Land degradation, desertification and food security in India

19 NOV 2019
Kitila Davies
Future Directions International


Desertification and land degradation are gradually reducing the capacity of ecosystems in affected regions to sustain life. The degradation of land reduces biodiversity and contributes to climatic changes, while reducing land productivity and the ability for communities to sustain livelihoods. The international community has taken steps to bring the issue to the forefront of development discussions, as its effect on food and water security is felt globally.

India is one of 70 countries that are party to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which has pledged to reach land degradation neutrality targets by 2030 as a part of the Convention’s Land Degradation Neutrality Strategy. While land reclamation is important, the more pressing concern is to help communities cope with the immediate effects that desertification has on their economic situation and quality of life. A number of initiatives seek to increase land productivity and improve climate adaptability in the country.

Key points:

  • Reducing land degradation is key to improving agricultural production, food security and poverty rates. It is, additionally, a cheap and effective method of capturing atmospheric carbon emissions that could slow the rate of climate change.
  • Land degradation and desertification have been brought into sharp relief by the recent United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification meeting in Delhi.
  • Projects that aim to minimise desertification and increase land reclamation could account for 30 per cent of the emissions reduction needed to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius target under the Paris Agreement.
  • India suffers from some of the highest rates of desertification globally. It is likely to suffer from extreme biodiversity loss, a decline in living standards and GDP losses unless action is taken to reduce desertification.

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.