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Rapid desertification of Northeast India explained

Rapid desertification of Northeast India explained


  • GS 3 || Environment || Environment & Ecology || Ecosystem

Why in news?

India’s northeastern states desertifying most rapidly.

Recent Findings:

  • The scientists at ISRO compared the data collected between 2003 and 2005 with that gathered in 2018-19.
    • Six states in northeastern India were among the top 10 places in the country with the highest rates of desertification between 2003 and 2018, according to a recent report.
    • These are Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya.
  • Punjab, Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir and Uttarakhand in northern India also witnessed some of the highest rates of desertification, the most recent estimates by Space Applications Centre under Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).


  • Desertification is a type of land degradation in which a relatively dry region becomes increasingly arid, typically losing its water bodies as well as vegetation and wildlife.
  • Desertification in Mizoram:
    • Mizoram in the North East has been desertifying at the fastest rate in the country, the ISRO data showed.
    • Land degradation and desertification increased 2.8 times in the state in the 15- year period studied.
  • A total of 0.18 million hectares (mha) underwent degradation/desertification in those years — an increase of over 188 per cent.
  • The state lost more than 13 per cent of its land to degradation/desertification in 2018-19 itself, according to the Desertification and Land Degradation Atlas of India
  • In 2003-05, 4.55 per cent of the state’s total geographical area (TGA) underwent land degradation. This increased to 8.89 per cent TGA in 2011-13, according to the ISRO atlas.
  • Land Degradation in Other States
    • In Arunachal Pradesh, 2.4 per cent of the area or 0.2 mha underwent degradation / desertification in 2018-19.
    • The actual figure may be small compared to other places in India but the rate of degradation was the third highest.
    • Between 2003-05 and 2018-19, degradation / desertication increased 46 per cent in the state.

Major reasons for desertification in India:

  • Unsustainable Agricultural Practices: Water-intensive crop production and haphazard agro-climatic cropping patterns. Example: Genetically modified crop
  • Vegetation Deterioration: Deforestation, forest-blanks, shifting agriculture, and degradation in grazing/grassland and scrubland are all examples of vegetation degradation. Desertification is accelerated by the destruction of flora, which is most commonly caused by people.
  • Desertification: Forests function as refuges, preventing deserts from spreading.
  • Soil Erosion: Soil erosion refers to the loss of soil cover as a result of rainfall and surface runoff. Water erosion may be seen in both hot and cold desert locations, on a variety of terrain types, and with varied degrees of severity.
  • Wind Erosion: This term refers to the spread of sand by different mechanisms, especially at high elevations in the Himalayas. The topsoil, which is rich in all plant nutrients and bacterial activity, is eroded away by wind.
  • Human-made settlement: Human activity causes all land degradation processes, whether directly or indirectly. Mining and human intervention are examples of such operations.
  • Climate Change: Desertification is exacerbated by climate change. Desertification is becoming more and more likely as the days get warmer and droughts become more often.
  • Salinity is found mostly in cultivated fields, particularly in irrigated areas. Soil salinity refers to the amount of salt in the soil that may be dissolved in water. Salinity can occur naturally or be caused by humans.
  • Population Pressure: The problem of big populations in dry places is basically one of human ecology.
  • Lack of information and awareness: Quantitative data on present land usage in the country’s arid and semi-arid regions is lacking. Whatever data is available is dispersed among several organizations and institutions, making it difficult for academics, planners, and policymakers to fully analyze land degradation and desertification issues, as well as quantifying economic losses in the region.
  • Other factor: Waterlogging, frost breaking, mass movement, and barren and rocky terrain types are among the other causes.

Impact of desertification:

  • Damaged or destroyed vegetation
  • Infertile soil
  • Worsening soil erosion
  • Increased vulnerability to natural catastrophes
  • Polluted drinking water supplies
  • Increased hunger, poverty, and social strife
  • Forcing large migrations
  • Caused historical civilization collapses
  • Species extinction

Measures taken by India to Curb Desertification

  • Command Area Development: It began in 1974 with the goal of maximizing irrigation potential and agricultural productivity through effective water management. The Ministry of Water Resources oversees the program’s execution with state governments.
  • Desert Development Programme:
    • It began in 1995 with the goal of reducing the negative effects of drought and revitalizing the natural resource base of selected desert areas.
    • It is implemented by the Ministry of Rural Development for hot desert areas in Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Haryana, as well as cold desert areas in Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh.
  • India signed the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in 1994 and ratified it in 1996.
  • Integrated Watershed Management Programme:
    • The Integrated Watershed Management Program (IWMP) began in 1989-90.
    • It was named “Haryali Guidelines” in 2003 and aims to restore ecological balance by harnessing, conserving, and developing degraded natural resources with the creation of Rural Employment.
    • It is now subsumed under the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana (2015-16 to 2019-20) which is being implemented by NITI Ayog.
  • Soil Conservation in the Catchment of River Valley Projects and Flood Prone Rivers
    • Both projects have been combined and implemented since 2000.
    • The Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare is implementing the plan, which seeks to improve the physical characteristics and productive status of alkali soils in order to restore optimal crop output.
  • National Afforestation Programme:
    • It has been in place since 2000 for the reforestation of degraded forest lands, and it is overseen by the Ministry of Environment, Forestry, and Climate Change.
  • Fodder and Feed Development Scheme
    • It was first released in 2010.
    • Its goal is to restore degraded grassland as well as the plant cover of difficult soils such as salty, acidic, and heavy soil.
    • The Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry, and Diaries is in charge of implementing it.
  • National Action Programme to Combat Desertification
    • It was created in 2001 to address concerns of growing desertification and to take necessary response.
    • It is overseen by the Ministry of Environment, Forestry, and Climate Change.
  • National Mission on Green India
    • It is part of the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC), which was adopted in 2014 with the goal of conserving, restoring, and improving India’s dwindling forest cover by 2020.
    • The Ministry of Environment, Forestry, and Climate Change is in charge of implementing it.
  • Desertification and Land Degradation Atlas of India
    • ISRO launched it in 2016, and one of the main areas it addresses is desertification and land degradation.

Case study of drought prone districts of India, Jhabua and Dhar of MP:

  • These districts suffered from crop losses and distress.
  • Various issues such as prevention and mitigation of distress caused by drought were addressed and appropriate technologies for soil and water management and conservation measures were developed and implemented in various drought prone districts of India, among which Jhabua and Dhar districts were selected for this study.
  • Study was carried out to establish the positive impact of desertification combating plan implementation, which were observed in terms of increased agricultural productivity as a result of various water harvesting measures in districts of Jhabua and Dhar in Madhya Pradesh.
  • The increase in aerial extent of irrigated agricultural land was quantitatively evaluated by interpreting the satellite images.
  • the study helps in monitoring the changes in real time, providing useful inputs for evaluating the efficiency of the recommended action plans as well as for further implementation of new strategies for environmental development

Global Efforts to Prevent Desertification:

  • The Bonn Challenge: By 2020, restore 150 million hectares of deforested and degraded land throughout the world, and 350 million hectares by 2030.
  • Goal 15 of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG): “We are dedicated to safeguard the world from deterioration, especially via sustainable consumption and production,” the statement says.
  • UNCCD (United Nations Convention on Desertification): It is the first legally enforceable international agreement tying environment and development to sustainable land management, and it was formed in 1994.
  • The World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought is observed every year on 17th June.
  • Global Environment Facility (GEF): The Great Green Wall is a Global Environment Facility (GEF) initiative in which eleven Sahel-Saharan African countries have pooled their resources to combat soil degradation and restore native plant life to the area.

United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)

  • The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) was established in 1994 and is the first legally enforceable international accord combining environment and development with long-term land management.
  • The new UNCCD 2018-2030 Strategic Framework is the most comprehensive global commitment to achieve Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) in order to restore the productivity of vast expanses of degraded land and reduce the imposition of climate change on vulnerable ecosystems and peoples.
  • Because the dynamics of land, climate, and biodiversity are all intertwined, the UNCCD works closely with the other two Rio Conventions, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to address these complex issues through an integrated approach and the most efficient use of natural resources.

Way forward:

Ending desertification is the best opportunity the world has to mitigate the consequences of climate change, conserve biodiversity, and save our health. Forest protection is a shared obligation that should be carried out by individuals and governments all around the world.

Mains oriented question:

What is desertification? Can we say desertification is somewhere due to climate change? What are the measure that is needed to be taken to tackle desertification? (250 words)