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Earth Community Organization (ECO)
the Global Community

Dr. C. Ramachandraiah
Academy of Human Environment and Development (AHEAD)

for Discussion Roundtables 26, 32, 36, and 47

Table of Contents

Preventing Desertification in a Drought-affected area

by Dr. C. Ramachandraiah
Academy of Human Environment and Development (AHEAD)

Estimations of desertification have been carried out worldwide since the UN Conference on Desertification (1977). The UN Convention to Combat Desertification has observed that desertification puts at risk the livelihoods of around one billion people in the drylands of over 100 countries.

Desertification undermines food production which affects socio-economic conditions of the local population, and triggers a vicious circle of poverty, ecological degradation, migration and conflicts. Poor land use proctices, over-grazing, and population pressure can lead to desertification of lands at a rapid rate.

Desertification: An Environmental and Socio-economic Problem

Estimations of desertification have been carried out worldwide since the United Nations Conference on Desrtification (1977). The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD) was held in 1992. It has been estimated that about 80 per cent of productive lands in arid and semi-arid areas suffer from moderate to severe desertification. Most severely desertified areas are existing in the drylands of Africa, Asia, and South America. The CCD has observed that desertification puts at risk the livelihoods of around one billion people in the drylands of over 100 countries. Largest numbers of people affected by desertification are living in Asia. About 71 per cent of Asia's drylands i.e., one-third of its entire area, are moderately to severely degraded thus making Asia the most affected region in terms of loss of productivity. Desertification undermines food production which affects socio-economic conditions of the local population, and triggers a vicious circle of poverty, ecological degradation, migration and conflicts. Poor land use practices, over-grazing, and population pressure can lead to desertification of lands at a rapid rate.

Rayalaseema region:

The Rayalaseema region cosists of four districts - Kurnool, Cuddapah, Ananthapur, and Chittoor in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. It is situated in souhtern and south-western part of Andhra Pradesh. It is situated in southern and south-western part of Andhra Pradesh bordering Tamil Nadu and Kamataka. It falls in the rain-shadow area of the Western Ghats in the interior of the Deccan Plateau. This region, along with the adjacent districts of Prakasam, Nalgonda, and Mahabubnagar in the state, and the adjacent areas of Karnataka state, forms a contiguous drought-prone area in the Deccan region of India. Rayalaseema region does not have assured surface water irrigation sources, except the 135-year old K.C. canal that irrigates parts of Kurnool and Cuddapah districts. The SRBC (Srisailam Right Branch Canal) and the Telugu Ganga are recents schemes, which are yet to benefit the region.

The Problem

Ananthapur is one of the chronically drought-affected districts in the country. In the 26-year period between 1948-73, the district has experienced 13 droughts as per meteorological studies. The district, with an average annual rainfall of about 520 mm, the lowest in the state, is identified as the second driest part in the country next to Jaisalmer of Rajasthan state in which the Thar desert is located. Because of the rain shadow effect of the Western Ghats, and its interior location, this region receives scanty rainfall from both the South-West and the North-East monsoons. It is subjected to periodic droughts and famine conditions. The region is sparsely covered by a semi-arid type of vegetation.

The Hagari or Vedavathi is one of the important rivers in Ananthapur district. It takes its origin in the neighbouring Karnataka state. It is an ephemeral (seasonal) river and thus remains dry during most of the year. It flows through the revenue mandals of Gummagatta, Brahmasamudram, Beluguppa, Kanekal, and D. Hirehal in Ananthapur district and enters Kamataka again. There is hardly any water to flow in the river. Water has flown only for a week or so even in the very good rainfall year of 1998. Because of the construction of Bhairavani Thippa Reservoir across Hagari at Andhra Pradesh-Karnataka border, whatever little water is available for flow in the river gets impounded in that reservoir. Hence persistent dryness in the river throughout the year.

During the months of June to September, this region experience strong surface winds from west to easterly direction. This is also the south-west monsoon season in India during which about 80 per cent of the annual rainfall is received. Ploughing of sandy soils for agricultural purposes in this season facilitates/aggravates sand migration. Most of the sand from the river-bed has been drifted and deposited up to considerable distances on agricultural fields thus reducing soil fertility on eastern side of the river.

This has resulted in sand-dune formation at a number of places. As most of the villagers are dependent on agriculture, this has become a serious environmental problem for them besides recurring droughts. The sand-affected area has been estimated to be about 900 hectares. The land use/land cover mapping on 1:50,000 scale based on satellite remote sensing data by the A.P. State Remote Sensing Applications Centre (APSRAC), Hyderabad has also revealed the presence of sand dunes on the eastern side of the river Hagari. There are strong indications to suggest that such sand-affected area has been spreading over time. The only saving grace for some of these villages is the availability of water through the Tungabhadra High Level Canal (from Karnataka) for irrigation. Apart from paddy cultivation in the canal command area, groundnut is widely cultivated in the sand-affected soils. The region is occupied by black soils with high clay content, which makes the soils less pervious for seepage. Because of this nature of soils, salinisation is occuring wherever water logging is taking place due to poor drainage. Several villages in the above mentioned Mandals are affected by sandy soils to varying extents as given in the Table 1.

Table 1
Sand-affected Villages along the Hagari River

SI. No.  Name of the Village  Name of Mandal  Sandy Area
(in hectares) 
Sirangapuram  Beluguppa  170 
Gummagatta  Gummagatta  15 
Kalagallu  Gummagatta  22 
Kanekal  Kanekal  23 
Kalekurthi  Kanekal  63 
Malyam  Kanekal  20 
Garudachedu*  Kanekal  33 
Meenahalli*  Kanekal  75 
Tumbiganur*  Kanekal  112 
10  Bidurukuntam  Kanekal 
11  Theetakal  Brahmasamudram  20 
12  D. Honnur*  Brahmasamudram  102 
13  Govindawada  Brahmasamudram  183 
14  Kollaganapalli  Brahmasamudram  15 
    TOTAL  858 

Source: A.P. State Remote Sensing Applications Centre (APSRAC), Hyderabad.
*Villages selected for the project implementation in the first phase.

A Brief Primary Census of the Selected Villages:

The villages of Kalekurti, Malyam, Thumbiganuru, Garudachedu, Meenahalli, in Kanekal Mandal, and D. Honnur in Bommanahalli Mandal have been selected for the project implementation. Some selected demographic characteristics of these villages are presented in the Table 2.

Table 2
A Few Demographic Charateristics of the Selected Villages

Name of the Village  House-holds  Population  Population(SC)  Literacy(%)  Total Workers  Cultivators  Agricultural Labour 
Thumbiganur  360  2006  282(14.1)  35  990(49.4)  251(25.4)  667(67.4) 
Garudachedu  199  1091  282(25.8)  26.2  591(54.2)  198(33.5)  340(57.5) 
Meenahalli  108  592  241(40.7)  22.6  317(53.5)  79(25.0)  218(68.8) 
D. Honnur  809  4664  385(8.3)  25.7  2258(48.4)  859(38.0)  1169(51.8) 

Note: Figures in parentheses for SC population and total workers are percentage to total population, and those for cultivators and agricultural labourers represent percentage to total workers.
Sources: Census of India records of 1991.

It may be noticed from the Table 2 that Garudachedu and Meenahalli are small villages characterised by low levels of literacy, higher share of Scheduled Caste population and agricultural labourers which reflect high levels of poverty. Thumbiganur seems to have better literacy rate but has low level of cultivators and higher share of agricultural labourers. D. Honnur has lower per cent of SC population, lower work participation rate, and higher level of cultivators compared to other villages. These villages are inhabited predominantly by the Backward Class communities of Boya and Kuruva people. One common feature of all these villages is that more than half of the working population are agricultural labourers which indicates higher levels of poverty.

Availability of work in agricultural operations plays a crucial role in supplementing their incomes. More over, it is the poor who bear the brunt of adverse consequences of environmental degradation in fragile ecosystems. Thus, efforts to improve environmental conditions in such areas will ultimately contribute to helping the poor in improving their livelihoods.

It is in this background that this project has been taken up.


The main objectives of the project are to undertake appropriate measures to-

1. Reduce surface wind speeds so that sand is not carried on to the agricultural fields, and thus prevent the spread of the sand-affected area;

2. Rehabilitate moderately or severely desertified lands for productive utilisation;

3. Promote measures to prevent soil erosion and enable soils to retain more moisture, regenerate more greenery and contribute to increased biomass productivity; and

4. Restore ecological balance of the region, at least to some extent, and contribute to the promotion of sustainable development strategies with full participation of local people/stake holders.


Prevention of sand-drifting by reducing wind speeds is the most urgent task to be undertaken in the area. A preliminary survey in several villages revealed that a farmer of a sand-affected land waits for the sand to migrate on to his neighbour's land so that he can cultivate his own land. There is an element of helplessness also in this approach. It would be difficult to take up the whole area for implementing the project. The local farmers have high stakes on private lands. The villagers strongly feel that planting of ber(regu), neredu, tamarind and even mangoes in some places would be financially beneficial to them in the long run in lieu of loss of cultivation on the sand-filled lands. These are drought-resistant varieties that can survive easily in this area. In fact there is no dearth of underground water in this area probably because of the presence of the Hagari river and Kanekallu tank nearby. Hybrid varieties of these plants are also available now. It takes about 3-4 years for these plants to start yielding the crop. After this generation period, the farmers will be benefited financially through regular income. This is a crucial aspect if the local people have to develop stakes in the measures to be implemented successfully. Incomes from these plants will supplement their earnings, increase their nutritional levels, improve their over all standard of life, and reduce poverty.

The Film

This 13-minute video film The Migrating Sands highlights the problem and solutions as enunciated above. It was made by our NGO, Academy of Human Environment and Development (AHEAD) in cooperation with the students of S.N. School of Communication, University of Hyderabad. Financial support was extended by the corporate group of Nagarjuna Fertilizers and Chemicals Limited, Hyderabad. AHEAD was started in 1998 by a group of committed young social scientists working in different organisations based in Hyderabad.

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The Migrating Sands

A 13-minute documentary entitled "The Migrating Sands" in a video cassette . This documentary highlights the problem of land degradation and desertification along Hagari river in Ananthapur district of Andhra Pradesh state in India. This district is the lowest rainfall district in the state and the second lowest rainfall region after Thar desert in India.

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Article 3

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Article 4

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