The Aravali range of India has been in the news for the longest time now for all the wrong reasons. Located close to the Thar desert, the green mountain range has been identified as one of the main degraded zones in the country, as a result of an increase in dust storms in the desert which causes the wind to deposit the sand particles in the fertile soil, making it unfit for agriculture.
India has made a commitment to restore 26 million hectares of land in the recently concluded United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. In a bid to work towards this and protect the Aravali range from further degradation, the government of India is planning to build a 1400 km long and 5 km wide great ‘Green Wall’ which will stretch from Porbandar to Panipat. This green-wall will act as a barrier for dust from the west and check eastward march of the Thar desert.
According to a report released by ISRO in 2016, titled Desertification and Land Degradation Atlas of India, India has 96.4 MHA of degraded land which is 29.3% of the country’s total geographical area during 2011-13. The area under desertification (arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid regions of the country) during 2011-13 is 82.64mha, which was 81.48 MHA during 2003-05. Thus, there was a cumulative increase of 1.16 MHA area under desertification. According to the report, in Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Delhi, over 50% of the land area is degraded and is prone to desertification.
Combined with extreme weather events, degrading lands have affected millions of livelihoods as well as the biodiversity as a whole. Excessive deforestation is considered as a major cause for this.
This is why, the ‘Green Wall’ project has been proposed along the lines of the ‘Great Green Wall Initiative’ launched by the African Union in 2007, across 20 countries to restore degraded landscape in Africa and to prevent further degradation of land from the Sahara Desert.
The idea has generated a lot of excitement among the officials of various ministries who have started to consider this as a legacy project which will serve as an inspiration to the future generations and pride for the country’s efforts to combat desertification.
However, in order to make this project a reality and sustainable, it is important for the government to ensure that the trees planted in these regions are of native species, drought-tolerant and economically viable for the local communities. It will be impossible to make the project a success unless local participation is called for. And in order to generate interest in the local communities for participating in this project, the government will need to ensure that they are getting incentivized for it. The government will also need to provide for basic social infrastructures in the areas for the local communities who are keeping a vigil on these plants.
The ambitious project is one of a kind where corporates can also participate by adopting certain areas under their CSR programs and aid the government and local communities in the management of the green belt. This kind of public-private partnership will be a win-win for both – the government as well as the corporate. A corporate can utilize this chance to get close to the customers, build a relationship with them and open up a new market of loyal customers for their products and services. It can also earn goodwill among the citizens by installing its mark throughout the territory it manages. The government with the help of corporate participation can generate more awareness regarding the issue and encourage more people to participate in environmental conservation activities.