Desertification and Land Degradation

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    • The government is planning to bring convergence between the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) and the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY) to restore degraded land and reverse desertification in India.

    Key Points

    • Increasing Degraded Land: 
      • According to the Desertification and Land Degradation Atlas 2021, at least 30% of India’s total geographical area is under the category of “degraded land”.
    • Statewise Data:
      • Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Delhi, Gujarat and Goa have more than 50% of land area undergoing desertification or degradation.
      • Kerala, Assam, Mizoram, Haryana, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Arunachal Pradesh are states with less than 10% land degradation.
    • Concerns:
      • In 2019, the government raised its target of restoration of degraded land from 21 million hectares to 26 million hectares by 2030 following a commitment made during the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (COP14). 
      • Nearly three years on, the government is nowhere near this target.
      • Though the Ministry of Rural Development has been making efforts to contribute towards meeting the international commitment, the constraints posed on the economy by the pandemic restricted the target to 4.95 million hectares by 2025-26. 
      • Therefore, there is a compelling reason for the Ministry to explore alternative opportunities to fulfill the commitment.
    • Suggestion for Convergence: Using MGNREGS Funds
      • Presently, activities such as ridge area treatment, drainage line treatment, soil and moisture conservation, rainwater harvesting, nursery raising, afforestation, horticulture and pasture development are done under the Department of Land Resources, the Ministry of Rural Development.
      • The Union government now wants the States to undertake these activities using MGNREGS funds, which go towards both material and wage components.
      • As of now, there is Central allocation of ?8,134 crore for developing 4.95 million hectares.
      • The Rural Development Ministry is now hoping that by making use of the MGNREGS, which for the financial year 2022-23 has a budget of ?73,000 crore, the government can scale up the area to be covered.
      • By the Ministry’s own estimate, a convergence with the MGNREGS could help take up treatment of about 30% more land than feasible with the current scheme size.

    Land degradation

    • It is a temporary or permanent degeneration of productivity of land due to physical, chemical or biological factors. 
    • Causes:
      • Land degradation is caused by multiple forces, including extreme weather conditions, particularly drought.
      • It is also caused by human activities that pollute or degrade the quality of soils and land utility. 

    Desertification

    • Desertification is a form of land degradation by which fertile land becomes desert.
    • It leads to the advancement of sand from the desert to the adjoining regions. 
    • The sand covers fertile soil and affects its fertility
    • This problem is particularly serious in areas adjoining the Thar desert in Rajasthan. 

    Impact of Land degradation

    • Environmental Impact:
      • Land degradation results in problems like soil erosion, loss of natural nutrients, water-logging and salinity and contamination of ground and surface water.
      • Loss of Fertility due to the use of various scientific inputs like irrigation, fertilizers, pesticides etc. Unscientific cropping practices are also causing harm. 
      • Soil Erosion is the process by which the topsoil is detached from land and either washed away by water, ice or sea waves or blown away by the wind.
      • Salinity/Alkalinity occurs in areas of temporary water surplus and high temperatures due to over-irrigation or high rainfall. The salt layer plays havoc with the fertility of topsoil and renders vast stretches of useful land infertile.
      • Waterlogging happens when the water table gets saturated for various reasons—over-irrigation, seepage from canals, inadequate drainage etc.
    • Potential Impacts on Human Health:
      • It negatively affects food production, livelihoods, and the production and provision of other ecosystem goods and services. 
      • higher threats of malnutrition from reduced food and water supplies;
      • more water- and food-borne diseases that result from poor hygiene and a lack of clean water;
      • respiratory diseases caused by atmospheric dust from wind erosion and other air pollutants;
      • the spread of infectious diseases as populations migrate.

    Global Efforts to  Combating Land Degradation

    • United Nations Convention on Combating Desertification (UNCCD):
      • Established in 1994 
      • Aim: To protect and restore our land and ensure a safer, just, and more sustainable future.  
      • The UNCCD is the only legally binding framework set up to address desertification and the effects of drought. 
      • There are 197 Parties to the Convention, including 196 country Parties and the European Union. 
      • The Convention is based on the principles of participation, partnership and decentralization.
    • Bonn Challenge:
      • It is a global goal to bring 150 million hectares of degraded and deforested landscapes into restoration by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030. 
      • Launched by the Government of Germany and IUCN in 2011, the Challenge surpassed the 150-million-hectare milestone for pledges in 2017.
    • Great Green Wall Initiative:
      • Launched in 2007 by the African Union, being implemented across 22 African countries
      • Aim: To restore the continent’s degraded landscapes and transform millions of lives in the Sahel.  
      • Objective: To restore 100 million hectares of currently degraded land; sequester 250 million tons of carbon and create 10 million green jobs by 2030. 

    Indian Initiatives

    • National level land degradation mapping: 
      • It is taken up by ISRO along with partner institutions, under the Natural Resources Census (NRC) mission of DOS/ISRO, towards generating information on land degradation at 1:50,000 scale, using 23m resolution (multi-temporal & multi-spectral) IRS data. 
    • Desertification and Land Degradation Atlas of India:
      • Published by: Space Application Centre (SAC), ISRO, Ahmedabad. 
      • Content:
      • Provides a state wise area of degraded lands for the time frame 2018-19. 
      • Provides the change analysis for the duration of 15 years, from 2003-05 to 2018-19.
    • United Nations Convention on Combating Desertification (UNCCD)
      • India is a signatory to the UNCCD.
      • India hosted the 14th session of Conference of Parties (COP 14) of United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in September 2019. 
      • India is striving towards achieving the national commitments of Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) and restoration of 26 Million ha of degraded land by 2030 which focus on sustainable and optimum utilisation of land resources.
      • Nodal Ministry for the Implementation: Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC)
    • Joined Bonn Challenge:
      • At the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP) 2015 in Paris, India joined the voluntary Bonn Challenge and pledged to bring into restoration 13 million hectares of degraded and deforested land by 2020, and an additional 8 million hectares by 2030. 
    • Flagship Schemes:
      • The government sees schemes are formulated as tools to tackle the problem of land degradation namely
        • Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana
        • Soil Health Card Scheme 
        • Pradhan Mantri Krishi Synchayee Yojana etc
      • The government of India has adopted a collective approach for making progress towards achieving the national commitments related to land restoration.

    Way Ahead

    • Combating desertification and land degradation and mitigating the effects of drought will secure long-term socio-economic benefits for people living in the drylands and reduce their vulnerability to climate change. 
    • Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN)—with conservation, sustainable use, and restoration as its three pillars—provides an effective framework. 
    • Creating an enabling environment for LDN can help policymakers and planners to navigate social, economic, and environmental trade offs so food security, energy needs, land tenure, gender equality, access to clean water, and biodiversity are considered—and addressed—together.

    Source: TH