In Focus: Land Degradation

In Focus: Land Degradation

What is Land Degradation?

  • Land Degradation can be termed as the degradation of the quality of land resulting in the reduction of fertility and crop production capacity of the land.
  • Land degradation is driven by both by changes in climate or human activities.
  • Globally, 24 billion tonnes of fertile soil and 27, 000 bio-species are lost every year.

What is Desertification?

  • When land degradation occurs in dryland areas, more specifically arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, it is referred to as

Major Causes of Land Degradation:

  • Extreme weather conditions particularly drought
  • Soil erosion
  • Poor farming practices and the absence of conservation works
  • Buildup of salts in soils
  • Loss of vegetation cover due to overgrazing, over exploitation and deforestation
  • Invasive alien plant species
  • Overuse of irrigation water
  • Inappropriate use of marginal land

Impact of Land Degradation

  • Loss of agricultural productivity
  • Increased risks of floods and erosion leading to the formation of gullies;
  • Loss of soil fertility leading to poor crop yields
  • Shortage of local surface water resources
  • Increased level of salt groundwater
  • Propagation of invasive species
  • Loss of vegetation
  • Threat to biodiversity
  • Formation of Sodic soils that create an impermeable crust reducing infiltration resulting in water scarcity


Land Degradation in India:

  • In 2011-2013, India’s land degradation area totaled 29.3 percent of India’s total land area, representing an area of 96.4 million hectares (mha).
  • This is an increase of 0.57 percent compared with 2003-2005 (an area larger than the state of Nagaland).
  • The top processes leading to degradation/desertification in India in both time periods were:
    • Water erosion (10.98 percent in 2011-2013)
    • Vegetation degradation (8.91 percent) and
    • Wind erosion (5.55 percent).
  • Overall, the areas affected by vegetation and water erosion increased in 2011-2013, while there was a slight drop in the total area degraded due to wind erosion and salinity, indicating improvement.
  • Although 1.95 mha of land was reclaimed or restored between 2003-2005 and 2011-2013, 3.63 mha of productive land degraded during this period.

Note: Land reclamation is bringing back the degraded land into its former state by adopting suitable management practices

States with highest area of lands undergoing degradation/desertification

  • Rajasthan
  • Gujarat
  • Maharashtra
  • Jammu & Kashmir
  • Karnataka

All these states amounting to 18.4 percent (out of India’s total 29.3 percent) while all the other states each had less than 2 percent of degraded lands.


United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)

  • Desertification was addressed for the first time in 1977 in the United Nations Conference on Desertification.
  • This was followed by the adoption of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in Paris in 1994, which entered into force in December 1996.
  • It is one of the three Rio Conventions, along with United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
  • The UNCCD is the only legally binding international agreement linking environment and development issues to the land agenda.
  • The Convention holds a biennial Conference of Parties (CoP) to the Convention.


Combating Land Degradation in India:

  • India is signatory to the United Nations Convention on Combating Desertification (UNCCD).
  • India is committed to combat desertification and land degradation and intends to achieve land degradation neutral status by 2030.

Note: The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) is the nodal Ministry to co-ordinate all issues pertaining to the Convention.

Schemes launched for capacity-building of the stakeholders at multiple levels:

  • Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY)
  • National Food Security Mission (NFSM)
  • Soil Health Card Scheme
  • Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PKSY)
  • Per Drop More Crop,
  • Swacch Bharat mission,
  • Har Khet Ko Pani (HKKP) and
  • National Rural Drinking Water Programme.


Prevention and Control Measures for Land Degradation:

  • Strip farming: It is a practice in which cultivated crops are sown in alternative strips to prevent water movement.
  • Crop Rotation: It is one of the agricultural practice in which different crops are grown in same area following a rotation system which helps in replenishment of the soil.
  • Ridge and Furrow Formation: Soil erosion is one of the factors responsible for land degradation. It can be prevented by formation of ridge and furrow during irrigation which lessens run off.
  • Construction of Dams: It checks or reduces the velocity of run off so that soil support vegetation.
  • Contour Farming: It is usually practiced across the hill side and is useful in collecting and diverting the run off to avoid erosion.
Section : Environment & Ecology