Economics of Land Degradation: Evaluating the Impact of Land Remediation through the Lenses of Natural Capital and SDGs in the Bundelkhand Region in Madhya Pradesh, India

Submitted by Bharti Kapoor | published 22nd Apr 2022 | last updated 22nd Jun 2022
a temple in a field

A temple in the Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh. Photo by Shruti Singh on Unsplash.


Land degradation affects the natural environment by disrupting ecological processes, reducing biodiversity and landscape productivity. The loss of ecosystem services has far-reaching effects on human welfare and the economy.

Several land and water based interventions have been made by the Development Alternatives Group through different programmes for land remediation in the semiarid, erratic-rainfall-prone and economically depressed Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh, India. This study examined the costs and benefits of the implemented programmes by applying Economics of Land Degradation (ELD) methodology in three districts of Bundelkhand viz Datia, Shivpuri and Niwari by considering both intervention and control villages.

The assessments looked into natural, social and human capital based on multiple indicators. The outcomes were obtained through quantitative and qualitative analysis of primary survey data and applications of GIS tools and models using satellite data. The findings of the study highlighted the differences in performances of different forms of capital across intervention and control villages for the selected time period (2013- 2018). The findings reflected that land use changes have taken place in the study area during this period. Major improvements in agriculture were reported.

The cultivated area increased in the study site along with increased practices of double and multi-cropping. Better access to irrigation facilities in the intervention villages (as result of the interventions) was found to be one of the major driving factors for this change. Gains in livestock benefits were observed in several intervention villages. Positive changes in other ecosystem services also took place. Changes in species abundance and carbon sequestration were also observed through quantitative assessment. Derivation of the overall rate of return (Intrinsic Rate of Return) of the interventions turned out to be 74% and 191% and 78% in Datia, Shivpuri and Niwari respectively.

Furthermore, in terms of social, human and cultural capital, differences between intervention and control villages were also identified through quantitative and qualitative assessments. Along with that, some of the prevalent factors associated with the differences in benefits were highlighted. Finally, the benefits created through these interventions have been mapped against the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) framework to analyse the contribution to the national and global SDG indicators. The interventions and outcomes were found to have addressed seven SDGs and fifteen national targets.

A toolkit for ecosystem valuation using the adopted methodology was developed for possible replication of the study by the research community and for policy decision making. The study also came up with the relevant policy recommendations that could be conducive for informed decision making at both micro and macro level.

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Methods and Tools

To accomplish the objectives of the study, both qualitative and quantitative research methodologies have been adopted. The research framework combined the application of the ELD methodology along with a capitals approach. The ELD methodology was developed through the 3 Economics of Land Degradation (ELD) Initiative , which started in 2012 by the Secretariat of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the European Commission (EC) and hosted by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH. It works at the science-policy interface and aims at transforming the global understanding of the economic value of productive land and fostering stakeholder awareness of socio-economic arguments to promote sustainable land management. The ELD Initiative developed a 6+1 step framework for assessing the impacts of land degradation through an ecosystem service approach. This ELD methodology has been adopted in this study to assess the impact of land remediation interventions to deal with land degradation in the study site

Analysis of the Interventions

With respect to the land remediation interventions carried out in the villages in the study site (as mentioned in Chapter 1), the benefits derived through strengthening of natural and social capital were assessed. Quantitative assessment of natural capital was done by considering the major land use categories (e.g. cropland, fallow land, grazing land, forest, habitation, open forest, trees outside forest, wasteland and waterbodies) through which economic outputs were generated by the local communities.

Land Use Land Cover (LULC) mapping was done for the intervention and control villages covering Datia, Shivpuri and Niwari districts of Bundelkhand for 2013 and 2018. Although in the entire study site cropland was found to be the dominant land use category, there were certain differences in LULC between intervention and control villages in different districts. For example, in intervention villages in Niwari more than 86% of the total area was cropland in 2018 and that in Datia and Shivpuri were found to be more than 66% and 37% respectively. In control villages too, Niwari was found 9 to have cropland in more than 80% of the total area . Among these three selected districts, Shivpuri had highest share of forest in intervention villages (more than 33% of the total area) in 2018. In Niwari, no forest cover was found.

Cultural Capital: Case Study 1

Watershed Development Programme for harnessing cultural ecosystem services: The case of Kamhar village and its festivals

Kamhar village, a sparsely populated hamlet located in the Datia district, is one of the few villages that traces its roots back to Bundelkhand’s cultural and glorious past. Growing up together as well as spending leisure times in each other’s courtyards, each household in the village is somehow related to the neighboring household. The people in the village are simple and have always loved celebrating festivals and other traditions together. From Diwali, Lodhi to Vat Vriksh and even Amalaka Ekadashi, among others, the people of Kamhar have been celebrating them all since the ancestral times. All these festivals have their roots in nature. Although, the social solidity (i.e. social capital) had been seen reducing over the years, yet the people of the village have not forgotten to rejoice in the natural surroundings. The Integrated Watershed Management Programme has one such prominent example of the Kamhar locals reveling in mother Nature which is through the Akshaya Tritiya festival.


Conclusion and Policy Recommendations

The study has evaluated the benefits for programmes for land remediation in the Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh, India, by looking at changes in ecosystem service flows in the form of crop, livestock, forest product provision and biodiversity. In addition to looking at ecosystem flows the method also involved examining changes in different forms of capital in the remediated areas. These focused on natural capital, as well as social, human and cultural capital. The method involved comparing intervention or Intervention areas against control areas in the same districts.

The results were analysed using a cost benefit methodology set out by the ELD program as well as a natural capital approach developed as part of related work. The cost benefit estimates show very high net benefits from the remediation programs, especially for crop and livestock services but also to some extent in terms of biodiversity. There is potential for additional interventions too to ensure that they can indeed be sustained along with the economic viability of the interventions. But overall it can be concluded that the programs have been a major success with modest costs and high benefits.