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Combating Land Degradation – India Presiding COP 14 of UNCCD

Land Degradation

Land is a vital resource as very existence of humanity is on it. India houses 18 % of the world population and 15 per cent of livestock by only 2.4 per cent of global land area. However, croplands available per person decreased three-fold to 0.12 hectares per person since 1960s. Moreover, severity of land degradation making soil unfit for cultivation is increasing. About 30% of India’s land in 2011-13 was degraded, as per the ISRO Desertification and Land Degradation Atlas.

The Economics of Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought (EDLDD) report of TERI shows conservatively the costs of land degradation at 48.8 billion USD,  which stood at 2.5% of India’s GDP in 2014-15.

Land degradation and desertification: causes, effects and extent

Desertification is the degradation of land in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas (also known as drylands), where some of the most vulnerable ecosystems and peoples can be found. It does not refer to the expansion of existing deserts. Below map shows the drylands of India.

Source : TERI Report

Some of the biophysical and anthropogenic reasons of land degradations are:

  • Biophysical reasons: terrain (aspect, slope etc), climatic erosivity (rainfall, wind velocity etc) and soil erodibility (texture, mineral composition etc). Climate change induced events such as prolonged droughts, rising incidents of floods, landslides are reducing productive land area
  • Anthropogenic reasons: Economic (urbanization, industrial land use, deforestation, growing demand for food, fodder, fuel, excessive use of chemical fertilizers etc), social (land rights, uneven wealth distribution, demography, population pressure etc), political (policies, legislations etc)

Effects of land degradation

  • Could force millions of people to migrate driving instability and insecurity e.g. Excessive mining may fuel unrest in tribal regions
  • Loss of natural resources and jobs as land is only capital for some of the people deepening poverty.
  • Lowers agricultural productivity threatening food security, nutrition.
  • Reduction in ground water levels as land loses ability to replenish them. It causes water scarcity.
  • Biodiversity loss and reduced resilience to climate change

Extent of land degradation in India along with primary causes

Source : ISRO

About United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)

It is one of the three Rio Conventions to evolve from the historic ‘Earth Summit’ held at Rio De Janerio, Brazil, in 1992 – UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Convention on Biodiversity and UNCCD

UNCCD plays a central role in capacity-building, the sharing of successful experiences, technology transfer, mobilization of resources and the provision of assistance to countries in implementing policies. It is the only legally binding international agreement linking environment and development issues to the land agenda.


In this context, for the first time India is hosting 14th edition of prestigious Conference of Parties (COP) of the UNCCD taking over from China, and will preside over next 2 years. Modi government is taking global leadership in addressing land degradation and desertification issues.

The event will see participation of over 3,000 representatives from over 200 countries which included ministers from many countries. Through access to accurate data on trends in land degradation, desertification and drought, COP is expected to agree on best solution for the threat of land degradation to humanity.

India’s commitment to SDG 15 (life on land) is in coherence to the prime minister’s vision for doubling the income of farmers by 2022. Sustainable Development Goal 15.3 refers to combat desertification, restore degraded land and soil, including land affected by desertification, drought and floods, and strive to achieve a land degradation-neutral (LDN) world by 2030. Through LDN countries seek to avoid, reduce and reverse the land degradation.

At the 13th COP, India committed to restore 13 million hectares of degraded and deforested land by the year 2020 and additional 8 million hectares by 2030.

Steps taken by Modi government

Various schemes and programs of the Modi government such as 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, Har Khet Ko Pani (HKKP), PM Kisan Sampada Yojana, National Rural Drinking Water Programme have direct linkage to addressing the challenge of  land degradation. Swachchh Bharat Mission, with a dedicated corpus of funds addresses concerns over waste disposal, sewage treatment, sanitation – factors which adversely affect the quality of land. Steps are being taken towards doing away with Single-Use Plastics, major cause of land degradation.

India’s tree and forest cover has registered an increase of 2% i.e about 15,000 sq km since 2015.

India has documented its best practices across different States from grass-root level, in form of Sustainable Land and Ecosystem Management (SLEM) report released in 2014.

Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) by NITI Aayog seeks to leverage on cooperative and competitive federalism for participation of Indian states helping address the land degradation challenge. Model Agriculture Land Leasing Act seeks to address social, political causes of land degradation.

Moreover, India resolves to restore 50 lakh hectares of degraded land in 10 years. As a part of larger Bonn challenge, Modi government launched flagship project piloted in Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Nagaland and Karnataka to develop and adapt the best practices and monitoring protocols, build capacity.

Thus, Modi government is taking global leadership addressing the threat of land degradation for sustained livelihood and better homeland for future generations.