Saying land degradation and desertification were affecting a large part of the country’s landmass, Union minister for Environment and Forests, Prakash Javadekar, on Monday laid out a his ministry’ plan to tackle to problem.
The minister was speaking at an event in the Capital to mark ‘World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought’. Javadekar said his ministry will concentrate on reclaiming and rejuvenating infertile land as a major component in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s plan to double farmer income in the country.
In this regard, he said an annual input of Rs 6,000 for each farmer had been conceptualised by his ministry to improve soil quality, among other things, and thereby to increase crop yield.
“Even after 70 years of independence, our irrigation infrastructure is just at 30 per cent and we depend heavily on the monsoons as a water source – a source that is becoming increasingly erratic. This paucity of water is intrinsically connected to desertification and degradation of land; especially forest land. The Prime Minister has set an even bigger and more significant challenge for us in his second term – ‘Har ghar ko nal se jal‘ (tap water for every household). I am happy to announce that over the past five years the forest cover, as well as the tree cover outside of forests, are on the rise. This is how you counter desertification,” he said.
The Minister also announced the launch a flagship project – a collaboration between
MoEF and the Bonn Challenge, which is an initiative of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The challenge is a global effort to bring 150 million hectares of world’s deforested and degraded land into restoration by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030.
“India has committed to the Bonn challenge of reclaiming 21 million hectares of land from desertification,” he said, adding, “enhancing capacity on forest landscape restoration (FLR) and Bonn
Challenge in India, through a pilot phase of three-and-a-half years to be implemented in Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Nagaland and Karnataka. The project is aimed to develop and adapt best practices and monitoring protocols for the states and will eventually be scaled up across the country once the pilot is completed.
According to ministry officials, Indian land yield is among the lowest in the world. One hectare of land in India produces one tonne of crop as opposed to six tonnes in the US, they pointed out. “This is because the fertility of land is low in India. In many places which are inundated, the salinity is high. The overuse of fertilisers also brings down the fertility. Our objective is not only to prevent desertification but to increase the fertility of land. If this is done then crop yield won’t just double, the potential for the crop yield to increase can be six fold,” said a senior Ministry official.
Acccording to CK Mishra, Secretary, MoEF, close to 30 per cent of the land in India is degraded. “Pressure on the remaining land is tremendous if you see that we have two per cent of the global land mass supporting 18 per cent of the world’s population and over 11 per cent of the world’s livestock. We are jostling for space. So prevention of desertification is a critical issue for us. If we start losing even that land, then we have a huge problem ahead,” he added.
Meanwhile Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant said India presently has 29.3 per cent land degradation and 25 percent desertification. He added that the the government’s goal was to eradicate poverty entirely in the country and to that end, it is aiming to make the country land degradation neutral by 2030.