“BREATHING LIFE IN TO THE WASTELAND”:REHABILITATION AND LAND DEGRADATION
“JUST LIKE HEAVEN, EVERYONE WANTS A LITTLE PIECE OF LAND. AND SO, THE LAND IS THE ONLY THING IN THE WORLD WORTH WORKING FOR, WORTH FIGHTING FOR, WORTH DESTROYING FOR, BECAUSE IT’S THE ONLY THING THAT LASTS…”
The earth, revered for generations as parallel to the deity, is being, unfortunately, viewed as an economic commodity worth destroying for (as in the above quote) to promote selfish and unscrupulous interests of mankind. Not surprising, Land degradation has turned to be a menace calling for immediate attention.
Land degradation is the process in which the value of biophysical environment is affected by one or more combination of human-induced processes acting upon the land.
The life on the mother-earth is sustained by the land, the food and other products it bestows upon the humanity. The quality of land is, thus, critical. Quality of land is given by the nutrients inherent in it, which sustain plant life. These nutrients are regenerated by the land itself. However, indiscriminate use of the land has not provided it the required time to do so. This causes land degradation. The problem is compounded by overgrazing and the like anthropogenic factors. The ever increasing demand for land products, thanks to increasing population and consumerism coupled with the finite nature of the land calls for prudent and frugal use of land. This prudent use entails rehabilitating the degraded land. To elaborate, let us first look at the causes and then march to explore remedies.
Degradation is a global problem, largely related to agricultural use. The causes are land clearance (deforestation); poor farming practices; overgrazing; over drafting; urban sprawl; commercial development; soil contamination; vehicle off-raiding; quarrying of sand, stone, ores, minerals; naked soil being harvested by heavy equipment; monoculture; dumping of non-biodegradable trash; shifting cultivation etc. It is contended that natural hazards are exception as causes of land degradation. Nevertheless, given the unscrupulous acts of the mankind intensifying the probability of occurrence and severity of natural hazards, even natural hazards may also be factored in as degrading the land.
These inevitable causes result in several effects but the most threatening of them are accelerated soil erosion by wind and water; soil alkalization causing poor soil, low in fertility, swelling of soil etc., which are difficult to clarify; soil solemnization causing super saturation of soil leading to low leaching power; water logging-water table of groundwater is too high preventing leaching process and entry of air; destruction of soil structure including the loss of organic matter etc.,
Finally, all these effects reach low yielding capacity of the soil.
Given the gravity of the problem of land degradation, the steps for the rehabilitation of those degraded lands is of urgent need. The process of breathing life into degraded land is termed as Land Rehabilitation.
Land rehabilitation is the process of retuning the land in a given area to some degree of its former state after some process has resulted in its damage. In most cases, the land cannot be returned to its natural state but the unproductive land can be improved to some extent. Land Rehabilitation normally takes place in two major ways.
Natural regeneration involves deliberate management of the land in such a way as to re-establish a healthy ecosystem
Assisted Natural Regeneration
Assisted Natural Regeneration is regeneration by assisting the natural process to regenerate itself. Note that in natural regeneration human intervention is minimal or even nil, but under this approach human intervention induces natural processes that regenerate. Important techniques under this approach may be explained as below:
- Enrichment planting is a process of planting valuable species in degraded forests without the elimination of the species already present;
- Early firing is burning the old, dry patches of grass at the undergrowth of dry season;
- Plantation involves planting trees and shrubs as mixed species on degraded land;
- The use of agro forestry method.
Land rehabilitation is broad enough to include in its fold all those activities which indirectly (direct rehabilitation techniques are explained above) regenerate the quality of soil; those activities which prevent the causes of land degradation and those acts that support the machinery to materialize the land rehabilitation programs. Following are a few such steps:
- Terrace farming, mulching, contour bonding be encouraged.
- The government should reduce subsidy to chemical fertilizers and at the same time incentivize the use of organic manure.
- Better farming practices like crop rotation; crop spacing and mixed farming should be encouraged.
- Moisture conservation and water harvesting measures must be promoted.
- The governmental schemes for the rehabilitation of degraded lands are mostly spread across the Ministries of Agriculture and Rural Development. The different guidelines from different ministries cause confusion to the officials who implement it. So an integrated approach is needed.
- Community participation in the endeavors to rehabilitate degraded lands should be adopted.
- Local NGOS, farmers’ associations and local cooperative societies can be made nodal agencies for the implementation of rehabilitation of degraded land in local area.
- Afforestation, Social forestry would act an effective obstacle to soil erosion. As a corollary, they improve the fertility of soil.
- The degraded waste land must be used to start industries, carry out mining and build commercial complexes since agriculture is an unviable option on such lands. Carrying out non-agriculture activities on degraded land would save the fertile agricultural land from being diverted.
- Cultivation of bio-fuel producing plants and fuel trees/crops should be encouraged in the degraded and wastelands.
- A national level awareness campaign to educate farmers about better farming practices that would enrich soil fertility should be implemented. This awareness campaign should include posters, short-movies and crisp lectures during the periodic meeting of milk cooperative societies, panchayat meetings and other places where farmers assemble.
- Soil pollution is a grave threat to soil fertility. Scientific approaches like Bioremediation (usage of microbes to treat pollutants) should be implemented. A few such techniques include land farming (mixing the contaminated soils with normal soil and tilling into earth), bio augmentation (introduction of genetically variant microbes into contaminated soil to reduce contamination).
In a nutshell, encouragement of better farming practices backed by policy actions could rehabilitate degraded land.
Therefore, the land is misused by both illiterate and literate and its effect is felt by both of them but, it is up to every literate to make best use of his education and knowledge by not defiling it and also educating the illiterate about degradation. Every literate should think of delving the deliberate defiled lands…
- Analyze the efficacy of ‘top-down’ approach as a tool to curb land degradation.
- Critically analyze the current patterns and future prospects for significant agricultural land improvement to compensate for land degradation
- Bring out a model for enlisting community participation in land rehabilitation projects.
- Do you think that land rehabilitation contribute to sustainable development? How?