Of all our resources, land is the most tangible one. Land, by definition, is the solid part of the earth's surface. It is a finite resource, so great care should be taken to preserve it. Land has been put to many new uses, apart from traditional ones.
These are the general uses of land:
Excessive population pressure on land
India's population of over 900 million people is more than that of the whole world prior to the Industrial Revolution.
India loses 1.3 million hectares of forests per year. One of the major causes of desertification is the cutting down of trees. According to the National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA), India had less than 11.4% of area under forests as per the 1992 observation. But the more recent satellite pictures show that the forest cover is now less than 10%.
Loss of vegetative cover has made land more susceptible to erosion. Agents of erosion like wind and water have left vast tracts of land barren. Water erodes top soil to an extent of around 12,000 million tonnes (mt) per annum. The loss of top soil represents a permanent depletion of the resource base. The annual loss caused by the erosion of top soil through water comes to Rs.12,000 crores.
Big irrigation projects no doubt have brought prosperity to millions of farmers. But, due to over-enthusiasm, many farmers have resorted to successive cropping and over-irrigation, thereby leading to water-logging and consequent salinisation and alkalinisation. This situation mainly arises due to poor drainage.
It is ironical that in India both floods and droughts occur regularly and alternately. According to the National Commission on Agriculture (1976), there are three types of drought:
35% of the land is drought-prone and receives rainfall of less than 750 mm. Another 18.5% of the land receiving 750-1000 mm. falls in the transitional zone. The remaining 46.5% receiving rainfall of over 1000 mm. falls under the humid zone.
The impact of drought leads to shortage of fodder, shortage of drinking water, loss in agricultural production, and a general decline in living standards.
Drought is both man-made and environment-induced. Man has played a key role in the creation of drought-prone areas due to his over-exploitation of natural resources like forests, degradation of grazing lands, excessive withdrawal of ground water, silting of tanks, rivers, etc.
Floods, on the other hand, are caused by heavy rains in a very short period. Each situation could have been altered had there been good vegetal cover. Vegetation helps in reducing run-off, increasing infiltration and reducing soil erosion.
The land area prone to floods has doubled from 20 million hectares to above 40 million hectares in the last ten years.
India possesses an area which is just a fortieth of the total land area of the world supporting 197 million cattle, and ranking first in the world for cattle population. To support such an immense cattle population we have only 13 mha. as pasture land. This has led to serious problems as animals have encroached into forest lands and even agricultural lands. Due to lack of green fodder, animals are pushed to the fringes of reserve forests and are thus destabilising the forest vegetation. Land degradation due to overgrazing leads to desert-like conditions which, in turn, reduce animal productivity and increase the economic pressure on human beings who depend on animals for their livelihood. Grazing would not be a problem if the dung of the animals is left as fertilizer. Unfortunately, it is removed to be used as fuel, to be sold to intensively farmed areas, etc.
Pollution of land is caused by disposal of solid waste, refuse from domestic, industrial and agricultural sectors.
Industrial wastes are
Agricultural residues are
Another major source of pollution not known to the general public is the creation of derelict land due to mining. Roughly 0.8 mha of land in India are despoiled due to open or surface and underground mining activities. Though this problem is highly location-specific and restricted to remote areas, it necessarily warrants attention in terms of wise management of land. Somewhere someone is affected due to mining, and reclamation of such derelict land.
Too much stress has been given to inorganic fertilisers. But we have to realise that excessive application of inorganic fertilisers is not a healthy way of practising agriculture. Traditional methods of multiple cropping and intercropping to maintain soil fertility have to be given more emphasis. Cereal crops can be mixed with nitrogen-fixers and grown together e.g., maize and beans.
The solutions to our problems are not easy and straight forward. They are complex and inter-connected. As an individual one can contribute in one's own small way. The solutions can be tackled at either a micro or a macro level.