Land Degradation and its Conservation

Today there are many types of land-uses which causes its degradation and ultimately result in soil and environmental degradation. Some important causes of land-degradation are the following.

(a) Deforestation : Cutting down of trees in forests and clearing these lands for agriculture, roads, industries and human habitation is one of the chief causes of land degradation.

(b) Land-fills: Rapid population growth and industrialization have caused accumulation of huge on land. Many of these wastes are radioactive or non-degradable. When deposited in low or underground these wastes causes damage to soil and land surface.

(c) Soil erosion: Soil erosion on account of bad farming practices, grazing, over-use of agricultural land, water run off, wind erosion, use of toxic chemicals and fertilizers in agriculture has also turned vast areas of land into dust bawls.

(d) Mining : Mining for mineral resources has changed the landscape of many parts of the world. Mining leads to construction of settlements, roads, factories and other structures in the area. It causes much greater damage to land surface than deforestation.

(e) Over exploitation of ground water resources: Depletion of ground water resources due. to over exploitation has led to many areas being converted into deserts and soil erosion. This poses the danger of another dust bowl tragedy. The worst effected areas are Delhi, Punjab and Haryana.

Conservation Measures

Today the problem is not only of prevention of soil erosion but land-degradation. Some of the important conservation measures include the following:

(a) Check on the wastes : With India’s population exceeding 1 crore, the problem of disposals of wastes in solid and liquid form is assuming gigantic proportions. In cities and towns there is no more land available for sanitary landfills. So the only alternative left is recycling of biodegradable wastes, shredding of non-degradable plastics and developing new technologies for their use. For this purposes citizens vigil and and awareness to separate wastes at source is essential.

(b) Treatment of land : The traditional soil conservation techniques like contour ploughing,limiting sheet and gully erosion through plugging of gullies and planting of shelter belts of trees in opposite direction of winds to check wind erosion are also suggested. Since the problem has become acute, an integrated approach of treatment of land based on the principle of erosion control measures including, treatment of drainage lines and gullies are suggested for the block as a whole.

Assistance is taken from various sources and farmers make only 10% of the total contribution.

(c) Watershed Management: A watershed is a crestline dividing two drainage areas. Many water sheds also encompass forest lands. Therefore, entire watershed is to be treated in an integrated manner. Improvement of vegetation cover in each water shed has to be placed under the charge of an apex authority in the area. The resources poor families in the watershed area have to be identified and provided the necessary resources to undertake improvement of degraded lands under their charge land.

(d) Management of Water Resources : Science and Technology Policy 2003 gives high priority to preservation, protection and efficient utilization of water resources. It also aims at strengthen measures to argument ground water resources. It hopes to train skilled personnel in areas facing problem, of over exploitation of ground water resources in order to conserve and convert surface flow during four months of rainy season into sub surface flow.

Forests and Wildlife Resources

The trees in forests together with a wide variety of animals that they support from the largest terrestrial community on earth. The forest wealth is also an invaluable gift of nature to man. In early history of the earth about one-fourth of its surface was covered with forests. Various factors have contributed to dwindling forest wealth on earth. However, in the past it has happened over millions of years. For most of his history man too was a part of this forest life. Since his coming out of forests, man began to make use of forests, first for organisation of space and then to satisfy his other needs and wants. This changed his relationship with the natural environment vis-a-vis other species of lifeforms.


The relationship between plants, animals and their physical environment is very complex one. The broad areas in which the organisms function together with their non-living environment are called ecosystems. There is constant interchange of materials between the organisms and their
physical environment. While plants use the resources of their non-living environment, animals depend on plants for their food or on other animals. Man, however, depends on both plants, animals and his physical environment for satisfaction of his needs. In an ecosystem there is constant interchange of materials as well as interdependence. Further, the ecosystems are such that flow of energy and materials takes place across their boundaries as well. For this reason ecosystems are regarded as open systems. Ecosystems may take from thousands to millions of years to
evolve but they can never evolve to their original state nor can
be duplicated by man. This ecosystem constitutes the basic unit
for studying forest and wildlife resources.

Types of Soils in India

Types of Soils on The Basis of Formation

Many different classifications of soils are followed in different countries. Because of a great variety a meaningful classification of soils would involve explaining the system adopted by different countries However, all these types of soils can be divided into three broad groups on the basis of formation — Zonal, Intrazonal and Azonal.

Zonal: These soils are formed in-situ or directly from underlying rock. It shows the influence of climate as a major soil forming factor. They are formed on well drained soils and include Polar desert soils, Podzols (ash-grey coloured found in high altitude coniferous forest belt), Brown Earths, Prairie Soils, Chernozem (similar to black soil), Brown and Grey semi-arid soil, Gurmusols, Red Earths and Laterite soils.

Intrazonal Soil : These are well developed soils formed where local factors are dominant. Under this category are included soils found in marshes, swamps, deserts and are characterized by excess salinity and alkalinity

Azonal Soils : These are known as transported soils. They lack time for development and have poorly developed profile. Among the types included in this group are alluvial soils, sandy soils and lithosols.

Soils of India

India has a variety of climates and relief features. The whole landmass is also intersected by a numhe of rivers. Therefore soils at different locations differ in their thickness as well as in composition. The soils of India can be divided into following chief categories which generally follow the classification done by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).

1. Alluvial Soils

Alluvium is a water borne sediment. The fine silt brought down by rivers from the mountain region is deposited by rivers when they overflow their banks during floods. The area where these sediments are deposited is known as Flood Plain. This soil is replenished by rivers almost every year It is a very fertile soil though low in nitrogen content. This type of soil is found in the Great Northern Plains, the Ganga Brahmaputra delta and in the coastal plains.

The new alluvium soils are locally called khadar and relatively old and coarse alluvium are known as bangar.

2. Black Soils

A world level chernozem soils associated with Steppe region are also known as Black soils. In India these soils are of volcanic origin and are also called black cotton soil. It is developed in-situ on basaltic rock. It has capacity to retain moisture because it swells when wetted and shrinks when dried. This characteristic also causes wide cracks in the soil. This soil is very suitable for growing cotton. It is found in hot and dry areas of Deccan plateau particularly in the Deccan Trap. Other areas include Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. These soils are locally called regur soils.

3. Red and Yellow Soils

These are reddish in colour and relatively sandy soils formed as a result
break up of the crystalline igneous rock. The presence of iron oxides in the soil is largely responsible for reddish colour. Reddish soils are found in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Orissa, Yellowish colour soils occur in Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and southern parts of Gangetic plains. These soils are mostly cultivated during rainy season. Wheat, millets, coarse grains, potatoes and cotton are grown in these soils.

4. Laterite Soils
They are called hard-baked soils of tropical region. Due to hot-wet conditions, the nutrient contents of the soil are washed away leaving behind hydrated oxides of iron and aluminium. In India leaching on high level plateaus and hills receiving high rainfall takes place. These soils are more acidic but can be made more fertile with the help of fertilizers. They are also known as blocky soils because the blocks o these soils are used for construction of houses. The soils occur in rainy areas of southern Maharashtra and Chhotanagpur plateau.

5. Sandy Soils

These soils have high concentration of calcium downward and low humus content. They are generally not fit for agriculture and are found in western Rajasthan. Wind blown loess are also counted among these soils. They are also called Arid soils because of scarcity of rainfall.

6. Mountain Soils

These are found in Himalayan region in Kashmir and in the North-East. They are rich in iron but deficient in lime.

Other important soil types in India include Peaty Soils which have abundant organic matter making these soils rich in humus. These soils are found in northern parts of Uttaranchal in Almora, coastal areas of West Bengal, Orissa, northern parts of Bihar and Tamil Nadu. In areas of high rainfall forest soils rich in humus but low in salts are found. However since parent rock contains variety of salts, these soils are also made fit for agriculture.

Properties of Soil and its Importance

Soil is an essential and major part of our natural environment. It has both physical and chemical properties.

Physical Properties
The physical properties of soil refer to its variations in composition, structure, colour and texture.

(i) Structure: Soil, as discussed above, is found in layers. This layers may exist in blocks or have a small grain structure. Generally there are four types of soil structure depending on the type of soil grains —blocky,
prismatic, platy and crumb. Blocky structure is found in clay soils, prismatic soil structure has solid geometrical figure like structure. Platy structure has flat formation. The crumby has more presence of humus.
The structure of the soil is very important for the ease of
cultivation. It also influences soil fertility and its erosion,
difficulty in ploughing and rate of moisture absorption.

(ii) Colour: The colour in itself is not very important but reveals the quality and origin of the soil. For example, black soil may have more humus content, reddish colour may have more iron oxides etc.

(iii) Texture: Texture of the soil refers to the mixture of different soil particles. Based on texture soils are divided into various types like clay, loam, silt, sand each having a certain percentage of clay, silt and sand.

Chemical Properties

The chemical properties of the soil are generally distinguished by the amount of lime content in the soil. Soil with low lime content are termed as acidic soils.

Factors Affecting Soil Formation and Soil Profile

Agriculture is still the primary factor affecting land use. The nature and intensity of agricultural activity is dependent on soil. Any study of land as an agricultural resource is therefore made with reference to soil.
Soil is defined as a loose material resting on top of the foundation rock which makes up the crust of the earth. It consists of undissolved minerals produced by weathering and breakdown of surface rocks, water, gases and the organic remains. The organic remains provide the humus and inorganic materials provide vital nutrients as minerals. The humus is defined as the dark brown organic substance resulting from partial decay of animal and plant matter. It improves soil and helps it retain moisture, aeration as well as obtain mineral nutrients through bacterial activity. Aeration in the soil is provided by air held in open spaces within the soil. It contains more of carbon dioxide and also oxygen and nitrogen.
The organic, inorganic constituents, air and water act as nutrients and provide food to plants and trees. Plants use most of these nutrients including nitrogen through their roots in the soil. The nutrients also re-enter the soil after the death of plants and animals. This cycling of nutrients keeps the soil fit for use by plants as well as human beings over long periods of time.

The insects in the soil are also very important. There are millions of insects and earthworms in the soil. They breakdown the rock and other matter in the soil, sift it and mix these minute particles in the soil. These chemical, physical and biological activities together impart quality to the soil and build layers of soil over long periods of time

Soil Formation

By the definition of soil given above it will be noted that several processes and factors are involved in soil formation. Chief among these include weathering, climate, decomposition of organic matter, topography or relief and time
(a) Weathering:  Weathering is the process by which rocks are broken down while remaining at one place. The physical and chemical processes take part in weathering with the help of climate. The disintegrated rock is the basic material for formation of soil. This basic rock material determines the mineral content of the soil.
(b) Climate: The elements of climate specially temperature and precipitation help in disintegration of the rock. Weathering cannot take place in absence of climate. Climate as a factor in soil formation plays
the major role in lending texture to the soil The texture is the size of the unconsolidated particles in the soil. It gives physical structure to the soil
(c) Decomposition:  Decomposition is the process by which decayed material (vegetation and remains of animals) are changed into humus Decomposition is basically responsible for determining the type of soil and its colour.
(d) Relief : The slope of the land and its general features basically determine the thickness of the soil between surface and bed rock.

(e) Time:  It is the most essential as well as the final factor in soil formation It is the time factor during which physical, chemical and biological processes operate in soil. A very long period of time is involved in operation of these processes.

All the above processes are invariably involved in soil formation. The soil formation would still be incomplete without the work of insects and worms in the soil. Their work consists of mixing the minerals and organic content in the soil. They do it both through physical or mechanical means and speeding up chemical reactions. Even then soil formation and its fertility depends on presence of water and air in soil. Even for just 2 cm thick soil anything between 100 to 500 years may be involved. Since the above factors differ from one location to another, there are many different types of soils. However all soils will consist several different layers, which have each different characteristics.

Soil Profile

A vertical section through the soil from the surface down to the parent rock is known as soil profile. The depth of the profile varies from soil to
soil. It may be generally between 30 cm to 200 cm deep. Each profile has however distinctive layers. These layers are known as horizons. These horizons, other than the bed rock, together constitute the soil profile. A generalized form of soil profile has four horizons lying one above the other.
A — HORIZON: It is called top soil. The upper part contains more humus whereas lower part contains more organic matter.
B — HORIZON : Immediately below A- Horizon is the second layer known as sub-soil. It contains weathered rock material, sand, clay and silt.
C — HORIZON: The third layer has weathered parent rock material.
D — HORIZON : Though not a part of the soil profile, it is known as bed-rock and contains unweathered parent rock.

Changing Land Use Pattern in India

Land is the basic resource on which all agricultural and industrial processes and patterns depend. In addition human beings, animals and plants live mostly on land. Forests too are found on land. Our physical environment also imposes certain constraints on land use. Land is therefore a very important resource. The land part of the. earth is divided into mountains, plains, plateaus and other land forms including water bodies like, rivers and lakes. Each of these has a major role to play in the use of land as a resource.

Changing Land Use Pattern in India

India covers a total geographic area of 32,87,263 sq km. Land under different uses is shown in the above pie diagram. The land under forests also includes the grasslands or Himalayan meadows. The actual forest cover is only 19.37%. The land under forests was about 688.5 lath hectares in 2001. It was risen from 404.8 lath hectares in 1951. Next sown area has risen from 1,187.5 lath hectares to 1420.2 lath hectares during the same period.

Agricultural land use pattern is chiefly indicated by total cropped area and the area devoted to major crops. In India food grains have prepoderence over non food grains. Food grain corps chiefly include Rice, wheat, coarse cereals, and pulses. The total area under food grains in 2001 was 1,2030.59 lakh hectares. The relative share of land area under food grains has come down from 76.7 per cent in 1951 to 66 per cent in 1998.

This changing land use pattern clearly indicates rise in yield of food grains per hectare of land area. The cumulative yield has risen from 522 kg in 1951 to 1697 kg which represents more than three fold increase.
From the cultivated land map at right it will be observed that most arable land is found in the Indo-Gangetic Plain. The forest cover of the states in this plain is Uttar Pradesh 17%, Bihar 17%, West Bengal 13%, Haryana 4% and Delhi 3%. In Kerala and Andhra Pradesh forests occupy 30 and 23 per cent respectively Karnataka forest cover is also 21%. The north-Eastern states have forest cover ranging from 39°/o in Assam to 68% in Manipur and 76% in Mizoram.

Recycling of Resources

Recycling is a process by which wastes of natural and manufactured substances or goods are broken down and then reconstituted into useful materials or raw materials. If we carefully observe the natural process like hydrological cycle, carbon cycle, rock cycle and nitrogen cycle we will find that recycling operates in nature on a very large scale. If these process were not there the earth would be one big dump or sink of wastes. These natural cycles are largely responsible for existence of life on earth and keeping it young. Recycling helps to conserve earths energy and resources and prevents it from getting polluted.

Man has essentially copied the natural recycling process to make useful products from recycled wastes. A diagrammatic illustration of recycling of paper is explained here. With human population having,crossed six billion mark, tons of tons of wastes are generated everyday. These wastes can again be turned into resources if some care Is taken in discharge and disposal of these wastes at source. The most essential requirement is
separation of the wastes at source. For example plastics, biodegradable wastes, scrap etc. can each be thrown in separate waste bins and then either sold to respective scrap waste dealers or thrown in separate municipal bins.

Some of the important recycling processes presently available are : Recycled paper and boards from waste paper and rags;
recycled ply boards from saw dust, husk, wood and other materials; steel from scap; silver from old photographic films, photographic paper and from many laboratory solutions; chemicals and oils from many waste substances. Energy like biogas is also obtained from various organic wastes of human and animal origin. In India, hundreds of villages have been electrified and provided piped gas obtained from wastes.

Need For Planning of Resources

Resources that man uses are distributed over the earth in an uneven and discontinuous system. The development of resources, as we have seen, depends on several factors. Nor can all the resources in an area be used all at once. Therefore some important factors are associated with planning of resources.

1. Steps in Planning of Resources
In order to correlate resources to their needs, following steps are essential for planning of resources.
(a) Survey: This is done by an expert body like the Geological Survey of India in the case of mineral resources. They use various methods and techniques to identify and locate resources in certain geographic areas. Similarly animal resources, land resources, forest resources may be surveyed and identified by respective expert bodies specialized in their respective field of interest.
(b) Potential Resources : These are the type of resources likely to exist in an area or the region. For example, India has vast potential human resources which if channelized properly can make a miracle happen on earth. Moreover such resources are not properly developed therefore, identification and development of potential resources is an important step in planning of resources.
(c) Reserves : These are the deposits of resources which can be developed economically. Not all potential resources can be turned into reserves. Reserves have the chief characteristic of being used over time to meet the demands. Use of reserves into resources may lead to their scarcity. Similarly, low grade resources like for example, lignite coal can be converted into a useful reserve with the change in technology and proper planning. Lignite (coal) is today used profitably for making various types of chemicals.
(d) Actual Resources : These are the resources actually identified for use based on available technology. The actual resources are also economical to use.
(e) Reserve : It is that portion of actual resources which can be developed economically at available technology.

2. Importance of Planning of Resources
(i) Conservation of Resources : The greatest need for proper planning of resources arises from conservation of resources or their protection and preservation for future use. Because of huge population growth and environment degradation conservation has become very necessary.  The demand for resources had also considerably risen on account of higher standard of living and rising consumption pattern This is specially true in the case of western countries where consumption patterns today are extravagantly stretched.
(ii) Stabilizing Prices : Increased demand for resources and their short supply tends to raise the prices. The fear of exhaustion leads to undesirable marketing practices like hoarding arid black-marketing
which also push up the prices. Therefore, it is necessary to have a coordinated resource policy to keep the prices in check.
(iii) Problem of Wastes and Pollution: The exploitation of resources leads to accumulation of huge wastes in our environment. Moreover, many resources are also used wastefully either because of inefficient
technology or wasteful consumption patterns. The inefficient technology is characteristic feature of developing countries and wasteful consumption patterns prevail in advanced countries. Both contribute to pollution of our environment in many different ways. For example, mining of coal raises huge dust in our environment. For example, lots of resources are used in canned foods — aluminium cans, glass, paper and boards are daily wasted in tons and tons. Disposal of wastes, associated with agriculture, domestic and industrial, is also today a great problem. While planning for resources steps are needed to be taken in advance before utilizing resources.
(iv) Accidents : Many accidents happen while mining, transporting and using resources. These accidents not only cause loss of life and property but also cause great damage to our environment. Oil leak in oil tankers in oceans can cause great damage to marine life. Transporting coal in open railway wagons in India is threatening our environment. Coal mining is also very hazardous. If no proper planning is done there will be frequent accidents. Detergents, chemicals, pesticides have a disastrous effect on
vegetation, wildlife, fish as well as human life.

Classification of Resources

In geographic studies there is and towards classification of every materials, resources or activities. One of the advantages of this classification is to help understand the features of the geographic area as well as the resources associated with it. For example, when we classify resources based on utility we may divide them into energy resources and raw materials. Raw materials can be of various types like minerals, agricultural products etc. By classifying the resources on this basis we can understand what minerals are and then make further subdivisions. By classifying the resources on the basis of origin we can trace the origin of a particular resource to a geographic area and then understand its physical characteristics. It would be appreciated that in each scheme of classification we make an attempt to assess quantity and quality of the resource as well.

(i) Classification of Resources on the Basis of Origin
On the basis of origin resources are classified into two main types — biotic and abiotic.
(a) Biotic Resources: These are living resources like forests and forest products, agriculture, animals, birds, marine life etc.
(b) Abiotic Resources: These are material resources or non-living things. Examples are minerals like iron ore, copper, land resources, soils etc.

(ii) Classification on the Basis of Renewability
On the basis of renewability there are two main types of resources —renewable and non-renewable.
(a) Renewable Resources: These resources can be renewed after use. They do not get exhausted. Renewable resources are like water, forests, soils. This renewability is possible only under certain conditions. Some trees may also take longer time to grow. For example it takes between 50 to 200 years for a tree to grow in a forests. Availability of fresh and pure water in a river may obtain under certain conditions of environment.
(b) Non-Renewable Resources: These resources get exhausted after use. Resources which cannot be replenished are like fossil fuels—petroleum, gas, coal, and other minerals.

(iii) Classification of Resources Based on Utility
Based on their use and utility resources are classified into Energy resources and Raw materials.
Energy Resources : 
Coal, gas, petroleum, water power and even certain minerals like uranium are used for generation of electricity or as fuels for transport vehicles.
Raw Materials:
Minerals, vegetation, agricultural products, animals etc. form raw materials for production of goods. Even coal, gas, petroleum which are used as energy resources may also be used as raw materials for production of chemicals, fertilizers etc.

Natural and Human Resources

Based on origin, the resources can also be classified into Natural and Human Resources. But this classification can often be misleading. Human beings too are part and parcel of natural resources. Human beings also make resources like houses, waterways or canals, transport vehicles, chemicals and other materials for their own comfort. It is human beings who add value to natural resources and make them useful. Therefore, we need to treat Natural Resources and Human Resources as parts of the same system.
(i) Natural Resources : These are the gifts of nature including human beings which are found useful for making the life of human beings comfortable and worth living. Natural resources include natural vegetation, soils, water, air, minerals and even rocks.
(ii) Human Resources : These are the human beings made valuable trough education, training, experience or in other ways capable of making use of other resources efficiently. In fact human resources are- the most common as well as useful resources of a region or a country. Human resources do not merely mean the number of people living in an area but how the people possess skills, education and have knowledge to develop other resources. Indeed too many human beings without adequate skills, education and training make a nation very poor and may prove a drag on other natural resources.

Factors Influencing Development of Resources

The study of resources forms art important part of Economic Geography. Resources are defined as a country’s collective means of support. This emphasises man’s use of things of nature as well as his own. Generally it is economic geography which is concerned with how man makes a living and how he utilises the resources of the earth. Thus study of resources involves an idea of study of man’s relationship with the environment. Resources satisfy man’s material needs and desires. They have also a dominant influence on man’s physical environment. For the purpose of study of resources man-environment relationship is very complex one. For example, 2000 years ago man was still unaware of a variety of mineral resources in his environment. Just about 250 years ago man knew nothing about petroleum and gas found in rocks. Once their use was known fossil fuels became the most precious resources. It is, therefore, necessary to study the factors which influence the development of resources.

Factors Influencing Development of Resources

It is important to remember that the distribution of known resources of the earth is highly uneven. The resources are made of various constituents and different resources have different uses. The factors which influence development of resources are described in this context.

  1. Technology: It emphasises man’s knowledge, tools available, utilisation as well as the mode of occurrence of any given resource. Technology is also not a static term meaning that it keeps changing. For example when minerals began to be first mined only the main mineral was extracted, rest was all treated as waste material. When man made improvements in technology secondary minerals were extracted from the residues or the wastes. Sometimes these secondary minerals proved more precious than the original. mineral.
  2. Use of Resources : The use to which resources are put also influences their development: For example, the vast Priaries of North America both in Canada and USA have been used for commercial grain cultivation. While wheat in the US-part of the Prairies is grown in winter that in Canadian Prairies it is grown in summer because of severe cold in winter. This use of land resources in both regions influences the development of the resources.
  3. Economic Considerations: Economic considerations like demand for particular resources, continuous availability of resources over a period of time, availability of capital, labour supply to undertake development of resources, the skills they possess, availability of transport and communication are important considerations in the development of resources. In recent times economic considerations like very limited market area, centralisation of industry and alternate forms of transport warrant more realistic targets for resource utilisation. Cost of development of a resource is also an important economic consideration. The assessment of the profitability of an ore and its reserve are often done on cost considerations. Huge reserves alone will warrant development of rail line and transport networks linking the region.
  4. Capacity to Stimulate Demand : Because of rising costs of mining and operations, capacity of a resource to stimulate demand makes it more profitable to continue producing the resource. For example, iron and steel and even coal involve heavy capital expenditure on mining making it virtually uneconomical to produce. In the case of coal changes in technology have enabled even low grade coal like lignite to be used in chemical industry thus helping to stimulate its demand. Similarly development of alloy steels has stimulated demand for metals such as chromium, cobalt, nickel and tungsten etc.