Land degradation target can be met by utilising 100-day work scheme | Analysis
A desertification and land degradation Atlas by Space Applications Centre showed that 29.32% of total geographical area during 2011-13 was undergoing land degradation. Globally, one-third of the total geographical area is degraded.Updated: Aug 29, 2019 11:50 IST
Environment minister, Prakash Javadekar on Tuesday announced that India will convert nearly 50 lakh hectares of degraded land to fertile land in the next 10 years.
He also said that the government will implement the “New Delhi Declaration” on tackling land degradation which is to be adopted at the end of the negotiations under United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought hosted by India in September.
Javadekar however didn’t elaborate on how the big target will be achieved. A desertification and land degradation Atlas by Space Applications Centre showed that 29.32% of total geographical area during 2011-13 was undergoing land degradation. Globally, one-third of the total geographical area is degraded.
Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Delhi, Gujarat and Goa have more than 50% of land area undergoing desertification/land degradation while states with less than 10% land degradation are Kerala, Assam, Mizoram, Haryana, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Arunachal Pradesh.
The best bet for the environment ministry is to utilise the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) — the world’s largest wage-based social protection programme which is currently employing about 260 million people.
According to the environment ministry, the main causes of land degradation in India are soil and wind erosion, deforestation, poor irrigation and fertilizer application practices. Such a target would require a very large number of people working in degraded lands improving soil parameters overtime.
MGNREGA’s natural resource management (NRM) works which include raising plantations, restoring and making farm ponds, groundwater recharge structures, watershed management among others do just that.
HT visited some large and successful NRM projects in dry areas of Chhattisgarh in July. A large earthen dam built by villagers in Kokdakhar, a village in Chhattisgarh’s Kabirdhan district (a rain shadow area), where farmers are bracing for their crops to fail for the second year in a row is worth studying.
The earthen dam has managed to bring up groundwater levels and helped tide over the drinking and domestic water use crisis. In many villagers, locals are growing lentils on the bunds of farm ponds they have dug up and farming fish which is improving soil quality and providing livelihood. Similar case studies are abounding in Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Odisha and others.
The Rural Development ministry’s master circular for 2018-19 also recognizes the importance of the 100-day scheme in tackling impacts of climate change. “NREGS works address the climate change vulnerability and protect the farmers from such risks and conserve natural resources,” it states.
The environment ministry can tap in to the resources and expertise of the Rural Development ministry to ensure the land degradation target is met. An additional benefit of collaborating will be to offer jobs to states where job demand is high during times of rural distress. Some officials in the environment ministry said they do plan to involve the rural development ministry.