From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Soil degradation: Reasons and impact
Mains level : Paper 3- Land degradation and using land reforms to deal with it
Land ceiling laws, enacted to deal with the problems of a bygone era, remains unchanged even in most of the States. This has given rise to different problems. The article suggests the relaxation of the ceiling acts to deal with the problem of land degradation and water depletion.
Background of the ceiling laws
- India implemented land ceiling laws to deal with the ‘zamindars’ and impose landowning limits based on total production value of land—irrigated, grove, orchard, dry, etc.
- Landholdings were scrutinised at individual and family level, and large farms were discouraged.
- For most states, the ceiling ratio of dry-to-irrigated land is 3:1.
Issues with the ceiling laws
- In 2020, State land laws remain unchanged, trapping farm families in a negative ownership trap.
- As with each generation, the average landholding of individuals reduces.
- Dropping farm incomes, higher inputs costs, low sale price, soil degradation and water depletion erode production and farm value.
- A progressive farmer hits production saturation due to limited land.
- Contract farming has been no consolation either.
- The result is that the Indian farm size is very small, 86% under two hectares, and is decreasing as the average size of operational holding has declined to 1.08 hectares in 2015-16 versus 1.15 in 2010-11 (Agricultural Census 2015-16).
- The government is reticent on the Economic Survey’s recommendations to increase land ceiling limits.
- Recently, Karnataka rescinded land limit reforms.
How to deal with soil degradation and water depletion
- 30% of India’s land is degraded, bad agri-practices threaten soil health, and water-guzzling crops like paddy, sugarcane, etc, have resulted in a water crisis in many places.
- States must study soil conservation program of the US, which paid farmers subsidies for soil conservation or allowing land to be fallow.
- States should incentivise farmers for agro-ecological plantations and agro-forestry by relaxing land ceiling limits for them.
- State Acts may include organic plantations under exempt categories similar to tea/rubber plantations.
- Native biodiversity based mixed orchards, from mahua to moringa, can be encouraged and exempted by state governments.
- Policy change will have benefits—soil and water rejuvenation, increase in farmers’ incomes and new products for the free market.
- The return of organic matter and biodiversity will sustain farmland productivity.
- Plus APEDA predicts a $50 billion organic export 2030, but the cherry would be additional carbon credits.
- If 10% of arable land converts to organic grove land, India will mitigate climate change and pollution.
- Each hectare with 0.01% humus can store 80,000 litres of water. We need a central policy to bolster this drive.
- Farmers may take over waste or degraded land, beyond land ceiling limits, and restore land as a carbon sink and produce more nutrition per acre.
- As farmers will care for these lands, the government’s financial burden to restore wastelands will lessen.
Consider the question “Land degradation threatens India’s future if not dealt with in time. In light of this, examine the reasons for soil degradation and suggest the ways to deal with it”
As a nation, we have a choice to steer the bigger farms towards agro-ecology or allow industrial farms to take over rural India. The government needs to bring out a fourth Ordinance to free the land for healing the Earth.