As per data published by the government, the total land degradation in the country was estimated at 91.30 million ha during 2005–2006, while it showed a marginal decrease to 91.21 million ha during 2015-16. This is about 27.77% of the geographical area of India. Three States of Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Jammu & Kashmir accounted for over 40% of land degradation area.
Land degradation is a pressing global issue with far-reaching consequences. It is considered a temporary or permanent impairment of productivity of land through deterioration of physical, chemical, or biological aspects. It spans various regions and is fueled by factors like deforestation, unsustainable agricultural practices, and climate change. The loss of fertile land not only affects food security but also increases the risk of natural disasters and contributes to the loss of biodiversity.
Recently, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) announced the launch of its first-ever Data Dashboard compiling national reporting figures from 126 countries, including India. The dashboard was launched just days before the world leaders and experts would meet in Samarkand, Uzbekistan for the 21st session of the UNCCD Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC 21). In the session, the delegates will review global progress made toward land degradation neutrality (LDN) and confront issues like enhancing drought resilience, promoting women’s land rights, and combating sand and dust storms.
Globally, at least 100 million hectares (ha) of healthy and productive land lost each year between 2015 and 2019
The data from the dashboard revealed that between 2015 and 2019, the world lost at least 100 million hectares (ha) of healthy and productive land each year which would roughly make up twice the size of Greenland. It is also estimated to impact the lives of 1.3 billion people, who will be directly exposed to land degradation. It noted that land degradation is advancing at an astonishing rate across all regions.
Further, it revealed that there are significant disparities when it comes to the proportion of degraded land per region. Sub-Saharan Africa, Western and Southern Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean experienced land degradation at rates faster than the global average, it noted.
Eastern and Central Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean regions experienced the most severe degradation, affecting at least 20% of their total land area, as of 2019. However, since 2015, the proportion of land degraded in Sub-Saharan Africa has increased from 6.7% to 14.63%, and in Western Asia and the Northern African region, the same has risen from 3.78% to 7.18%.
India’s total degraded land as of 2019 is equivalent to ten times the size of Belgium or 43 million football pitches
As far as India is concerned, the dashboard revealed that as of 2019, a total of 30.51 million ha of India’s total reported land was degraded, which is 9.45% of the country’s landmass was degraded. In 2015, 4.42% of the country’s landmass was degraded. For comparison, India’s total degraded land as of 2019 is equivalent to ten times the size of Belgium, or 43 million football pitches. 251.71 million people or nearly 18.4% of the country’s population, were exposed to land degradation during the same period.
At the national level, remote sensing data is being regularly employed in the survey of degraded soils by institutions like the ISRO, its partner institutions from state remote sensing centres, ISRO/ DOS centres and academia. Based on the mapping of land degradation for the whole land mass of India with data acquired during August to October (Kharif), November to March (Rabi) and April to May (Summer) of 2005–2006 and 2015–2016, a report was published by ISRO that helps in studying the decadal change in land degradation in the country. It also provides the category or cause of degradation. This data is sourced from Dataful.
According to ISRO’s report, the total land degradation in the country was estimated at 91.30 million ha during 2005–2006, while it showed a marginal decrease to 91.21 million ha during 2015-16. This is about 27.77% of the geographical area of India.
Wind and water erosion are the major causes of land degradation
As of 2015-16, water erosion is the major cause of land degradation in India accounting for 509.96 Lakh ha which is 55.91% of total land degradation and 15.53% of total geographical area (TGA). Wind erosion accounted for 142.8 Lakh ha contributing to 15.66% of total land degradation in India and 4.35% of TGA. Salinisation /alkalization was spread over 64.65 Lakh ha or 7.09% of total land degradation and Acidification in over 30.41 Lakh ha (3.33% of total land degradation). Paddy lands, dense forest areas and plantations have been excluded in this spatial extent.
Anthropogenic processes include industrial affluent areas, mining and dumps and brick kilns extends. These are spread over an area of 6.55 Lakh ha. Barren rocky, mass movement and riverine sands fall in the ‘others’ category and account for 12.13% of total land degradation.
Compared to 2005-06, there has been a substantial increase in the area under the anthropogenic category of land degradation while all the other categories saw a decline, though marginal.
3 states accounted for 43% of the total land degradation recorded in India
Among the states, Rajasthan had the maximum land under degradation with over 180.3 lakh ha accounting for 19.77% of the total land degradation in the country. Maharashtra had the second highest with 109.9 lakh ha of land under degradation accounting for 12.05% of the total. The erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir also had more than 100 lakh ha of land under degradation. Together, these three states accounted for 43% of the land under degradation in the country. Among major states, the area was less than 5 lakh ha in the states of West Bengal, Haryana, Kerala, and Punjab and was below 10 lakh ha each across all the northeastern states.
Cause of land degradation depends on geographical conditions as well as human actions
The cause of land degradation is seen to be dependent on geographical conditions as well as human actions. Water erosion was the dominant process resulting in land degradation in the majority of the states, especially in the central plateau region of India. This may be attributed to high rainfall variability and intensity, undulating terrain conditions and moderate to high erodibility of soils in these areas.
In the arid regions with less vegetation cover like Rajasthan, Ladakh, and Haryana, wind erosion was predominant while acidification was mostly dominant in high-rainfall regions such as Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Kerala, Odisha, and Maharashtra.
Waterlogging was significant in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Assam while salinization/alkalization was dominant in Gujarat followed by Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Andhra Pradesh due to localized reasons. Land degradation due to anthropogenic activities was the highest in Karnataka, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana.
Efforts are being made to highlight the issue
Land degradation by itself or in combination with climate change, can have profound implications for natural resource-based livelihood systems, food security, economies, biodiversity, and the overall well-being of communities worldwide. It is a cause of concern and calls for concerted efforts to address the same. Land degradation is also a part of Sustainable Development Goal 15 which calls for reversing the same.
India, being a party to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has committed to attain land neutrality and restore 26 lakh hectares of degraded land by 2030. Further, India has implemented various initiatives to tackle land degradation, including the National Action Plan for Climate Change, Watershed Development Component of Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY), afforestation programs like the Green India Mission, and sustainable land management practices. The Soil Health Card scheme aims to improve soil fertility, and watershed management projects focus on preventing soil erosion and promoting sustainable water use.