existing normal land.
- Investment in land improvement is needed.
- Meticulous enforcement of a judicious land use policy based on the capability classification of land is the need of the hour.