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Land Degradation and Restoration

  • Context (IE): World Environment Day was celebrated on June 5, 2024, with the theme ‘Land restoration, desertification, and drought resilience’ hosted by Saudi Arabia.
  • Land restoration plays a vital role in the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) and is essential for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Land degradation

  • It is a negative trend in land conditions caused by direct or indirect human-induced processes.
  • Long-term reduction or loss of: Biological productivity, ecological integrity or value to humans.
  • It is caused by including processes arising from human activities and habitation patterns such as
    • Soil erosion caused by wind and/or water;
    • Deterioration of the physical, chemical and biological or economic properties of soil;
    • Long-term loss of natural vegetation.

Causes of land degradation and desertification

  • Unsustainable agricultural practices like extensive cropping of agricultural land, shifting cultivation without adequate recovery and excessive fertiliser use.
  • Conversion of land for various uses like cutting forests for using lands for various purposes and unplanned urbanisation.
  • Deforestation & loss of vegetative cover, including overgrazing, excessive fuelwood collection, unsustainable forest management practices, and forest fires.
  • Frequent Droughts and Land Degradation, including due to the absence of vegetative cover, can exacerbate drought effects and impact the hydrological regime.
  • Unsustainable Water Management, such as poor & inefficient irrigation practices and over-abstraction of groundwater.

Impacts of land degradation and desertification

  • Impact on Climate Change: Land degradation reduces the amount of carbon dioxide that is absorbed and consequently leads to a rise in emissions.
  • Threat to Food & Water Security: Land degradation impacts the global food and commodity supply chains, and altered cropping patterns further unsustainable pressure on land.
  • Impact on Biodiversity: Land degradation impacts the biodiversity of many land ecosystems caused by habitat degradation.

Land Restoration

  • It is ecological process of restoring a natural & safe landscape for humans, wildlife & plant communities.
  • This process protects our ecosystems, creates economic development, helps prevent natural disasters such as floods, and increases soil productivity and food supplies.
  • A UNEP study revealed that half of the world’s GDP is dependent on nature, and every dollar invested in restoration generates up to USD 30 in benefits.

Significance of land restoration

  • Land Restoration offers numerous benefits, such as preventing land degradation, improving soil fertility, and increasing water retention.
  • It also helps conserve biodiversity by providing habitat for plants, animals, and microorganisms, supporting overall ecosystem health.
  • Rehabilitating degraded lands can help sequester carbon, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and support global initiatives for climate change mitigation.
  • Almost 80% of the carbon stored in terrestrial ecosystems is located in soils.

Global initiatives to combat land degradation and desertification

  • UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD): Established in 1994 to protect and restore land and to address the phenomenon of desertification.
  • Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) Fund: Set up in 2018 to invest in profit-generating sustainable land management and land restoration projects globally.
  • UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration: It aims to prevent, halt, and reverse the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and in every ocean.
  • International Drought Resilience Alliance (IDRA): This is a global alliance for a drought-resilient future that aims to mobilise political, technical, and financial capital to enhance drought resilience.

India’s initiatives to combat land degradation and desertification

  • India does not have a specific policy for combating desertification. However, many national policies reflect the concern for preventing and reversing land degradation and desertification.
  • Desertification and Land Degradation Atlas of India by ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation).
  • The National Action Programme to Combat Desertification was prepared in 2001 to take appropriate action to address desertification.
  • National Afforestation Programme (NAP) scheme is the ecological restoration of degraded forests
  • Integrated Wastelands Development Programme (IWDP) to develop wastelands mainly in non-forest areas by involving local people at every stage of development.
  • Desert Development Programme by the Department of Land Resources was introduced in 1977-78 to address land degradation.
  • Centre of Excellence at the Indian Council for Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE) to engage parties at international, national and local levels in addressing land degradation-related issues.

Recommendations of UNCCD to achieve LDN Targets

  • Avoiding new degradation of land by maintaining existing healthy land.
  • Reducing existing degradation by adopting sustainable land management practices.
  • Ramping up efforts to restore and return degraded lands to a natural or more productive state.​
  • Other ‘zero net losses’ techniques include planting trees​, rotating crops​, water retention techniques such as building retention ditches and cut-off drains​, organic manures, and mineral fertilisers. ​
  • Local participation can help them gain sustainable livelihoods, leading to long-term success and resilience in land restoration projects.
  • As there is no one-size-fits-all approach, it is crucial to apply diverse approaches such as planting native vegetation, establishing protected areas, and adopting agroforestry systems.
  • Sustainable land management: Use of land resources, including soils, water, and plants, to produce goods to meet human needs while ensuring the long-term productive potential of land resources.
  • Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) is a state whereby the amount and quality of land resources necessary to support ecosystem function and services and enhance food security remain stable or increase within specified temporal and spatial scales and ecosystems. (UNCCD)
  • Flash drought is simply the rapid onset or intensification of drought due to lower-than-normal rates of precipitation, accompanied by abnormally high temperatures, winds, and radiation.
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