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Mains Test Series

Vegetation

Q. Critically examine the impact of wasteland development on the food, fodder and fuel supply in the country. (150 word)

Introduction:

Wastelands are uncultivated, non-forested land left fallow for more than five years. Generally barren hilly terrains, saline/alkaline lands, deserts, ravines, etc., which cannot be brought under cultivation with the existing technology, are categorized as wastelands. 

Approximately 55.76 Mn Hectares (16.96% of the country’s geographical area) of land are wastelands, as per the ‘Wastelands Atlas’ 2019. The Atlas includes waterlogged marshy lands, degraded forests, eroded valleys, open scrub forests, areas under shifting cultivation and overgrazed pastures, etc., as degraded wasteland, too.

Wasteland Development is the set of processes by which wasteland can be brought under productive use to cultivate food, fodder or minor forest produce. This can be done by:

  1. Preservation and Development of Forests.
  2. Chemical treatment of Saline and Alkaline lands.
  3. Proper water and soil management for barren lands.
  4. Drainage of marshy waterlogged lands.
  5. Alternative uses: such as tourist destinations, parks, bird sanctuaries, etc.

Positive Impact of Wasteland Development Food Security: 

  • Conversion of wastelands into cultivated lands with the help of proper soil helps to boost agricultural crop production.
  • Horticulture, floriculture and different medicinal crops on a large scale with suitable use of agricultural technologies, micro irrigation facilities, and afforestation.
  • Reduce biotic Pressure.
  • Prevention of Soil erosion, alkalinity, and Salinity can increase productivity.

Fodder Cultivation: 

  • Wastelands can be used as common pasture grounds to secure the livelihood of pastoralists, nomadic farmers, etc.
  • Development of Private pasture land is capital intensive. Thus, wastelands can be good sources of pastures if used sustainably.
  • These also act as buffer against floods, droughts, etc.

Fuel Supply:  

  • Earlier wastelands were considered essential sources for fuelwood.
  • Currently, the Production of biofuels such as jatropha can be done on degraded wastelands that are not suited for agriculture.
  • This can help in ensuring energy security at the local level.

Wasteland Development is not always advantageous.

  1. Ecological destruction: Peats, Marshes, Ravines, deserts, rocky landscapes, etc., each has its own ecological balance. Its modification cannot always be suitable and may lead to biodiversity loss.
  2. Loss of common land: Converting the land that was earlier used as grazing land, growing grasses, shrubs, etc., will deprive communities of the common land.
  3. Productive use by humans is not always ecologically advantageous.
  4. Ethical reasons: Humans cannot decide the productivity of a natural formation that is considered waste by human standards.

Way forward:

  1. Better Agricultural Practices: Shifting cultivation can be replaced by crop rotation, mixed cropping, or developing plantation crops that improve fertility and support a large population.
  2. Social Forestry Programmes: These programmes mainly involve strip plantation on the road, rail and canal sides, rehabilitation of degraded forest lands, farm forestry, etc.
  3. Prime Minister Krishi Sinchai Yojna: Restore the ecological balance by conserving, harnessing, and developing degraded natural resources like vegetative cover, soil and water to prevent soil erosion, regenerate natural vegetation, harvest rainwater, and recharge the groundwater table.
  4. National Afforestation Programme was launched to afforest and regenerate degraded forestland and other wastelands.
  5. The Integrated Watershed Management Programme is one such initiative that focuses on conserving soil and water resources in rain-fed areas.

Conclusion:

The unprecedented mushrooming of wastelands is an acknowledged offshoot of unplanned development. To overcome these challenges, it is essential for the government, civil society and private sector to collaborate and invest in sustainable land management practices. 

Empowering local communities with knowledge and resources, giving them a sense of ownership to sustainable reclamation of wasteland. Further, natural ecological restoration should also be considered one of the preferred techniques for wasteland restoration.

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