In Focus: Land Degradation

In Focus: Land Degradation

What is Land Degradation?

  • Land Degradation can be termed as the degradation of the quality of land resulting in the reduction of fertility and crop production capacity of the land.
  • Land degradation is driven by both by changes in climate or human activities.
  • Globally, nearly one-third of the total geographical area faces degradation which could cost the world roughly $300 billion due to land use change, reduced crop land and decline in productivity.
  • A recent report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has underlined that land everywhere was bearing the brunt of severe climate change already which would lead to extreme food insecurity if steps weren’t taken.

What is Desertification?

  • 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 over a period of time.

Major Causes of Land Degradation:

  • Extreme weather conditions particularly drought
  • Soil erosion
  • Poor farming practices and the absence of conservation works
  • Buildup of salts in soils
  • Loss of vegetation cover due to overgrazing, over exploitation and deforestation
  • Invasive alien plant species
  • Overuse of irrigation water;
  • Inappropriate use of marginal land
  • Veld fires

Impacts of Land Degradation

  • Threaten agricultural productivity
  • Increased risks of floods and erosion leading to the formation of gullies;
  • Loss of soil fertility leading to poor crop yields
  • Shortage of local surface water resources
  • Increased level of salt groundwater
  • Propagation of invasive species
  • Loss of vegetation
  • Threaten biodiversity
  • Sodic soils form an impermeable crust which reduces infiltration resulting in water scarcity

 

Land Degradation in India:

  • India faces a severe problem of land degradation, or soil becoming unfit for cultivation.
  • Indian land yield is among the lowest in the world. This is because the fertility of land is low in India.
  • About 29.3% of the geographical area in India is affected by degradation including desertification due to unsustainable farm practices and deforestation
  • The top processes leading to degradation/desertification in India in both time periods were:
    • water erosion (10.98 percent in 2011-2013)
    • vegetation degradation (8.91 percent) and
    • wind erosion (5.55 percent).
  • 82% of India’s degraded land lies in just nine states/UT – Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Jammu & Kashmir, Karnataka, Jharkhand, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana.

 

About: Bonn Challenge

  • The Bonn Challenge is a global effort to bring 150 million hectares of the world’s deforested and degraded land under restoration by 2020, and 350 million hectares by 2030.
  • It is an initiative of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
  • At the UNFCC Conference of the Parties (COP) 2015 in Paris, India also joined the voluntary Bonn Challenge pledge to bring into restoration 13 million hectares of degraded and deforested land by the year 2020, and additional 8 million hectares by 2030.
  • India’s pledge is one of the largest in Asia.
  • Underlying the Bonn Challenge is the forest landscape restoration (FLR) approach.

Note: The Bonn Challenge is not a new global commitment but rather a practical means of realizing many existing international commitments, including the CBD Aichi Target 15, the UNFCCC REDD+ goal, and the Rio+20 land degradation neutrality goal.

 

About: Forest Landscape Restoration

  • Forest landscape restoration (FLR) is the ongoing process of regaining ecological functionality and enhancing human well-being across deforested or degraded forest landscapes.
  • FLR is restoring a whole landscape to meet present and future needs and to offer multiple benefits and land uses over time.

 

About: United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)

  • Desertification was addressed for the first time in 1977 in the United Nations Conference on Desertification.
  • United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is one of the 3 Rio Conventions of United Nations, namely, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
  • It was established in 1994, and came into force in 1996.
  • It is the only legally binding international agreement linking environment and development issues to the land agenda.
  • The Convention holds a biennial Conference of Parties (CoP) to the Convention.

 

Combating Land Degradation in India:

  • India is also a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Combating Desertification (UNCCD).
  • India is committed to combat desertification and land degradation and intends to achieve land degradation neutral status by 2030.
    • Land degradation neutrality’ (LDN) is a state where amount and quality of land resources remains stable or increases within specified temporal and spatial scales and ecosystems. In other words, India will not have net loss in terms of land degradation if it achieves LDN.

Note: The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) is the nodal Ministry to co-ordinate all issues pertaining to the Convention.

Schemes launched for capacity-building of the stakeholders at multiple levels:

  • Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY)
  • National Food Security Mission (NFSM)
  • Soil Health Card Scheme
  • Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PKSY)
  • Per Drop More Crop,
  • Swacch Bharat mission,
  • Har Khet Ko Pani (HKKP) and
  • National Rural Drinking Water Programme.

Prevention and Control Measures for Land Degradation:

  • Strip farming: It is a 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 land degradation. It can be prevented by formation of ridge and furrow during irrigation which lessens run off.
  • Construction of Dams: It checks or reduces the velocity of run off so that soil support vegetation.
  • Contour Farming: It is usually practiced across the hill side and is useful in collecting and diverting the run off to avoid erosion.
Section : Environment & Ecology

In focus: Threat to Great Indian Bustard

In focus: Threat to Great Indian Bustard

Introduction

  • The Great Indian Bustard in India has witnessed a rapid decline in their numbers from 1500-2000 in the 1980s to barely 150 left currently.

 

About Great Indian Bustard

  • Introduction
    • The Great Indian Bustard is the flagship grassland species of India.
    • It is one of the largest flying birds in the world and India’s heaviest flying bird.
    • The male bird weighs upto 12-15 kg and female bird up to 5-8 kg.
    • The breeding season spans from March to October
    • The species primarily feed on meswak, sewan grass.
  • Habitat
    • The grassland species till about 1980s spread across the western half of India, spanning eleven states.
    • Currently they are confined to certain pockets including
    • Great Indian bustard arc in Jaisalmer district of Rajasthan including the Desert National Park which is the natural habitat of the species.
    • It is declared the state bird of Rajasthan.
    • Grasslands of Kutch in Gujarat which is home to second-largest bustard population in India.
    • Arid regions of Maharashtra (Solapur), Karnataka (Bellary and Haveri) and Andhra Pradesh (Kurnool)
  • Status
    • It is classified as “critically endangered” in the IUCN Red List since 2011.
    • Accordingly it is classified as “schedule I species” in the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, requiring similar attention given to tiger in India.

 

Reasons for dwindling population

  • Loss of habitat due to declining grasslands
    • Changes in desert ecology due to unsustainable levels of cattle population in the area due to traditional pastoral life has led to locals perceiving bird conservation as a threat to their livelihood.
  • Danger from predators
    • Feral dogs and wild pigs.
  • Rampant poaching and hunting
  • Renewable energy projects.
    • Collision with windmills and electrocution by low-hanging power transmission lines
  • Lackadaisical approach in their conservation
  • Lack of cooperation between states
  • Low fertility
    • The population growth of the species is slow with females laying only one egg per year

 

Conservation Efforts

  • Protection
    • In 2011, the bird was categorised as “critically endangered” in IUCN Red list calling for highest level of protection as schedule 1 species under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972
  • Recovery project
    • The Ministry of Environment and Forests prepared a species recovery programme for the Great Indian Bustard in 2017.
    • Project Great Indian Bustard was launched in 2014 jointly by Rajasthan government, Wildlife Institute of India and CAMPA (Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority) to recover the population of the critically endangered bird.
  • Conservation
    • Captive breeding: In 2016, the Central government decided to set up captive breeding and hatchery centres in Rajasthan.

 

Challenges

  • Captive breeding is challenging for a large bird because it is easily in cages.
  • Captive breeding also prolongs the time taken to reach reproductive maturity leading to very low fertility rate.
  • Further it is difficult to save GIB in situ as most of the time it’s outside the protected areas where we have no control over grazing and the laying of the pipelines, wires and roads.

 

Way Forward

  • Setting up the conservation breeding centres as per the 2017 plan.
    • Necessary support for setting up of breeding centres should be extended in expeditious way including land allotment and deploying a scientist to facilitate breeding training.
    • While the breeding centres take time, incubation units, which take only few weeks, should be set up in the GIB arc.
  • Radio tags to control poaching and hunting of the bird
  • Installations of bird diverters every five metres to prevent the loss of life.
  • Relocation of windmills
  • Laying of power lines underground
Section : Environment & Ecology

About: Char Dham Highway Project

About: Char Dham Highway Project

  • The Chardham Mahamarg Vikas Pariyojna, or the Chardham highway project, is an initiative to improve connectivity to the Char Dham pilgrimage centres (Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath) in the Himalayas.
  • The Prime Minister had launched the construction of the Char Dham Mahamarg in December, 2016, as a tribute to those who died in the 2013 Kedarnath disaster.
  • The project will develop around 900 km of national highways in Uttarakhand at an approximate cost of Rs 12,000 crore.
  • It involves widening the existing, geometrically deficient highway that connects the four abodes.
  • Apart from widening, it plans to improve the stretches to two-lane carriageway with paved shoulders, protect landslide hazard zones, construct bypasses, long bridges, tunnels and elevated corridors to ensure safety for the users.

 

Advantages

  • The project will make travel to Char Dham safer and more convenient. Connectivity & tourism will get a strong boost through the project.
  • Proper slope stabilisation will ensure protection against landslides.
  • The project is also important from a strategic point of view as it is close to the China border.
  • In the eventuality of any aggression, improved roads will facilitate movement of heavy weapons, equipments and artillery guns.

 

Concerns

  • It is an extremely fragile region. The area forms the Main Central Thrust of the Lesser Himalayan region. This is where the Indian tectonic plate goes under the Eurasian Tectonic Plate.
  • The phenomenon makes the region susceptible to earthquakes and landslides.
  • The Geological Survey of India corroborates this in its report prepared after the Kedarnath disaster.
  • It states that road construction in mountains reactivates landslides as it disturbs the toe of the natural slope of the hill.

 

 

About: Char Dham

  • Char Dham refers to the 4 pilgrimage centres – Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath – in the Himalayas, in the state of Uttarakhand.

Badrinath

  • Badrinath or Badrinarayan Temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu, and situated in the town of Badrinath in Uttarakhand.
  • The temple is located in Garhwal hill tracks in Chamoli district along the banks of Alaknanda River.
  • The temple and town form one of the four Char Dham sites.
  • The temple is also one of the 108 Divya Desams, the holy shrines for Vaishnavites, dedicated to Vishnu (who is worshipped as Badrinath).
  • It is open for six months every year (between the end of April and the beginning of November), because of extreme weather conditions in the Himalayan region.

Kedarnath

  • Kedarnath Temple is a Hindu temple (shrine) dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas, the holiest Hindu shrines of Shiva.
  • It is located in the Garhwal Himalayan range near the Mandakini river, in Uttarakhand.
  • Kedarnath is seen as a homogenous form of Lord Shiva, the ‘Lord of Kedar Khand’, the historical name of the region.
  • Due to extreme weather conditions, the temple is open to the general public only between the months of April (Akshaya Tritriya) and November (Kartik Purnima, the autumn full moon).

Gangotri

  • Gangotri is a town and a Nagar Panchayat (municipality) in Uttarkashi district in the state of Uttarakhand.
  • It is a Hindu pilgrim town on the banks of the river Bhagirathi and origin of River Ganges. It is on the Greater Himalayan Range, at a height of 3,100 metres.
  • According to popular Hindu legend, it was here that Goddess Ganga descended when Lord Shiva released the mighty river from the locks of his hair.
  • The river is called Bhagirathi at the source and acquires the name Ganga (the Ganges) from Devprayag onwards where it meets the Alaknanda.
  • The origin of the holy river is at Gaumukh, set in the Gangotri Glacier, and is 19 kms from Gangotri. The temple is closed from Diwali every year and is reopened in May.

Yamunotri

  • Yamunotri Temple is situated in the western region of Garhwal Himalayas at an altitude of 3,291 metres in Uttarkashi district, Uttarakhand.
  • River Yamuna originates at Yamunotri.
  • The temple is dedicated to Goddess Yamuna and has a black marble idol of the goddess.

Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS)

News Summary:
  • During the firing trial at Pokhran ranges, ATAGS has covered the longest ever distance of 48 kms.
  • It has surpassed the maximum ranges of 35-40 kms fired by any artillery gun system in this category.
  • The record was achieved with special ammunition, “high explosive – base bleed” (HE – BB).
  • The next round of trials will take place in Sikkim in December.
ATAGS:
  • It is a 155 mm/52 calibre towed howitzer artillery gun.
Development of ATAGS:
  • The development of ATAGS was started in 2013 as a part of artillery modernisation programme for Indian Army.
  • It is being jointly developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the private sector.
  • The DRDO’s Armament Research and Development Establishment has partnered with Kalyani Group, Tata Power and Ordnance Factory Board etc for the development of ATAGS.
Features of ATAGS:
  • It is configured with all electric drive to ensure maintenance free and reliable operation over a longer period of time.
  • It has a firing range of 40 Kms.
  • It has advanced features like high mobility, advanced communication system, automatic command and control system with night firing capability in direct fire mode etc.
  • It has a six round magazine instead of a standard three round magazine.
No new Inductions:
  • The Army has not inducted any new artillery gun since the Bofors in the 1980s.
  • After decades of failed attempts, it is gearing up to induct the Dhanush artillery gun (an indigenously upgraded variant of the Bofors gun).
  • In 2016, India has signed a contract with U.S for 145 M-777 Ultra-Light Howitzers.
Section : Defence & Security

In Focus: Land Degradation

In Focus: Land Degradation

What is Land Degradation?

  • Land Degradation can be termed as the degradation of the quality of land resulting in the reduction of fertility and crop production capacity of the land.
  • Land degradation is driven by both by changes in climate or human activities.
  • Globally, 24 billion tonnes of fertile soil and 27, 000 bio-species are lost every year.

What is Desertification?

  • When land degradation occurs in dryland areas, more specifically arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, it is referred to as

Major Causes of Land Degradation:

  • Extreme weather conditions particularly drought
  • Soil erosion
  • Poor farming practices and the absence of conservation works
  • Buildup of salts in soils
  • Loss of vegetation cover due to overgrazing, over exploitation and deforestation
  • Invasive alien plant species
  • Overuse of irrigation water
  • Inappropriate use of marginal land

Impact of Land Degradation

  • Loss of agricultural productivity
  • Increased risks of floods and erosion leading to the formation of gullies;
  • Loss of soil fertility leading to poor crop yields
  • Shortage of local surface water resources
  • Increased level of salt groundwater
  • Propagation of invasive species
  • Loss of vegetation
  • Threat to biodiversity
  • Formation of Sodic soils that create an impermeable crust reducing infiltration resulting in water scarcity

 

Land Degradation in India:

  • In 2011-2013, India’s land degradation area totaled 29.3 percent of India’s total land area, representing an area of 96.4 million hectares (mha).
  • This is an increase of 0.57 percent compared with 2003-2005 (an area larger than the state of Nagaland).
  • The top processes leading to degradation/desertification in India in both time periods were:
    • Water erosion (10.98 percent in 2011-2013)
    • Vegetation degradation (8.91 percent) and
    • Wind erosion (5.55 percent).
  • Overall, the areas affected by vegetation and water erosion increased in 2011-2013, while there was a slight drop in the total area degraded due to wind erosion and salinity, indicating improvement.
  • Although 1.95 mha of land was reclaimed or restored between 2003-2005 and 2011-2013, 3.63 mha of productive land degraded during this period.

Note: Land reclamation is bringing back the degraded land into its former state by adopting suitable management practices

States with highest area of lands undergoing degradation/desertification

  • Rajasthan
  • Gujarat
  • Maharashtra
  • Jammu & Kashmir
  • Karnataka

All these states amounting to 18.4 percent (out of India’s total 29.3 percent) while all the other states each had less than 2 percent of degraded lands.

 

United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)

  • Desertification was addressed for the first time in 1977 in the United Nations Conference on Desertification.
  • This was followed by the adoption of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in Paris in 1994, which entered into force in December 1996.
  • It is one of the three Rio Conventions, along with United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
  • The UNCCD is the only legally binding international agreement linking environment and development issues to the land agenda.
  • The Convention holds a biennial Conference of Parties (CoP) to the Convention.

 

Combating Land Degradation in India:

  • India is signatory to the United Nations Convention on Combating Desertification (UNCCD).
  • India is committed to combat desertification and land degradation and intends to achieve land degradation neutral status by 2030.

Note: The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) is the nodal Ministry to co-ordinate all issues pertaining to the Convention.

Schemes launched for capacity-building of the stakeholders at multiple levels:

  • Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY)
  • National Food Security Mission (NFSM)
  • Soil Health Card Scheme
  • Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PKSY)
  • Per Drop More Crop,
  • Swacch Bharat mission,
  • Har Khet Ko Pani (HKKP) and
  • National Rural Drinking Water Programme.

 

Prevention and Control Measures for Land Degradation:

  • Strip farming: It is a 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 land degradation. It can be prevented by formation of ridge and furrow during irrigation which lessens run off.
  • Construction of Dams: It checks or reduces the velocity of run off so that soil support vegetation.
  • Contour Farming: It is usually practiced across the hill side and is useful in collecting and diverting the run off to avoid erosion.
Section : Environment & Ecology

About: Trouts

About: Trouts
  • Mahaseer, Snow trout and Indian hill trout are the principle indigenous cold water fish species inhabiting the mountain waters of India.
  • Snow trouts are found in snow fed streams of Assam, Eastern Himalayas, Sikkim, Nepal, Kashmir.
  • Normally trout is a fish of perennial mountain streams of clear cool water of high oxygen content and thrives in lakes also.
  • As a habit, it breeds in shallow slow-moving waters with gravely bottom; but because of high mortality in natural streams and difficulty of collecting the young ones, the fish is usually bred artificially in hatcheries.
  • After hatching of eggs and nurture of fry to fingerling stage on artificial feeds, the fingerlings are released into natural streams for further growth.
  • Their natural food, and that of adults also, is usually small fish, shrimps, crabs, water-insect larvae and other aquatic organisms.
Exotic Trouts:
  • Major exotic trouts in India are the Rainbow trout (or steel head) and Brown trout. They were introduced to the streams of India by the British.
  • Recently the American Brook Trout from Canada, and a land-locked variety of Atlantic Salmon (Salmo solar) from north Americe, have also been transplanted into trout hatcheries in Kashmir.
  • Brown Trout:
    • Brown Trout was the first one reproduced and reared artificially in India.
    • They were imported in early 1900s from Scotland as a present from Duke of Bedford to the Maharaja of Kashmir.
    • The first hatchery for breeding trout was established at Harwan near Srinagar and from there, after a few years, eyed-eggs were transplanted to many streams and lakes in and out of Kashmir.
  • Rainbow Trout:
    • Also introduced by the British in early 1990s, Rainbow Trout are one of the most successful trouts of Indian waters for cultural purpose because these adapt easily in comparison to the Brown Trouts.
    • Moreover, they promptly feed on artificial food and can withstand the high temperature and O2 depleted water as well.
About: Wildlife Institute of India (WII)
  • With India’s once rich biodiversity considerably depleting, the need was felt for an organization to help and strengthen endeavors for recovery.
  • Wildlife Institute of India (WII) was established at Dehradun in 1982 with a mandate to train government and non-government personnel, carry out research, and advise on matters of conservation and management of wildlife resources.
  • The Institute is actively engaged in research across the breadth of the country on biodiversity related issues.
  • In 1986, it was granted the status of an autonomous Institution of the Union Ministry of Environment & Forests.
  • WII is now recognized as a premier regional institution for training and research in biodiversity conservation.
  • WII has international and bilateral collaborations for institutional building, faculty development, infusion of modern technology and creation of a scientific infrastructure.
Section : Environment & Ecology

About: Trouts

About: Trouts
  • Mahaseer, Snow trout and Indian hill trout are the principle indigenous cold water fish species inhabiting the mountain waters of India.
  • Snow trouts are found in snow fed streams of Assam, Eastern Himalayas, Sikkim, Nepal, Kashmir.
  • Normally trout is a fish of perennial mountain streams of clear cool water of high oxygen content and thrives in lakes also.
  • As a habit, it breeds in shallow slow-moving waters with gravely bottom; but because of high mortality in natural streams and difficulty of collecting the young ones, the fish is usually bred artificially in hatcheries.
  • After hatching of eggs and nurture of fry to fingerling stage on artificial feeds, the fingerlings are released into natural streams for further growth.
  • Their natural food, and that of adults also, is usually small fish, shrimps, crabs, water-insect larvae and other aquatic organisms.
Exotic Trouts:
  • Major exotic trouts in India are the Rainbow trout (or steel head) and Brown trout. They were introduced to the streams of India by the British.
  • Recently the American Brook Trout from Canada, and a land-locked variety of Atlantic Salmon (Salmo solar) from north Americe, have also been transplanted into trout hatcheries in Kashmir.
  • Brown Trout:
    • Brown Trout was the first one reproduced and reared artificially in India.
    • They were imported in early 1900s from Scotland as a present from Duke of Bedford to the Maharaja of Kashmir.
    • The first hatchery for breeding trout was established at Harwan near Srinagar and from there, after a few years, eyed-eggs were transplanted to many streams and lakes in and out of Kashmir.
  • Rainbow Trout:
    • Also introduced by the British in early 1990s, Rainbow Trout are one of the most successful trouts of Indian waters for cultural purpose because these adapt easily in comparison to the Brown Trouts.
    • Moreover, they promptly feed on artificial food and can withstand the high temperature and O2 depleted water as well.
About: Wildlife Institute of India (WII)
  • With India’s once rich biodiversity considerably depleting, the need was felt for an organization to help and strengthen endeavors for recovery.
  • Wildlife Institute of India (WII) was established at Dehradun in 1982 with a mandate to train government and non-government personnel, carry out research, and advise on matters of conservation and management of wildlife resources.
  • The Institute is actively engaged in research across the breadth of the country on biodiversity related issues.
  • In 1986, it was granted the status of an autonomous Institution of the Union Ministry of Environment & Forests.
  • WII is now recognized as a premier regional institution for training and research in biodiversity conservation.
  • WII has international and bilateral collaborations for institutional building, faculty development, infusion of modern technology and creation of a scientific infrastructure.
Section : Environment & Ecology