Wasteland maps can help frame poverty alleviation programmes
Technology for the poor
Despite the recent emphasis on industrial growth, building up the country's natural resource base remains the most potent counter to rural poverty. In fact, a number of social scientists and activists -- even some planners -- contend that rural poverty is very often a consequence of environmental degradation. But are links between the two merely circumstantial? Satellite remote sensing and geographical information system (gis) can help answer this question. While remote sensing helps map and monitor areas where poverty is accompanied with environmental degradation, gis establishes linkages between the two through modelling and simulation.
It's important to integrate these methods in the planning processes of the country. And, Indian planners are not totally oblivious of these methods. For example, the ecological dimensions of poverty has been captured in agro-ecological zonation maps.
That's not all. In 1999-2000 the Union ministry of rural development commissioned the Hyderabad-based National Remote Sensing Agency (nrsa) to prepare district-level wasteland maps. The agency prepared about 5,000 maps and in 2000, came out with a wasteland atlas of India.
Ones that require high capital, modern technology and long-term development projects
Those requiring direct government action in form of subsidies and grants
The few which are in the vicinity of areas undergoing economic transformation, and where sustainability issues are of major concern.
However, wasteland reclamation must be combined with poverty alleviation measures. Why would the poor labour to reclaim degraded lands, if their efforts don't bring them any immediate economic benefits?
It is here that institutional interventions -- by both government agencies and ngos -- become imperative. The strategy for such interventions should be responsive to local conditions. For example, expanding agriculture could be an ideal strategy for Jharkhand, Assam and Rajasthan, which have very high degree of food insecurity as well as large wastelands. But the method is very unlikely to work well in food secure states such as Punjab and Karnataka. Planners should take care to ensure that wasteland development here is accompanied by off-farm interventions.
Wasteland maps and other maps created by remote sensing have provided appropriate resources to chart strategies for poverty alleviation. It's up to the policy makers, planners and ngos to use them to good effect.
Sanjay K Srivastava is with the National Natural Resources Management System of the Indian Space Research Organization, Bangalore. The views expressed here are that of the author alone
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