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ISRO’s report on Land degradation in India


According to the recently published Desertification and Land degradation Atlas of India published by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) – more than half of the degraded land in the country is either rained farmland responsible for food security of the country or forest land that offers the best defence.


GS-III: Environment and Ecology (Environmental Degradation, Conservation of Environment, Climate change and its impact)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Understanding Desertification and Land Degradation
  2. Status of Land Degradation in India
  3. Land Degradation issue in the North East

Understanding Desertification and Land Degradation

  • Land degradation is defined as decline in productivity of land in terms of biodiversity and economy, resulting from various causes, including climate and human dominance, leading to loss of ecosystem.
  • 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.
  • Land degradation and climate change fuel each other and land degradation reduces the soil’s ability to absorb carbon, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report.

Status of Land Degradation in India

  • With close to 30 percent of its geographical are already affected, land degradation is definitely among India’s most pressing environmental problems.
  • Currently, almost 100 million hectares of land has already been degraded and of this, 3 million hectares have been added in the 15 years between 2004 and 2019.
  • After unirrigated farmland, forest remains the most vulnerable to degradation. This is surprising as the common belief is that afforestation drives are the surest solution to land degradation.
  • Vegetation degradation is referred to as reduction in the biomass and / or decline in the vegetative ground cover, as a result of deforestation and / or overgrazing. Such degradation is a major contributory factor to soil degradation particularly with regard to soil erosion and loss of soil organic matter.

How have the States Fared?

  • Almost all Indian states have recorded an increase in degraded land in the past 15 years, with the most rapid increase being noted in the biodiversity-rich northeastern states. The only exceptions are Rajasthan (most degraded state accounting for 22% of degraded land in the country), Uttar Pradesh and Telangana have seen reduction in their degraded land in the past 15 years.
  • The biggest problems with the degradation of land in the country is that it adversely affects the farmers who are dependent on rains and forest dwellers (who are among the most marginalised social and economic groups).

Land Degradation issue in the North East

  • Six states in northeastern India (Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya) were among the top 10 places in the country with the highest rates of desertification between 2003 and 2018.
  • Punjab, Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir and Uttarakhand in northern India also witness some of the highest rates of desertification.
  • Mizoram has been desertifying at the fastest rate in the country as the state has been desertifying at the fastest rate in the country.
  • In Arunachal Pradesh, 2.4 per cent of the area underwent degradation / desertification in 2018-19.
  • Deforestation and loss of green cover are the main reasons for land degradation and desertification in the region.
  • In Mizoram, the role of vegetation loss in the degradation of land of Mizoram increased over the years. Agricultural land in Assam and Meghalaya also extensively suffered from water logging, the second factor behind the increasing desertification rates.

-Source: Down to Earth Magazine

December 2023