Saturday, 15 July 2006

Impact of Engineering Interventions on the Soil Management-a Success Story.

Ajay Sehgal, Indian Forest Service, #2858, Sector37 C, Chandigarh, India

Explosions in population and land degradation are the two basic agrarian problems of India that have defied solution so farSoil is a crucial life support system, since the bulk of food production depends on it. Soil erosion is a natural and continuous process, but in undisturbed eco-systems with a protective cover of plants, the soil is usually regenerated at the same rate as it is removed. If soil and vegetation are not in balance, as often they are not, when influenced by poorly managed human activities, erosion is accelerated with disastrous consequences. Even under natural conditions of vegetation cover, nature takes from 100-400 years to generate 10 mm of topsoil. So once the soil has gone, for all practical purposes it has gone for good. Realizing the importance union and state governments have taken initiatives for rehabilitating the degraded life support system especially water and land regimes through engineering interventions. This paper attempts to share the success model of combating land degradation through people's participation The study area lies in the North India in the Himalayan foothills and has been recognized as one of the most degraded and threatened ecosystems of the country. On this area impact of environmentally sound, technologically feasible, cost effective, socially acceptable and community driven soil management practice was observed where frequent soil erosion was a recurrent phenomenon. For the forest resource, the identified life support system other than soil is water. If the forests are rich and managed, the soil remains conserved and if the soil is protected, it invariably would support good vegetation and ultimately the forest eco-system. Other environmental parameters follow suit. Therefore, in order to improve and develop, we have to look into the life support system – the soil and water together. Without water, forest cover cannot survive and without vegetation water regime cannot sustain. The paper discusses the linkages of hill denudation with environment and poverty in the study area, where land degradation, because of over browsing and denudation had reached to the extent of almost no return. Through the engineering interventions, soil was improved to an extent that the whole area was rehabilitated with rich density of vegetation, productivity and sustainable human use. In the soil management techniques, involvement of the locals was stressed and practiced in all the activities. The project provided food security, forage security, fuel security, flood security, soil erosion security and social security. A new concept of soil management ONLY with the involvement of locals has emerged for the restoration of the degraded eco-system. So, apart from making physical efforts to check and prevent soil degradation, simultaneously, other effective social measures like, Social Audit, Social and economic sanctions, Community education, Rewards/incentives were initiated. The basic strategy was to ‘ invest in people than anything else'. “Shramdan” (voluntary service) was conceptualized and Village soil Committees were constituted. These measures resulted in preventing soil degradation and consequently the loss of bio-diversity from the treasures of nature. 21st century should be a century realizing the new paradigms for soil management—the empowerment of the locals, bottom up approaches, grass root democracy and local governance. Key words: Land degradation, people's participation, life support system, engineering interventions, soil management

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