The rationale for policy intervention should be based on two factors
i) The significance of off site costs as a result of land degradation
ii) The costs of on site degradation even when it is not apparent in the immediate context
This requires a foresight and vision for long term sustainable development through policies, action and awareness brought out through education, training and extension programmes. The objective of the policy intervention should be the following
i) Restore efficiency to meet the growing consumption needs
ii) Suitable mechanism for scientific management, conservation and development of land resource
iii) Expansion of forest cover to restore ecological balance
iv) Conjunctive use of surface and ground water
v) Preservation of agricultural land
The Integrated Approach
For effective and efficient use of land we need eminently practical plans for land use management. this is included in the integrated approach. To reduce the conflicts and to make trade offs link social and economic development with environmental protection, sustainable development is the key. The essence of integrated approach is the sectoral planning management. There are a number of issues to consider while adopting approaches and policies. For land use pattern through sectoral approach, we need to plan linkages, formulate economically viable project for each sector and use technology. This would include making Land Use Atlases, system database on land utilisation land records at district, state and national levels. Better legal, political and administrational will is also the key.
We need strict laws for land use conversion, survey of land based on climate, water and soil particulars to improve investment and training orientation, publicity and awareness based on local needs. Effective reclamation is needed to check degeneration. This can be done through effective watershed management, reduction of regional imbalances and diversification of land use. Preventive measures on adverse effects from industrial wastes and effluent and development of agro-based industries are also keys to developing an integrated approach.
To monitor the better use of land, Remote sensing satellite technology like Geographical Information system and Global Positioning System can be used. One of the Problems frequently encountered while measuring the loss of land value is the difficulty in measurement itself as there are so many variables involved. Empirical or process based models have to be so complex to take into consideration the effects of all the variables. One of the methods is to estimate long term average annual soil loss from arable land using Universal Soil Loss Equation (USLE) or its revised form (RUSLE). There are various mathematical simulation models based on physical process involved in soil detachment, transportation and deposition. Use of Iso-erosion rate map (Singh et al., 1992) is an example. Soil erodability factor can also be measured. Loss of soil value due to land degradation is needed to understand the environmental costs of agriculture. Production approach that assesses the impact, preventive cost approach that focuses on conservation and defensive expenditure and replacement cost approach that relies on the cost of restoration are the different ways to measure this. There are various econometrics models that can include and evaluate the inputs for alteration and cropping pattern. In India, soil and land survey conducted by Department of Agriculture and co operation developed land degeneration mapping in the eighth five year plan through District Information system where soil information system of 30 districts in diverse agroclimatic zones were formulated. Similarly, the Department of Land Resources, Ministry of Rural Development has brought out the Wasteland Atlas of India 2000 after studying different types of degraded wastelands in the country.
Reclamation of wasteland is one of the most important aspects of sustainable land use. Agrarian practices can be modified for reclaiming wasteland. For example, application of gypsum consecutively for three years with reduced application in the second and third year will reduce salinity. Integrated watershed management is a preventive method in which soil and water is conserved and cropping pattern is altered to improve land use. Percolation of water into subsoil, reduction of surface water run off, elimination of soil erosion and increase water availability are the chief aims of such sustainable management practices. For attaining these objectives, check dams along gullies are constructed, bench terracing, contour bunding, land levelling, planting grass along the contours, good vegetal cover on the watershed are deployed. Difference can be brought through Governmental Intervention and policy making. The Soil and Water Conservation Division, Ministry of Agriculture plans to manage 86 mha under 30 projects through Integrated Water Management. 30,000 hectares of shifting and semi stable land dunes have been treated with shelter belts and strip cropping as a conservation measure (TERI Report, 1997).
The National Land Use and Wasteland Development Council (1985) was set up with the objective of formulating a National Policy and Perspective Plan for Conservation and Management of Land Strategy. It is time to set right some policies unsuitable for sustainable development. For example, the governmental policy of heavily subsidising electricity for tube well irrigation and chemicals led to poor land quality and eventual abandoning of land. Similarly, the New Economic Policy that encouraged relaxation on land acquired by Non Resident Indians, conversion of agricultural land into non agricultural land, ceiling of agricultural land holdings eventually led to distorted market value due to speculation. The encouragement given to export oriented agriculture and concessions given to agro processing industry adversely affected Indian agriculture by increasing the investment costs. Rational Policies to face regional imbalances should be brought in. The commitments of Tropical Forestry Action Plan, World Food Programme, UNCED led Forest Principles and the Government of India's National Conservation Plan should be adhered to. Rational Pricing Policy combined with resource efficiency in agroprocessing industry is the need of the hour.
Economic incentives for soil conservations practices, conjunctive use of chemicals with biological inputs, classification of Land use statistics and studying the land use impact of agriculture will help at the macro level. Use of remote sensing technology to study different dimensions of the problem is mandatory Legislation is in place for conservation of bio diversity and forestry but not to protect soil relations. Such gaps in law should be filled in with appropriate legal protection. New technology and crop management practices should emphasise the integrated system approach. Meaningful farm research practices will address the concept of linking agriculture with environment. The aim of agriculture should be sustainable crop production with enhanced production envisioned for the long term. Diversification of agriculture should be encouraged. Farming oilseeds and pulses in place of cereals and horticulture wherever applicable demand less water and encourage crop rotation. This permits an understanding of agro climatic conditions, favourable topographic conditions, efficient land use, conservation of soil and maximum use of land resources. Integration of farm forestry with agro forestry will reduce the tremendous pressure on land. Growing a combination of species like agri-silviculture, farm and grove system will make management approach complementary, improve biomass production, regeneration of land resources and increased generation of employment and income.
Thus integrated and sustainable land use comprises prioritisation of critical land sensitivity, understanding land use and forest response, integrated strategy for forest and pest management, diversification of agriculture, crop combination, use of people's indigenous knowledge to attain food and nutritional security, increased productivity and address the environmental concerns. This is the way forward towards an evergreen revolution.