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Meaning of desertification

  1. What is it not? Desertification is not the natural expansion of existing deserts.
  2. What is it not? Instead it is the degradation of land in arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas. It is a gradual process of “soil productivity loss and the thinning out of the vegetative cover” because of human activities and climatic variations such as prolonged droughts and floods.

What are the reasons for desertification?

Climatic factors  Climatic variations such as prolonged droughts and floods contribute to desertification.
Human factors


 Among human causal factors are over-cultivation, overgrazing, deforestation, and poor irrigation practices.

Such overexploitation is generally caused by economic and social pressure, ignorance, war, and drought.

 Why is it important to fight desertification?

Desertification, along with climate change and the loss of biodiversity were identified as the greatest challenges to sustainable development during the 1992 Rio Earth Summit.

According to UNCCD (June 2017), Desertification is a worldwide problem directly affecting 250 million people and a third of the earth’s land surface or over 4 billion hectares.

Environmental problems


 Removal of land’s topsoil takes centuries tobuild up.

Desertification makes land areas flood-prone, causes soil salinisation, results in the deterioration of the quality of water, silting of rivers, streams and reservoirs.

Unsustainable irrigation practices can dry the rivers that feed large lakes; the Aral Sea and Lake Chad have both seen their shorelines shrink dramatically in this way.

Socio-Economic Problems


Poverty: The land’s loss of productivity exacerbates poverty in the drylands. Desertification is both the cause and consequence of poverty.

Food security: According to UNCCD, annual land lost could produce 20 million tonnes of grain. Land also supports livestock, which will be affected by land degradation.

Displacement: Loss of land’s productivity, forces farmers to seek a way of living in more fertile lands or cities. According to UNCCD (data in June 2017) some 60 million people are expected to eventually move from the decertified areas in Sub-Saharan Africa towards northern Africa and Europe in the next 20 years.

Political problems  This displacement of millions of people to other regions/countries may contribute to anti-migrant and xenophobic feelings among the host community leading to fight over scarce resources.

According to UNCCD, many armed conflicts in the past had environmental causal factors characteristic of the drylands.

What should be our approach to counter desertification?

Combating Desertification requires interventions in form of Preventive and Curative Measures.

Preventive measures: Preventive measures include adopting Sustainable Land Management (SLM) practices that can ensure sustainable productivity of land resources and; food, water and livelihood security for present and future generations.
Curative measures: Curative measures involve undertaking restoration and reclamation interventions on degraded lands and subsequent SLM of reclaimed land resources.
What steps should be taken to combat desertification?

Firstly, we should address poverty. It is because poverty forces the people who depend on land for their livelihoods to overexploit the land for various reasons.
Secondly, we need environmentally sound human settlements. Thus educate and train to make them aware and a part of our efforts to combat desertification.
Thirdly, we should take practical measures undertaken to preventdegradation and restore degraded land. Some of these measures are
Improved early warning system and water resource management;
Introduction of new species and varieties with a capacity to tolerate salinity and/or aridity; and
Windbreaks and shelterbelts of live plants;
Afforestation and reforestation;
Sustainable pasture and forest & livestock management;
Narrow strip planting etc.
Findings of “Desertification and Land Degradation atlas”

Desertification and Land Degradation Atlas was released by Space Applications Centre (SAC), ISRO, Ahmedabad in June 2016.

This Atlas presents state-wise desertification and land degradation status maps depicting land use, process of degradation and severity level.

Area under Land Degradation/desertification during 2011-13:

Area under land degradation Area undergoing land degradation process during 2011-13 is 96.40 mha i.e. 29.32% of the Total Geographic Area (TGA) of the country during 2011-13.

There is a cumulative increase of 1.87 mha area undergoing process of land degradation in the country during the time frame 2003-05 and 2011-13.

Area under desertification (arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid regions of the country) Area under desertification during 2011-13 is 82.64 mha;

During 2003-05 it was 81.48 mha.

Thus there is a cumulative increase of 1.16 mha area under desertification.




Process of desertification/ land degradation: The most significant process of desertification/ land degradation in the country are as follows:

Water Erosion 10.98% in 2011-13
Vegetation Degradation 8.91% in 2011-13
Wind erosion 5.55 % in 2011-13

Indian Scenario: Target and Steps
a)Target for land degradation neutrality (LND): Environment Minister on Eve of World Day to Combat Desertification emphasised that the NDA Government is committed to achieve Land Degradation Neutrality by the year 2030.
b)Steps being taken: Although currently there is no specific policy or legislative framework for combating desertification, but the government is addressing this problem through various measures:
i.In June 2017, environment minister stated that the government is working on a new National Action Programme (NAP) which will be finalised soon.
ii.Soil Health Card Scheme has been launched by the Government to help farmers improve productivity through judicious use of inputs.
iii.Swachchh Bharat Mission has been launched to address concerns over waste disposal, sewage treatment, sanitation. These factors adversely affect the quality of land.
iv.To ensure ‘More Crop Per Drop’ Government has launched the ‘Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana’.
v.Apart from these, government is also implementing Integrated Watershed Management Programme, National Mission for a Green India and National Afforestation Programme.