Nearly 30% of India’s land is now undergoing desertification, primarily as a result of the land degradation accompanying overcultivation, overgrazing, deforestation, and the overexploitation of water resources in dryland regions, according to a new report from the Indian Space Research Organization.
To put that in different terms, around 96 million hectares of land in India are now undergoing degradation, with the rate of productivity loss in agricultural regions fast increasing.
“As a country we should be more than alarmed by this data,” stated S Janakarajan, chairman of the South Asia Consortium for Interdisciplinary Water Resources Studies. “There is no coherent plan to reverse this process or its impact.”
The root causes of the situation, though, are fundamentally linked to growing population levels and the inevitable growing exploitation of the land, so there are no easy, effective actions that can be taken. Any potential “solutions” are likely to be very costly, whether with regard to resources, economic systems, or society.
Reuters continues, revealing that “analysis of satellite mapping shows new areas in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir and eastern Indian states like Orissa and Jharkhand turning arid, with nine states together accounting for nearly 24% of desertification. In states like Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Delhi, Gujarat, and Goa, more than 50% of land is under desertification.”
“Population pressure has resulted in over exploitation of land for cultivation, grazing, water resources, and deforestation leading to degradation of drylands,” commented Indian minister Jitendra Singh.
The findings are the result of an analysis of satellite images over an 8-year period of time. The study is ongoing as of now, and was initiated by the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change — as well as led by the Indian Space Research Organization, with input from 19 other institutes, reportedly.
“This is the first time we are looking at a digital atlas of degradation and it is pointing at newer areas undergoing desertification,” stated AS Rajawat of the Space Applications Center, in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “It is a ready reckoner to understand where we stand and the impact of land degradation on agricultural productivity.”
Land degradation and desertification has been a major issue throughout the Holocene for agricultural cultures and civilizations. Land degradation through the actions of agriculture, deforestation (and triggered changes in aridity and rainfall patterns), overgrazing, and accompanying desertification are thought to have played a prominent role in the decline and fall of a great many notable cultures and civilizations.
Land and soil fertility (and sometimes sea fertility as well) is more or less the foundation of what is commonly called civilization. Without there being a food surplus present, specialization, static symbolic systems, and stable classes of elites tend to disappear rapidly.