Estimating land degradation in the context of sustainable development goals on the Meghalaya Plateau, Northeast India
The aim of this study was to assess land degradation in the context of sustainable development goals (SDG) using SDG indicator 15.3.1 in terms of change in three sub-indicators: land use/land cover (LULC), land productivity and carbon stocks on the Meghalaya Plateau in Northeast India (Sims et al. 2019). An area of 70 km2 near Cherrapunji in Northeast India, which receives 11,000 mm of rainfall annually and was deforested in historical times, was selected for this analysis (Prokop 2020). Despite severe land degradation, the population density of this area has been continuously increasing, standing at ~300 inhabitants km-2 in 2011. A visual interpretation technique, combined with field surveys, was used for land cover change mapping, based on satellite images from the US Corona programme for 1965, Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) images IRS-1D for 1998 and Google Earth for 2017. This analysis indicated the dominance of grassland (73.2%), with a small contribution of forest (17.6%), settlements (5.8%), mining (2.3%), cropland (0.7%) and water bodies (0.4%) in 2017. From the land degradation perspective, the trends in LULC change show two opposing directions––further land degradation mainly associated with the expansion of settlements and mining (accounting for ~79% of the total LULC changes), and land improvement and neutral change, including the recovery of natural vegetation and the construction of water bodies. The relationships between the LULC changes and direct measurements of biomass and carbon stocks of forest and grassland ecosystems indicated that their balance was negative for the Cherrapunji area in 1965-2017. A strategy aimed at restoring the sustainability of the Cherrapunji area environment should focus on the replacement of grassland by forest through the abandonment of uncontrolled grass burning, animal grazing and coal mining with the simultaneous provision of alternative gainful employment for the local population such as tourism and aquaculture.
Keywords: land degradation|extreme rainfall|sustainable development|society|India