India lost 31% of grasslands in a decade

While area under grazing and common lands saw a decline between 2005 and 2015, croplands increased, according to a report India presented to UNCCD
Grasslands in the Aravalli range in Rajasthan underwent severe degradation. Photo: Getty Images
Grasslands in the Aravalli range in Rajasthan underwent severe degradation. Photo: Getty Images

India lost 31 per cent, or 5.65 million hectares (mha), of grassland area in a decade, showed data the Union government presented to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) during the ongoing 14th Conference of Parties (COP).

The total area under grasslands reduced to 12.3 mha from 18 mha between 2005 and 2015.

Grasslands in the Aravalli range in Rajasthan underwent severe degradation, read the report. Other states where land has been severely destroyed include Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, it added.

Loss of grazing land can be attributed to two kinds of drivers — direct and indirect. Overgrazing, poor management and deforestation are the direct drivers and conversion of pastures into croplands through encroachment, diversion and allotment driven by increasing population pressure are the indirect drivers.

The country also lost around 19 per cent of its common lands during the same period, according to the report. The area under common lands decreased to 73.02 mha from around 90.5 mha between 2005 and 2015, it added.

Common lands include the grazing grounds, some forest land, ponds, rivers, and other areas that all members of a rural community can access and use. They provide food, water, fodder, firewood and livelihood to rural communities, while also helping recharge groundwater and maintain the land's ecological balance.

Around 4.74 mha of grazing land was diverted as agricultural land across the country. A lot of common land also met the same fate — 29.11 mha of common land was diverted for croplands in the decade, added the report.

Industrialisation and conversion of common lands for non-agricultural purposes became a major cause for the decreasing size of common lands.

During the same period, area under cropland saw nearly an 18 per cent increase to 134.5 mha from 113.6 mha.

But even as these lands are being lost to agriculture to feed the growing population, it is worrying to note that their productivity has also declined. Productivity of at least 26 mha of land has decreased and of this, close to 0.8 mha was grazing land and 5.9 mha common lands.

Declining productivity of grasslands also means poor quality of fodder for livestock.

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