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Natural resources

Natural resources (land, water, biodiversity and genetic resources, biomass resources, forests, livestock and fisheries)—the very foundation of human survival, progress, and prosperity, have been degrading fast, and the unprecedented pace of their erosion is one of the root causes of the agrarian crisis that the country is facing. The demographic and socio-economic pressures notwithstanding, the unmindful agricultural intensification, overuse of marginal lands, imbalanced use of fertilizers, organic matter depletion and deteriorating soil health, extensive diversion of prime agricultural lands to non-agricultural uses, misuse and inefficient use of irrigation water, depleting aquifers, salinization of fertile lands and water logging, deforestation, biodiversity loss and genetic erosion, and climate change are the main underlying causes.


In India, natural resources are the pre-eminent source of rural livelihoods especially for the rural community. Agriculture provides livelihoods to a majority of people who also depend on land and water and forest resources to rear livestock and collect fuel and a wide range of products for consumption and trade. Natural resources are also the primary buffers for rural people. Above all, the food and water security of the entire nation depends on natural resources. Thus, an improved, more equitable, and sustainable management of natural resources not only makes for a sound strategy to remove rural poverty and enhance rural livelihoods, but is also an imperative for national security.


Government of India identified certain issues most directly affecting agriculture and farm-based livelihoods in rain-fed regions, namely, the management of land and rainwater. About 60 per cent of our agriculture is rain fed and much of it is in the undulating, hilly, and mountainous regions. There has been little public investment in the rain-fed region, leading to widespread resource degradation, low productivity, and mass poverty. Developing rain-fed regions calls for husbandry of rainwater and land as the terrain inhibits widespread irrigation. Being labour intensive, such activities would create large-scale employment for unskilled workers in the short run and enhance productivity, food security, and livelihoods perpetually.


Enhancing incomes of landless poor through livelihoods activities, it is estimated that nearly 27 per cent of the total population of the country, comprising about 300 million rural people, depend partly or completely on forests for livelihood. Non-timber forest products contribute to about 20 per cent to 40 per cent of the annual income of forest dwellers who are mostly disadvantaged and landless communities with a dominant tribal population. About 270 million tonnes of fuel wood, 280 million tonnes of fodder, over 12 million cubic metre of timber, and countless non-timber forest products are removed from forests annually. Forests meet nearly 40 per cent of the energy needs of the country, of which more than 80 per cent is utilized in rural areas, mainly through removal from forests by head load or otherwise.


The sector, however, faces serious biotic stress. With 2.4 per cent of world’s geographical area, India at present is supporting 16 per cent of global human population and 18 per cent of cattle population. The per capita forest in India is dismally low at 0.06 ha, as compared to world average of 0.64 ha. The Ministry of Environment and Forest’s report on India State of Forest, 2009 has indicated that unsustainable withdrawals of fuel wood, timber, and fodder from forest areas is causing degradation of forests in India as gap in demand and supply of fuel wood alone is about 86 million tonnes. Two million ha of forest areas are subjected to shifting cultivation; annual diversion of forests under Forest (Conservation) Act 1980 is about 25,000 ha per annum besides honey-combing of forests due to encroachments and recognition of forest dwellers’ rights on the principle of ‘As is where is’.


The forestry sector has emerged as an important component in strategy for mitigation and adaptation of climate change at national as well as global level. India is signatory to major international conventions, including both legally binding and non-legal instruments. There is a need for a more systematic, dynamic, and futuristic approach to international negotiations and programmes. This would require capacity of personnel for ensuring better negotiating skills and strengthening of institutions dealing with natural resource management in a coordinated manner to promote effective compliance, enforcement, and monitoring of international commitments.