How to combat climate change and desertification

It’s challenging times, yet it offers immense opportunities to better the planet Earth than ever before.

How to combat climate change and desertification

It’s challenging times, yet it offers immense opportunities to better the planet Earth than ever before.

GoodEarth – June 24, 2022


Climate change and desertification are slowly but steadily leading us to an environmental and social crisis.

Soil erosion, depletion of groundwater at an alarming rate, pollution of the air, water and the soil causing poverty and resulting in incalculable violence across the globe are interconnected. Any attempt to resolve the crisis, thus, has to be holistic.

Human race has mismanaged land and ecosystems historically and triggered desertification from Africa to central Asia and it extends to all continents.

With an increase in population, expansion of agriculture was necessitated. And in a bid to increase food production, unscientific methods of cultivation were rampantly followed, leading to loss of moisture from the soil through evaporation, carbon loss and thereby collapse of ecosystems. This resulted in widespread soil erosion, land lost its capacity to retain moisture, streams dried up and desertification followed.

Industrial agriculture accelerated the process of desertification by destroying soil organisms and animals with pesticides and chemicals. All of this was done in the name of increasing food production and feeding the hungry mouths.

When a functional ecosystem collapses, soil loses its health, the root system that holds the fine soil together dies, soil erosion follows, land becomes arid and turns into a desert.

Burrowing animals play a crucial role of creating air pockets in the soil with their tunnelling work that holds moisture during monsoon. Desertification is, thus, a natural outcome when a functional ecosystem collapses.

A few thousand years ago, we used water from streams. With agriculture and an increase in the population, the need for water shot up, and we started to dig surface wells. When the wells dried up, deep wells were dug. And when the deep wells dried up, borewells were dug. Today, the groundwater table has hit rock bottom in many parts of the world, including India.

Along with desertification, global climate change is staring at us. Desertification, water crisis and global climate change are the reality and the future looks bleak.

Greed for power and money are only accelerating the process of destruction. The world needs a healing touch and constructive action alone can help us to regain the lost ground.

Decentralised, community and individual-driven action appears to be the only hope. Individuals and small groups are immensely creative, as large organisations and governments succumb to greed for money and power, and will be redundant in constructive action.

A road map for constructive action in India

According to Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) data 30 percent of our agricultural land measuring about 10 million hectares are becoming arid and under desertification. With change in the rainfall pattern, the hills are experiencing increased landslides and the planes are ravaged by alternating floods and drought. Rivers are drying up in summer. The demand for water is immense while most of our water bodies are polluted.

In a scenario such as this, we have to demonstrate models that are holistic, local and community driven.

In action

Watershed models

To take up watershed development in different agro climate zones in every state and implement solutions with a holistic vision. In a watershed of say 10,000 acres there will be forests, grasslands, field crops, orchards, streams, rivers and lakes. In each of the above, the effort is to regain the functional ecosystem with scientific design and sustained practice.

The entire process of design, execution and transition needs to be documented to build the knowledge base for future generations. Passionate professionals with domain knowledge have to work with the local communities to establish lasting solutions, who will be the custodians of this experience and the knowledge base.

1. Climate resilient agriculture

Different field crops and orchards need to go through a designed transition to natural farming, regaining the soil health, increasing carbon content, and thereby increasing water retention, bio-diversity and stability of ecosystems.

Maintaining local seed banks, strategies to handle change in the rainfall pattern, processing of produce, developing marketing and storage mechanisms, research and documentation are all components of climate resilient agriculture.

It’s a thorough professional job involving many skills.

2. Regaining grasslands by rotational grazing

The arid lands and huge cattle population opens up immense opportunities in India to practice rotational grazing (one portion of the grassland is grazed and the remainder of the pasture rests) to regain grassland ecosystems and reverse soil erosion. The practices developed in Africa by Allan Savory can be a guide line.

3. Micro designs to control soil erosion and rebuild groundwater table

Small bunds, pits, native vegetation and creating habitat for soil animals are more effective than check dams for groundwater regeneration. Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) work can be re-designed to make it more functional, efficient and region specific.

4. Lake ecosystems

The lakes in a watershed can be restored to its original health by planting native trees and plants and maintaining its natural edges. De-silting will lead to evaporation loss from the lake bed and destabilise the lake ecosystem. Community-driven lake restoration and documentation can easily be demonstrated.

5. Forests

The degraded forests in a watershed need intervention to control soil erosion, enhance water retention and improve biodiversity of the region with native species.

6. Appropriate technology

Appropriate technology for storage of food crops and processing is the need of the hour. It needs to be developed to promote local enterprises and build the local economy through job creation for many.

7. Nutrient management

With the movement of food crops from rural areas to the cities owing to urbanisation, there is a mineral loss in the rural soil. This will lead to poor soil health. And due to the loss of micro nutrients the farm lands will be less productive in the future. We need strategies to recycle the soil minerals to maintain soil health of farm lands. The city sewage has to be captured in biomass and ploughed back to the farm lands through effective composting.

The nutrient levels of farmlands need to be measured and monitored.

8. Landslide analysis and mitigation

Many landslides are manmade and we have to implement designed solutions with hands-on geologists and farmers. It includes setting up measurements, monitoring and developing designs to save land and people.

9. Flood analysis

It is possible to measure and forecast floods and develop designed solutions by opening up flow channels to mitigate soil erosion and human loss.

10. Waste and water management

With a decentralised strategic design we can use degradable waste and sewage for rebuilding soil health. Simpler solutions are possible at a local level to handle plastic and other wastes.

In holistic design and management, recycling resources at the local level is important.

Need for partnership for holistic action

  • Build awareness and education.
  • Professionally-designed solutions and monitoring.
  • Hand holding of farmers and local communities to implement the project through soft credits and buy back by markets with support prices.
  • Research and documentation.
  • Training to share knowledge and interaction.
  • Build public spaces in each of the watershed areas for training, exchange of ideas and skills, market for products and as a cultural and sporting centre to foster interaction between a diverse set of people.

How do we go about it?

We can create models with holistic and sensitive partnerships between those who care for the environment and the people.

  • Concerned citizens and social organisations.
  • Professionals with domain expertise.
  • Local community.
  • Businesses and wealth creators who think as trustees of the society.
  • Government officials who are sensitive and care for the environment and the people.

The broader vision of non-violence, care for the environment and the people, decentralisation, intelligent application of science, acceptance of diversity and interdependence will liberate us from fragmented and violent approaches.

If we take up 100 watersheds across India, mobilizing communities, professionals, sensitive business people and government officials, we can accelerate the regeneration process in the country and showcase the non-violent path to the rest of the world.

A non-violent, holistic path is all inclusive, compassionate, deeply spiritual which leads to the purification of the self.