Chapter 10 - Conclusions and proposals

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Conclusions from the study
Proposals: introduction
Proposals for strengthening efforts to combat land degradation

Conclusions from the study

Some major conclusions reached in this study are:

  1. Land degradation has taken place within the context of a high density of population in relation to available land. Very little land capable of sustainable agricultural production remains which is not already under use. The continuing population increase means that this situation is becoming more severe every year.
  2. Different estimates of the extent and severity of degradation differ widely, often by factors of two or more. The basic reasons are:

An exception to the se generalizations are the definitions of degrees of salinization , and the surveys and monitoring of its changes carried out in some areas.


  1. Despite these problems with data, the view that evidence for land degradation is insufficient to justify immediate action is rejected. Although quantitative estimates differ, the weight of evidence is clear that land degradation in the region is widespread, and has reached a severe degree in many areas. Environmental 'disaster areas' have occurred already, for example areas of severe and extensive salinization in parts of the irrigated Indus and Ganges plains. Others are predicted, most notably the severe deforestation and water erosion in the mountain and hill areas of Nepal.
  2. Best estimates of the areas affected by light, moderate and severe degrees of degradation have been given in Tables 18 and 19. The relative severity of different types of land degradation in the region in the countries of the region is summarized in Table 22.
  3. The countries of the dry zone - Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and the western part or India - are severely affected by water and wind erosion, soil fertility decline, deforestation, range land degradation and desertification . Their alluvial plain and basin areas are affected by waterlogging, salinization and lowering of the water table.

TABLE 22 - Severity of land degradation in the countries of the region

  Afghanistan Bangladesh Bhutan


Iran Nepal Pakistan Sri
Water erosion XX X - XX XX XX XX XX XX
Wind erosion X - - XX - XX - XX -
Soil fertility decline XX - - XX - - XX XX  
Waterlogging - - - XX - X - X -
Salinization X - - XX - XX - XX -
Lowering of the water table - - - X - XX - - -
Deforestation XX XX X X X X XX XX X
Rangeland degradation XX - - XX - XX - XX -

X = Moderately severe.
XX = Very severe.

Four countries of the humid zone - Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the greater part of India - are severely affected by water erosion on their rainfed lands, by soil fertility decline, and by deforestation. In parts of the hill and mountain areas of Nepal, deforestation and water erosion have reached an extreme degree. Bhutan, because of its longer population density, has not yet suffered severe land degradation, but deforestation, often the initial cause of degradation, is taking place.

  1. The problem of soil fertility decline has not previously received sufficient attention. A fundamental cause is the attempt to maintain crop yields through application of fertilizers, without also taking other fundamental measures of soil management, principally maintenance of soil organic master statue. This form of degradation is found in both the humid and dry zones.
  2. The direct causes of land degradation are inappropriate methods of land management. The underlying causes stem from the interaction of land resources with economic and social conditions. There is a causal nexus between land shortage, population increase, poverty, and land degradation (Figure 9, p. 62).
  3. In very broad, order of magnitude, terms, the economic cost of land degradation can be estimated, mainly on a production loss basis. For the region as a whole, the cost is put at US$ 10 billion per year, or 7% of agricultural gross domestic product (Table 21, p. 75).
  4. The effects of land degradation upon the people of the region are widespread and, in some cases, severe. Some farmers have totally lost their land. On croplands, a far larger number have experienced longer crop yields or, in the attempt to maintain yields on an impoverished land base, increased costs of inputs. On rangelands, livestock production levers have been very severely reduced. The combined effect has been to cause longer incomes. The impact of land degradation is greatest on the poor.
  5. Land degradation is not simply a problem of environment, but also one of production. It affects the ability of people of the region to obtain food and other basis necessities. Degradation is thus a problem of sustainability, the combination of production with conservation of the natural resources on which maintenance of production in the future natural depends.
  6. Institutional structures to combat land degradation exist in all countries of the region. These offer much potential, both for research and implementation. Some countries possess an unduly complex structure, sometimes with poorly defined or overlapping responsibilities. There is a need to recognize land resources, productivity and degradation as a distinctive field, and clarify responsibilities for research, survey, monitoring and implementation.


Proposals: introduction

The proposals arise from the above conclusions. They are confined to the main fines of approach and action. Many of the proposed actions will initially require discussion on a regional, and in some cases international, basis, in order to secure uniformity of methods. They will subsequently require modifications in detail to meet the circumstances of different countries.

If integrated action is not taken, to combat both the direct and the indirect causes of land degradation:

A prerequisite for effective action is recognition, by national governments, of the severity of land degradation and its effects upon the people and the national economies. It is not sufficient to pay lip service to 'environment' nor to write reports. There must be allocation of staff, budget and resources.

The proposals fall into two groups:

Problems of land degradation have already been considered within the FAO/RAPA Asian Problem Soils Network and the ESCAP Desertification Control Network. Following the two recent conferences of the former, a position paper was produced which includes detailed recommendations for action. Whilst written with respect to the whole of Asia and the Pacific, it is certainly applicable to the present South Asian Region. The recommendations in that paper are given under the heading, "A framework for action" (Dent et al., 1992, pp.20-26). They are fully in agreement with the proposals of the present study. They amplify and expand these with respect to development of national institutions and improved methods of land use management (training and implementation), and contain additional material on people's participation.


Proposals for strengthening efforts to combat land degradation

Proposal 1: Practical definitions of degrees of severity of land degradation

In order to acquire more accurate data, it is first necessary to define the degrees of land degradation, in terms that offer practical means of observation, monitoring and mapping. An early attempt to do so was made by FAO (1979). The definitions employed in the GLASOD survey (Table 4, p. 24) provide a valid starting point, but these need to be converted to quantitative form.

This action is best taken at international lever.

Proposal 2: Establishment of a regional programme and guidelines for survey of land degradation, and monitoring of change

If surveys are to be conducted nationally, it is first necessary to establish detailed objectives, methods and priorities are a regional lever. The programme should include:

An FAO/RAPA meeting is scheduled for 1993 which will give initial consideration to such a programme.

Proposal 3: Study of the economic and social effects upon the people

Very few specific studies of this nature were identified in the course of the present review. Ideally, such work should be conducted in parallel with physical surveys, and include cooperation in the field between soil scientists and social scientists.

The methodology for study of economic consequences at the macroeconomic lever, and of economic and social effects upon the people, is less well established than that for physical surveys. Initial consideration at international lever would be preferable.

Proposal 4: Translation of these guidelines (Proposals 3 and 4) into national programmes.

This is clearly a master for action at national lever. Among aspects to be covered are:

It is desirable that countries should identify one nodal institution for land degradation affairs as a whole, together with others with defined responsibilities for particular types of degradation and aspects of research, planning and implementation.

Priority 5: Research into measures to combat degradation.

Practical field implementation needs to be continuously supported by research. Aspects which require particular attention include:

Proposal 6: Implementation of measures to combat the direct causes of degradation.

Much activity of this nature is already being undertaken, but the scale of activity needs to be expanded. Increased funding will be required. Measures of this type include:

Proposal 7: Action directed towards removing the underlying causes of degradation, including integration of land management measures with population policy.

Attempts to combat land degradation directly, by conservation measures or land reclamation, can have only short-term effects unless they are accompanied by efforts to tackle the underlying causes. These lie in the causal nexus between population increase, limited land resources, land shortage, poverty, non-sustainable management practices and land degradation. In the prevailing situation in which there is no spare land available, population increases of 2-3 percent per year will largely or entirely counteract the effects of measures for improvement.

Population is a sensitive issue, but all governments of the region are aware of the problems caused by continued increase at present rates. In the context of land degradation, a much greater integration between population policy, agriculture and land resource management is needed. For this to occur, new attitudes will be required.