A staggering 40 percent of the Earth’s land is currently grappling with degradation, a predicament that is spurring action in unexpected ways.
In the district of Anantapur, nestled within India’s southern state of Andhra Pradesh, a remarkable transformation is underway. Ramesh Hanumaiya, 37, gently digs into his field, revealing a thriving ecosystem beneath the surface. The once compacted and hardened earth now teems with life – earthworms, nature’s diligent workers, have made their homes here. This modest handful of living soil represents the culmination of seven years of diligent effort.
“The metamorphosis is astounding,” Ramesh remarks. “What was once impenetrable as a brick has now become as absorbent as a sponge. This soil now brims with the vitality and nourishment that my crops require for robust and timely growth.”
Ramesh stands among thousands of peers in Anantapur who have embraced the principles of regenerative agriculture, an approach that emerges as a response to desertification. This ominous process sees once-fertile land erode into lifeless dust. To counter this, the farmers have adopted innovative practices that include employing natural fertilizers and intercropping – the strategic planting of crops alongside trees and other vegetation.
The phenomenon of climate change compounds the predicament, with escalating temperatures and erratic rainfall patterns accelerating the degradation of arable land. Labeled by the United Nations’ desertification agency as a formidable menace to human society, over 40 percent of global land has fallen victim to degradation. Shockingly, approximately 1.9 billion hectares of land, an area more than twice the size of the United States, and around 1.5 billion people worldwide find themselves ensnared by the clutches of desertification, according to UN estimates.
Malla Reddy, a 69-year-old advocate for sustainable farming practices, laments the shifting climate patterns. He reflects, “Our region was historically arid, but there was predictability in the rainfall. Farmers could plan their cultivation accordingly. However, now rain can descend at any time, confounding predictions and often leading to the ruination of crops.”
Mounting temperatures exacerbate the dilemma as water evaporates at an accelerated pace, leaving parched crops struggling for sustenance.
Malla Reddy’s nonprofit organization collaborates with over 60,000 farmers across a sprawling 300,000 acres of land in Anantapur district. Their tireless efforts focus on guiding individual farmers toward revitalizing unproductive land throughout the entire region.
In India, where rainfed agriculture predominates, approximately 70 million hectares – half of the nation’s cultivated land – relies on seasonal precipitation. Sadly, these are also the lands most prone to unsustainable agricultural practices, such as excessive use of chemical fertilizers, over-tilling, and monocropping – the risky practice of cultivating a single crop year after year.
Amidst these challenges, Anantapur’s farmers are turning to nature-inspired strategies, revitalizing the land, and fostering resilience in the face of an ever-changing climate.