This article will tell about the desertification in India. The data by the Groundwater Surveys and Development Agency had revealed that the water table had witnessed a steep drop in 70 of the 76 talukas in eight districts of Marathwada. Out of which more than 25 talukas had recorded a drop of more than two metres.

What is desertification

  • Desertification is a type of land degradation in which a relatively dry land region becomes increasingly arid, typically losing its bodies of water as well as vegetation and wildlife.
  • Desertification occurs on all continents except Antarctica and affects the livelihoods of millions of people, including a large proportion of the poor in drylands.
  • June 17 has been observed as the ‘World Day to Combat Desertification (WDCD), as United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) was adopted in Paris on June 17, 1994, and ratified in December 1996.
  • India became a signatory to UNCCD on October 14, 1994, and ratified it on December 17, 1996. Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change is the nodal Ministry for the Convention.
  • According to a UNCCD report, land degradation due to drought and desertification affects about 1.9 billion hectares of land and 1.5 billion people globally. In terms of severity, North America and Africa are the worst off, because nearly three-quarters of their drylands are affected.

Desertification in India

  • Of India's total geographical area of 328.72 million hectares (MHA), 96.4 MHA (32%) is under desertification.
  • In eight states—Rajasthan, Delhi, Goa, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Nagaland, Tripura and Himachal Pradesh—around 40 to 70 per cent of land has undergone desertification.
  • 26 of 29 Indian states have reported an increase in the area undergoing desertification in the past 10 years.

Major reasons for desertification in India

  1. Unsustainable Agricultural Practices – The cultivation of water-intensive crops and unmindful agro-climatic cropping pattern.
  2. Desertification: Forests acts as shelter beds restricting expansion of deserts.
  3. Soil Erosion: It is responsible for 10.98?sertification. Soil Erosion is the loss of soil cover mainly due to rainfall and surface runoff water. Water erosion is observed in both hot and cold desert areas, across various land covers and with varying severity levels.
  4. Vegetation Degradation: It is responsible for 8.91?sertification. Vegetation degradation is observed mainly as deforestation / forest-blanks / shifting cultivation and degradation in grazing/grassland as well as in scrubland. Destruction of vegetation, most often by humans, accelerates desertification.
  5. Wind Erosion: It is responsible for 5.55?sertification. It denotes the spread of sand by various processes, even up to lofty altitudes of Himalayas. Wind erosion removes the topsoil, which is rich in all plant nutrients and bacterial activities.
  6. Salinity: It is responsible for 1.12?sertification. It occurs mostly in cultivated lands, especially in the irrigated areas. Soil salinity refers to the water dissolvable salt present in the soil. Salinity can develop naturally, or human-induced.
  7. Population Pressure: The general problem of arid areas with large populations is essentially one of human ecology.
  8. Human-made settlement: It is responsible for 0.69?sertification. All land degradation processes are induced directly or indirectly by human intervention. It includes activities like mining and human intervention
  9. Climate Change: Climate change plays a huge role in desertification. As the days get warmer and periods of drought become more frequent, desertification becomes more and more imminent.
  10. Lack of knowledge and awareness: There is inadequate quantitative data on current land use in arid and semi-arid regions of the country. Whatever information is available is scattered across many agencies and institutions and is not readily accessible to researchers, planners, and policymakers, hampering the full assessment of land degradation and desertification problems and the quantification of economic losses to the region.
  11. Other factors: they include waterlogging, frost shattering, mass movement, barren and rocky land type

Causes of desertification in Marathwada

1.  Changes in Cropping pattern: The crop pattern in the region had drastically changed over the past decades. Earlier, the main crops cultivated here used to be cereal and oilseeds. These crops were not only conducive to Marathwada’s arid climate but were drought-resistant and led to moisture harvesting. But now, the predominant crops here are soybean and Bt Cotton, which dominate more than 80% of Marathwada’s 50 lakh hectares of cultivable land.

2.  Cultivation of sugarcane: Sugarcane, which is only grown in 4% of the total cultivable land, guzzles 80% of the water resources. As a result, a slight change in the meteorological cycle is enough to cause a full-blown water crisis.

3.  Government neglect: Under Maharashtra Irrigation Act of 1976, the government can notify people in the command area not to go in for water-intensive crops like sugarcane in the case of acute water scarcity. But there have been no efforts from the government side.

  Impact of desertification

  • Vegetation is damaged or destroyed
  • Soil becomes infertile
  • Soil erosion gets worse
  • Increased vulnerability to natural disasters
  • Polluted sources of drinking water
  • Rise of famine, poverty and social conflicts
  • Forcing mass migrations
  • Caused historical collapses of civilizations
  • Extinction of species

Steps were taken India became a signatory to the UNCCD on 14th October 1994 and it came into effect on 17th March 1997. One of the obligations of all developing country Parties to the Convention, including India, is to prepare the National Action Programme to Combat Desertification and to mitigate the effects of drought. National Action Programme (NAP) to combat desertification: The objectives are:

  • A community-based approach to development
  • Strengthening self-governance leading to empowerment of local communities.

Steps to be taken In order to prevent and reverse desertification, major policy interventions and changes in management approaches are needed. Such interventions should be implemented at local to global scales, with the active engagement of stakeholders and local communities. To prevent desertification steps to be taken are:

  1. Land and water management: Sustainable land use can fix issues such as overgrazing, overexploitation of plants, trampling of soils and irrigation practices that cause and worsen desertification.
  2. Protection of vegetative cover: Protecting soil from wind and water erosion helps to prevent the loss of ecosystem services during droughts.
  3. Alternative Farming and Industrial Techniques: Encourage agro-forestry, organic farming, environmentally sustainable cropping patterns and adoption of efficient irrigation techniques.
  4. Establish economic opportunities outside drylands: Unpacking new possibilities for people to earn a living, such as urban growth and infrastructure, could relieve and shift pressures underlying the desertification processes.
  5. Adoption of science-based and traditional sustainable land use practices: Applying a combination of traditional techniques with the selective transfer of locally acceptable technology is a major way to prevent desertification.

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