Rangeland Degradation: Impacts, Causes, and Responses in India

Introduction

Rangelands, vast swathes of grasslands, shrublands, and savannahs, are crucial ecosystems supporting livestock grazing, biodiversity, and ecological balance. However, rangeland degradation is a growing concern globally, with significant implications for India.

Rangeland Degradation: Causes

Overgrazing:

Excessive livestock numbers exceeding the carrying capacity of the land lead to depletion of vegetation and soil erosion.

Climate Change:

Erratic rainfall patterns, droughts, and rising temperatures affect vegetation growth and contribute to desertification.

Encroachment and Land-Use Change:

Conversion of rangelands for agriculture, infrastructure, or mining disrupts natural ecosystems.

Unsustainable Practices:

Improper grazing management, lack of rotational grazing, and deforestation for firewood further degrade rangelands.

Impacts of Rangeland Degradation

Reduced Land Productivity:

Degraded rangelands offer less forage for livestock, impacting milk and meat production and livelihoods of pastoral communities.

Biodiversity Loss:

Loss of vegetation cover disrupts food chains and habitats, leading to a decline in animal and plant species.

Soil Erosion:

Exposed soil is vulnerable to wind and water erosion, leading to land degradation and sedimentation in waterways.

Desertification:

Rangeland degradation can contribute to desertification, a process where fertile land becomes arid and unproductive.

Water Scarcity:

Degraded rangelands have reduced water infiltration capacity, impacting water availability for communities and ecosystems.

Responses to Rangeland Degradation

Sustainable Grazing Practices:

Implementing rotational grazing, controlled stocking rates, and seasonal grazing can help rangelands recover.

Silvipasture:

Integrating trees and shrubs in rangelands provides fodder, improves soil fertility, and reduces erosion.

Rangeland Rehabilitation:

Seeding native grasses, reseeding degraded areas, and promoting soil conservation techniques can restore rangelands.

Community-Based Management:

Empowering local communities in rangeland management fosters a sense of ownership and sustainable practices.

Climate-Smart Practices:

Adapting livestock breeds to changing conditions and promoting water harvesting techniques can enhance resilience.

The Indian Scenario

A Grave Situation:

According to ISRO, nearly 30% of India’s land area is degraded, with rangelands in arid and semi-arid regions particularly vulnerable.

Impacts on Livelihoods:

Degradation affects millions of pastoralists and farmers dependent on rangelands for livestock grazing and fodder.

Government Initiatives:

Schemes like Integrated Watershed Management Programme (IWMP) and Rehabilitation of Degraded Forest Lands (RIDF) promote rangeland restoration.

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