Desertification setting in across a quarter of India
-Down to Earth
Another 30% of the county’s land is undergoing degradation. What does this mean for the country where more than 60% peopel depends on agriculture?
Every year during the monsoon, Hemant Waman Chowre faces a peculiar situation. On the one hand, he hopes for good rainfall to water his crops but on the other, he is scared, for even a mild shower can destroy his saplings.
Chowre is a 35-year-old farmer in Daregaon, a village in Sakri block of Maharashtra’s Dhule district. His 1.5-hectare (ha) farm sits on a gentle slope at the tail of the Sahyadri mountain range, or the Western Ghats, that marks the western periphery of the district. The topography is marked by barren lands, scarce trees and shallow soil.
“The soil is just 15 cm deep,” Chowre said. The annual average rainfall in Dhule is 674 millimetre (mm) — a little more than what Rajasthan receives — and when it rains, the water rolls down the hill, washing away the topsoil along with saplings.
“I had to plant saplings twice in 2018,” said Chowre. “When my soya bean got washed away, I planted bajra (pearl millet).”
In neighbouring Vardharne village, Vilas Rajaram Gowli points to a hole, resembling a fox’s burrow, in his field. On July 22, when Down To Earth (DTE) visited Dhule, the region had received just over 100 mm of rain. “We have had only 10 per cent of the rainfall this season and you can see holes everywhere. By the end of the season, the entire topsoil will be gone,” he said.
These are clear signs of desertification which, as per the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), is degrading 12 million ha of productive land across the world every year. This is over 80 times the size of Delhi and is enough to grow 20 million tonnes of grain.
UNCCD, a legally binding international agreement that links environment and development to sustainable land management, defines this phenomenon as “land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities”.
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