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What is Land Degradation? Causes & effects of Land Degradation – Sustainable management of Land

What is Land Degradation? Causes & effects of Land Degradation – Sustainable management of Land


  • GS 3  II Environment II Environment & Ecology II Ecosystem

Why in the news?

Land degradation is a serious issue but hardly any govt. or authority takes any serious action against the cause, learning about the land degradation is need of hour to protect land for future generation

What is land degradation?

  • Land degradation is caused by multiple forces, including extreme weather conditions, particularly drought.
  • It is also caused by human activities that pollute or degrade the quality of soils and land utility. It negatively affects food production, livelihoods, and the production and provision of other ecosystem goods and services.
  • Desertification is a form of land degradation by which fertile land becomes desert.
  • Land degradation is loss of natural fertility of soil because of loss of nutrients. Less vegetation cover. Changes in the characteristic of soil.
  • Pollution of water resources from the contamination of soil through which water sweeps into ground or runoff to the water bodies.
  • Changes in climatic conditions because of unbalanced created in the environment.

Types of land degradation:

  • Land degradation have been grouped into six classes: water erosion, wind erosion, soil fertility decline, salinization, waterlogging, and lowering of the water table.
  • Water erosion covers all forms of soil erosion by water, including sheet and rill erosion and gullying. Human-induced intensification of landsliding, caused by vegetation clearance, road construction, etc., is also included.
  • Wind erosion refers to loss of soil by wind, occurring primarily in dry regions.
  • Soil fertility decline is used as a short term to refer to what is more precisely described as deterioration in soil physical, chemical and biological properties. Whilst decline in fertility is indeed a major effect of erosion, the term is used here of cover effects of processes other than erosion. The main processes involved are:
    • lowering of soil organic master, with associated decline in soil biological activity;
    • degradation of soil physical properties (structure, aeration, water holding capacity), as brought about by reduced organic master;
    • adverse changes in soil nutrient resources, including reduction in availability of the major nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium), onset of micronutrient deficiencies, and development of nutrient imbalances.
    • buildup of toxicities, primarily acidification through incorrect fertilizer use.
  • Waterlogging is the lowering in land productivity through the rise in groundwater close to the soil surface. Also included under this heading is the severe form, termed ponding, where the water table rises above the surface. Waterlogging is linked with salinization, both being brought about by incorrect irrigation management.
  • Salinization is used in its broad sense, to refer to all types of soil degradation brought about by the increase of salts in the soil. It thus covers both salinization in its strict sense, the buildup of free salts; and codification (also called alkalization), the development of dominance of the exchange complex by sodium. As human-induced processes, these occur mainly through incorrect planning and management of irrigation schemes. Also covered is saline intrusion, the incursion of sea water into coastal soils arising from over-abstraction of groundwater.
  • Lowering of the water table is a self-explanatory form of land degradation, brought about through tubewell pumping of groundwater for irrigation exceeding the natural recharge capacity. This occurs in areas of non-saline (‘sweet’) groundwater. Pumping for urban and industrial use is a further cause.
  • Other types of degradation included:
    • Other types of land degradation are treated briefly, treated as causes, or excluded from this review. This is because they are localized or of small extent on a regional scale, or because they are more fully treated elsewhere.
    • Four further classes are recognized as types of land degradation, and as having considerable importance in the region. One case, deforestation, has been treated by reference to an external review. The two other types are considered in more generalized terms.
    • Deforestation: The occurrence of deforestation is widespread and extremely serious in the region. It is not independently assessed here, in view of more detailed treatment in the current FAO Forest resources assessment 1990 project. Deforestation is also discussed as a cause of erosion.
    • Forest degradation: This is the reduction of biotic resources and lowering of productive capacity of forests through human activities. It is under review in a current survey (Banerjee and Grimes, in preparation).
    • Rangeland degradation: This is the lowering of the productive capacity of rangelands. It is considered in generalized terms, but no quantitative data have been identified.

Causes of Land Degradation:

  • Deforestation: Deforestation is taking place at a faster rate due to increasing demands of timber, fuel and forest products which results into degradation of land resources.
  • Overgrazing: Overgrazing refers to excessive eating of grasses and other green plants by cattle. It results into reduced growth of vegetation, reduced diversity of plant species, excessive growth of unwanted plant species, soil erosion, and degradation of land due to cattle movement.
  • Agricultural practises: The modern agricultural practises, excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides has adversely degraded the natural quality and fertility of the cultivation land.
  • Industrialization: Development of industries for the economic growth of the country leads to excessive deforestation and utilization of land in such a way that it has lost its natural up gradation quality.
  • Urbanization: Increasing growth of population and demand for more residential areas and commercial sectors is also one of the reasons for land degradation.

How it is affected globally?

  • The estimates of global extend of land degradation shows that Asia has highly affected and followed by Africa, Where as the Europe is the least effected.
  • United Nations Development Program (UNDP) estimates $42 billion in income and 6 million hectares of productive land are lost every year. As per UNDP the conditions in Africa are worsening with dust storms, damaged water sheds, loss of forests and lower agriculture productivity, which is linked to human poverty, migration and instability.
  • In Botswana also under threat because of soil erosion and unsustainable use of renewable natural resources, where the most of population are depends on agriculture. Pakistan also facing the three threat of land degradation, by decreasing soil fertility and floods.
  • In the case of Sudan the population is depends on the livestock for their subsistence. It is estimated that 6 billion people are affected by land degradation and desertification in more than a hundred countries, influencing over 33% of the earth’s land surface`

What effect does desertification on human health?

  • The potential impacts of desertification on health include:
    • higher threats of malnutrition from reduced food and water supplies;
    • more water- and food-borne diseases that result from poor hygiene and a lack of clean water;
    • Respiratory diseases caused by atmospheric dust from wind erosion and other air pollutants; the spread of infectious diseases as populations migrant

Prevention and Control Measures for Land Degradation:

  • Strip farming: It is & practice in which cultivated crops are sown in alternative strips to prevent water movement.
  • Crop Rotation: It is one of the agricultural practice in which different crops are grown in same area following a rotation system which helps in replenishment of the soil.
  • Ridge and Furrow Formation: Soil erosion is one of the factors responsible for lad degradation. It can be prevented by formation of ridge and furrow during irrigation which lessens run off.
  • Construction of Dams: This usually checks or reduces the velocity of run off so that soil support vegetation.
  • Contour Farming: This type of farming is usually practiced across the hill side and is useful in collecting and diverting the run off to avoid erosion.

Solutions and remedies:

  • Management of deforestation
    • Afforestation: Planting of tree is the best options to make forest in a non forest land are the one of the best option to reduce the consequences of deforestation. It can reduce the soil erosion.
    • Use of timber alternate: Use of mud brick for the construction instead of timbers for land reclamation.
    • Eco forest: System which cut only the specific tree required, create minimal damage to that particular forest area.
    • Green business: This includes paper recycling and using wood alternatives
  • Management on overgrazing: Management practices like water development, placement of salt and supplements, fertilizer application, fencing, burning can control the overgrazing.
  • Managing irrigation: Irrigation system can be controlled like drip irrigation to reduce soil erosion. Using high and low salt water was most effective in maintaining the productive capacity of the clay soil.
  • Managing urban sprawl: The urban planning is the most important factor, to control the urban sprawl. Appropriate government policies can also control the urban sprawling.
  • Managing mining and quarrying: The impact can be reduced by proper management of mining process, using advanced technologies rather than conventional methods
  • Managing agricultural intensification: Agricultural intensification need to be managed properly to reduce the environmental effect.

Initiative taken by govt. for land degradation:

  • National Action Plan (NAP) to combat desertification was launched in 2001 for 20 years.
  • Desertification and Land Degradation Atlas (2016) of entire country was prepared by ISRO and 19 other partners using Indian remote sensing satellites data in GIS environment. Similarly Rural Development Minister Releases ‘Wastelands Atlas’ – 2019 With Robust Geospatial Information
  • At Paris Climate Summit – government of India made a Bonn Challenge pledge, (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 launched a pilot project to restore degraded forest landscapes in five states to enhance the capacity on forest landscape restoration (FLR). Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Nagaland and Karnataka.
  • In UNCCD 14 India take a pledge in Delhi Declaration Peace Forest Initiative and recovery of five million hectares of degraded land in India by 2030, raising the land to be restored in India to 26 million hectares.
  • US Agency for International Development (USAID) and India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) officially launched Forest-PLUS 2.0. related to forest landscape management
  • India Also announced that it will setup a center of excellence at Forest Research Institute Dehradun to deal with land degradation.
  • Global example: The use of degradable material by sand barrier technology is helping transform hundreds of acres of Inner Mongolia’s Kubuqi Desert into green landscape in an environment-friendly way


Declining of the productive capacity of the land is a serious global issue as it affects the social, economic and environmental balances acress the globe. Land degradation can be caused by natural phenomenon, but human induced land degradation is most dominant cause of climate change.The population growth also leads to land degradation indirectly. As results of these human activities it can leads to soil erosion by wind and water, soil acidification, soil alkalinisation, soil salination, soil water logging, destruction of the structure of soil.

Mains oriented question:

In India, offer an account of land degradation. Highlight the measures taken to monitor the increasing deterioration of land in India. (250 words)