Causes and Effects of Degrading Natural Resources

Environmental degradation is the disintegration of the earth, deterioration of the environment through disproportionate consumption of natural assets, and continuous destruction of environment and eradication of wildlife.
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Environmental degradation is the disintegration of the earth or deterioration of the environment through consumption of assets, for example, air, water and soil; the destruction of environments and the eradication of wildlife. It seems very- very pathetic for all of us that as soon as we are achieving the heights of prosperity our environment is degrading at the same rate.

Degrading Natural Resources and the Agrarian Crisis

The progress made by India during the past 10 ‘Five Year Plans’ has been phenomenal. Yet, the human development indicators such as child and adult malnutrition, poverty, illiteracy, infant and maternal mortality rates and access to sanitation and clean drinking water are India’s major concerns. The approach paper for the Eleventh Five Year Plan (XI Plan) mentions, Economic growth has failed to be sufficiently inclusive, particularly after the mid-1990s. Agriculture lost its growth momentum from that point on and subsequently entered a near crisis situation, reflected in farmer suicides in some areas”.

Degradation and erosion of natural resources – those parts of the natural world that are used to produce food and other valued goods and services and which are essential for our survival and prosperity, are one of root causes of the agrarian crisis. No current or intended use of natural resources should condemn our children to endless toil or deprivation. Land, water, soil, forest, livestock, fish, biodiversity (plants, animals and microbial genetic resources), along with air and sunlight are our natural resource upon which human life is dependent.

The natural resources are interlinked as producers and service providers to maintain environmental health, augment agricultural production and ensure economic development. One of the major concerns in this endeavour is to rehabilitate the degraded and vulnerable land and water resources suffering from soil erosion, soil acidity, salinity, alkalinity, water logging, water depletion, water pollution etc. and to ensure livelihood support to the rural population in the country. Soil and water conservation practices through engineering and vegetative measures need to be more indigenous, innovative and eco-friendly and those which are maintainable by farming community. The existing soil and water conservation practices to arrest soil erosion and reclamation measures for other soil degradation processes also need to be re-looked. Soil buffering system and land use policy are also vital components of Natural Resource Management (NRM), to attain sustainability that needs to be activated.

Land and Soil

Land conservation, soil health and access to land for livelihood are the main challenges for World’s biological productivity, meeting our food, energy and other requirements depend on soil health, especially its water, nutrient and carbon balance. Unfortunately, it is this mother resource which are depleting at the fastest rate. Estimates of the cost of soil degradation during 1980s and 1990s ranged from 11 to 26 percent of GDP. The cost of salinity and water-logging is estimated between Rs.120 billion and Rs.270 billion, and if the cost of environmental damage is taken into account, India’s economic growth comes to minus 5.73 percent per annum as against plus 5.66 percent estimated otherwise.

Soil health enhancement holds the key to raising small farm productivity. The Second or Evergreen Revolution is not possible without overcoming the widespread macro- and micro-nutrient deficiencies – the “hidden hunger”. Every farm family should be issued with a Soil Health Passbook, which contains integrated information on the physics, chemistry and microbiology of the soils on their farms. More laboratories to detect specific micronutrient deficiencies in soils are urgently needed. Soil organic matter content will have to be increased by incorporating crop residues in the soil. Proper technical advice on the reclamation of wastelands and on improving their biological potential should be available. Pricing policies should promote a balanced and efficient use of fertilizers.

Ownership of the Land

The ownership of land is highly skewed. Nearly 65 per cent of the rural households own less than one hectare. The landless population amounts to over 12 per cent of rural households. Fragmentation of farm holdings continues unabated. Per capita land availability dropped from 0.48 ha in 1951 to 0.16 ha in 1991 and is projected to drop to 0.08 ha in 2035. Enhancing and sustaining productivity and income of small farms through crop-livestock-fish integration and multiple opportunities through agro-processing, value addition and biomass utilization must be a high priority.


Irrigation Potential: Irrigation expansion has been one of the three input-related driving factors (the other two being seeds of modern High yielding Variety seeds and fertilizer) in the Green Revolution process. Gross irrigated area went up by over 300 per cent, from 22.6 m ha in 1950-1951 to 57 m hectare (gross irrigated area over 91.53 million hectares) in 2015-2016, rendering India as the country having the largest irrigated area in the world. The ultimate irrigation potential for the country has been estimated at about 140 m ha (59 m ha through major and medium irrigation projects, 17 m ha through minor irrigation schemes and 64 m ha through groundwater development). So far, the irrigation potential of nearly 100 m ha has already been created but only about 86 m ha is being utilized, thus leaving a gap of 14 m ha between created and utilized potential.

Constraints in the spread of Drip Irrigation

The main constraints encountered include (i) Poor quality of the system supplied to the farmers (ii) Unreliable and spurious spares and non-availability of standard parts (iii) Ignorance of the users regarding the maintenance and operation of the system, and (iv) Non-availability and uncertainty of power/energy supply

Annual Requirement of Fresh Water (B Cu M)

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Demand Side Management of Water Resources

Demand management through improved irrigation practices, including sprinkler and drip irrigation, should receive priority attention. A water literacy movement should be launched and regulations should be developed for the sustainable use of ground water. Crop planning and large scale adoption of proven technology can greatly mitigate the problem of excessive use of irrigation water. For instance, one crop of irrigated rice in India consumes more than 40 per cent of all the irrigation water in the season. Believing (wrongly) that continuous submergence/flooding of rice field throughout the crop life cycle is essential, nearly 4,500 litres of water is required for production of one kg of rice.