Application of Geospatial Technology in Land Management
Hosting 18% of the global population on just 2.4% geographical area, India is blessed with a rich diversity of climate, topography, natural resources, and socio-economic conditions. As a non-renewable ‘finite’ resource supporting primary production and social systems, land resources in India have been underperforming and over-exploited for a long. About 78% of India’s geographical area is covered under agricultural and allied activities contributing 18% to GDP (2020), when compared with 40% contribution by other sectoral activities with land as principal component collectively.
With about 23% of total available land eligible for industrial uses, 17% is categorized as wastelands (spread across 28 states) and 13.6% is considered totally unfit or not available for urban, industrial, or agricultural use. Per capita agricultural land availability in India declined 82% from 0.64 Ha (1951) to 0.12 Ha (2019). Besides the pressure of the human population, there are about 540 million cattle and other livestock living off the biomass from the land, which are critical to the economy and livelihoods.
While the country struggles to balance economic growth, human needs, and environmental impacts, according to an ISRO study, about 29.7% (97.85 MHa) of peninsular land has degraded in 2011–13, and during the same period about 83.69 MHa has undergone desertification. Besides, a third of the Indian coastline is experiencing coastal erosion in varying degrees where rising sea levels are rendering the land inhabitable, and in some cases, the sea is engulfing land, according to National Centre for Coastal Research (NCCR). While the per capita availability of land is reducing gradually, increasing demand and deteriorating quality are triggering multi-fold problems for food and water security.
In classical economics, land is one of three major factors of production along with labor and capital. Growing population and economic development demand an increase in food production, an expansion of infrastructure, and a higher consumption of natural resources. But this comes at a cost. The conversion of agricultural land and forests to urban development reduces the land available for food production. Urbanization and industrialization challenge farmers on the fringes with a risk of collapse of the local agricultural economy. As a host to water resources, land degradation deteriorates the quantity and quality of both surface and groundwater resources. Loss of vegetation exacerbates climate change events, which in turn, are causing even greater degradation triggering negative impacts across the ecosystems.
Impacting close to 60% of India’s GDP, it need not be reiterated that land resource assets have a heavy bearing on the economic growth and future of the nation. With limited availability and increasing pressure, land use change is inevitable for development and social progress. While there is a need for expanding infrastructure to improve the living conditions of a growing population, there is a parallel need to satisfy shifting consumption patterns and limit negative environmental impacts. And while there is also a need for industrialization and agricultural intensification, there is a parallel need to combat climate change and ensure future food and water security. The need for improving crop yields and restoring wastelands in a sustainable manner co-exists with the need to minimize land degradation/desertification and conserve biodiversity. Managing land resources efficiently and sustainably is the only option we are left with. It is time for us to harness ‘spatial intelligence’ and move beyond land record management and land use planning to an Integrated Sustainable Land Management (ISLM).
Geospatial technology and its applications
Land resources are unique and diverse in their characteristics while being a single physical unit. The suitability of land for a specific purpose varies for rural, urban, industrial, mining, ecological and environmental applications, and each of these have its own challenges. To address the complex challenges posed, there is a compelling need to understand the interconnections within the land ecosystem and analyze them spatially and temporally to negotiate the right balance.
Geographic Information System (GIS) technologies play a central role in bringing together all related factors to aid with a comprehensive land intelligence on the local conditions facilitating sustainable land management. GIS-based land management systems play a major role in the judicious use of land resources and strengthening land governance. Image processing capabilities aid in rapid monitoring and assessment of land-use/land-cover changes, which are critical for taking timely action and decision support. Land being a common resource, sharing and collaboration of land intelligence between central, state, district administrations, financial institutions, NGOs, and other stakeholders becomes critical.
With the threats of global warming and climate change looming large, advanced GIS capabilities like spatial modeling and predictive analysis using artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data can provide enhanced situational analysis with an accurate assessment of the situations and likely scenarios to mitigate, plan and monitor the land use and land cover changes.
Geospatial Value Impact
For long, the use of GIS technologies has yielded positive results at regional and local levels in land use planning, productivity assessment, conservation, restoration, etc. Various studies across the globe indicate that the use of GIS technologies for land management can improve efficiencies between 10–25%. A spatial econometric modeling study in China covering 104 cities shows that each 1% increase in the abundance of land resource assets results in an increase in urban per capita gross domestic product (GDP).
This clubbed with the economic value offered by geospatial technologies in supporting sustainable land management practices, makes a significant impact on the overall economy. A conservative estimate of the Geospatial Value Impact (GVI) on the land resource sector is as under:
Land is a scarce resource and is already under severe stress. GIS technologies will be vital for harmonizing the complementary goals of providing environmental, economic, and social opportunities for the benefit of present and future generations while preserving long-term socio-economic and ecological functions of the land. Actionable spatial intelligence from geo-enabled platforms can provide evidence-based insights for policy advocacy and strengthening of the regulatory framework to further the land reforms in the country.
¹ Considering a conservative 5% overall improvement
² Assuming that ₹200 ($2.6) per person per month can be passed on as consumer benefit and reaches 50% of the country’s population
³ Based on the assumption that currently, the cost of environmental degradation in India is pegged at ₹3,75,000 crores ($49.2 billion) and proper planning can reduce the degradation at least by 2% per annum; by improving land conservation and restoration of natural disasters can be minimized/averted, communities get benefitted.
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Originally published at https://www.geospatialworld.net on March 28, 2022.