Combating Desertification

India on the occasion of World Day to combat desertification and drought said as in the past it will play a leadership role and will lead by example in combating desertification. 

India will be hosting the fourteenth session of Conference of Parties (COP – 14) from 29th August – 14th September 2019.

As per the Desertification and Land Degradation Atlas of India, 2007, the percentage of the country under dry lands is 69.6%. The total area undergoing the process of land degradation in India is 105.48 million hectares, which constitutes 32.07 percentage of India’s total land area. 

Background of the World Day to Combat Desertification

June 17 has been observed as the ‘World Day to Combat Desertification (WDCD), as the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) was adopted in Paris in 1994 and ratified in 1996. 

World Day to Combat Desertification has been observed since 1995 to promote public awareness about international efforts to combat desertification and the effects of drought collectively. 

The main objective of the UNCCD is to combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought and desertification. 

Drawing inspiration from the 1972 Stockholm Conference, the world came together in Rio in 1992 to forge an alliance on Biodiversity, Climate Change, and Desertification. 

The Earth Summit resulted in the successful adoption of three United Nations Conventions –

  • Framework Convention on Climate Change
  • Convention on Biological Diversity
  • Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). 

India became a signatory to UNCCD in 1994 and ratified it in 1996. Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change is the nodal Ministry for the Convention. 

What is Desertification?

Desertification does not refer to the expansion of deserts, but rather the degradation of land in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, primarily as a result of human activities and climatic variations.

Desertification involves an interplay of climatic, edaphic, and biotic factors. Climatic changes, human and livestock population pressure, and socio-economic conditions modify the process.

Climate has a major impact on dryland soil, vegetation, water resources, and land use. By virtue of low organic matter contents, aggregate stability and low levels of biological productivity, drylands are vulnerable to desertification. For example, sparser the plant covers, the greater the susceptibility of dryland soils to accelerated soil erosion.

Causes of Desertification

  1. Unsustainable Agricultural Practices – The cultivation of water-intensive crops and adoption of non-agro climatic based cropping patterns.
  1. Poor Water Management – Canal irrigation and tubewell irrigation which has a high potential for seepage, water loss, and misuse have enhanced salinization along with the marked reduction in groundwater availability.
  2. Faulty Land-Use Practices – Excessive use of fertilizers, monocropping, non-adherence to dryland cropping practices, prolong land fallowing, removal of the vegetal cover, etc facilitates desertification.
  1. Overgrazing: If there are too many animals that are overgrazing in certain spots, it makes it difficult for the plants to grow back, which hurts the biome and makes it lose its former green glory.
  2. Deforestation: It directly accelerates soil erosion through increase surface water runoff and wind erosion. 
  3. Urbanization – Development causes people to go through and kill plant life. As areas become more urbanized, there are fewer places for plants to grow, thus causing desertification.
  4. 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 eminent. 
  5. Stripping the land of resources. If an area of land has natural resources like natural gas, oil, or minerals, people will come in and mine it. This usually strips the soil of nutrients, kills the plant life, which in turn starts the process toward becoming a desert biome as time goes on.
  6. Natural Disasters: There are some cases where the land gets damaged because of natural disasters, including drought. In those cases, there isn’t a lot that people can do except work to try and help rehabilitate the land after it has already been damaged by nature.

Effects of Desertification

  1. Farming becomes next to impossible. If an area becomes a desert, then it’s almost impossible to grow substantial crops there without special technologies. 
  2. Hunger: Without farms, the food that those farms produce will become much scarcer, and the people who live in those local areas will be a lot more likely to try and deal with hunger problems. Animals will also go hungry, which will cause even more of a food shortage.
  3. Flooding: Without the plant life in an area, flooding is a lot more imminent. Not all deserts are dry; those that are wet could experience a lot of flooding because there is nothing to stop the water from gathering and going all over the place. 
  4. Poor Water Quality: If an area becomes a desert, the water quality is going to become a lot worse than it would have been otherwise. This is because plant life plays a significant role in keeping the water clean and clear.
  5. Migration: When areas start to become desert, animals, and people will go to other areas where they can actually thrive. This causes crowding and overpopulation, which will, in the long run, end up continuing the cycle of desertification.
  6. Poverty: All of the issues that are mentioned above can lead to poverty if not kept in check. Without food and water, it becomes harder for people to thrive.

Measures to Combat Desertification

  1. Shelterbelts are generally established along the boundaries of cultivated land and are aligned across the wind direction so as to prevent erosion and movement of sand by wind.
  2. Agro-based climatic cropping – To prevent fertile areas from getting encroached by deserts climate needs to be proactively incorporated at grassroots levels for sustainable agriculture.
  3. Dryland Farming – Cultivation of less water-intensive & drought-resistant crops (like jatropha, mahua, etc) can not only help in containing desertification but also would enhance the economy of affected regions.
  4. Livelihood Diversification – Through alternative income-earning avenues like animal husbandry, tourism, traditional craftworks, etc.  is essential for the people directly dependent upon the land.
  5. Sustainable Land Management (SLM) with its focus on soil structure and land cover improvements, the potential to enhance soil water retention capacity and improve water availability, as well as replenish and elevate the groundwater table increases.
  6. Long-term monitoring is required to distinguish between the role of anthropogenic actions and climate variability in vegetation productivity.
  7. Bridging the Science‐Policy Gap: Knowledge Transfers and Capacity Building to establish a globally agreed and recognized, credible and transparent authority on scientific and technical knowledge on land and soil, including land degradation and desertification.
  8. Traditional knowledge and practices related to sustainable agriculture, livestock, and agroforestry management can make significant contributions to rebuilding ecological infrastructure and reversing land degradation. 
  9. Strengthen capacities of policymakers to access and use Earth observation and in‐situ data and information in a timely manner to monitor the state of land degradation and desertification and to predict and assess the extent of droughts in support of decision making processes at the national, regional and international levels.

Steps Taken By Government

  1. National Action Programme for combating desertification was prepared in 2001 to take appropriate action in addressing the problems of desertification. 

Other Steps – Integrated Watershed Management Programme (IWMP), National Afforestation Programme (NAP), National Mission for Green India (GIM), The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), Soil Conservation in the Catchment of River Valley Project and Flood Prone River, National Watershed Development Project for Rainfed Areas (NWDPRA), Fodder and Feed Development Scheme-component of Grassland Development including Grass Reserves, Command Area Development and Water Management (CADWM) programme etc.

Government has also launched a flagship project on enhancing capacity on forest landscape restoration (FLR)and Bonn Challenge, through a pilot phase of 3.5 years implemented in the States of Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Nagaland, and Karnataka. 

The project will aim to develop and adopt best practices and monitoring protocols for the Indian states and build capacity within the five pilot states on FLR and Bonn Challenge. 

  • The Bonn Challenge is a global effort to bring 150 million hectares of the world’s deforested and degraded land into restoration by 2020, and 350 million hectares by 2030.

At the UNFCC Conference of the Parties (COP) 2015 in Paris, India also joined the voluntary Bonn Challenge pledge to bring into restoration 13 million hectares of degraded and deforested land by the year 2020, and an additional 8 million hectares by 2030. India’s pledge is one of the largest in Asia.