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A recent report has revealed that as much as 80 per cent of Pakistan’s land is arid. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification defines the term desertification as land degradation in dry lands. This news is troubling, given that the country is largely dependent on agriculture and reduction in the area of arable land may lead to food insecurity. The irony here, however, is that intensification of agriculture is actually one of the reasons behind desertification. Others include population pressure, water logging and salinity — the latter two of which have the capacity to rapidly destroy agriculture in the country. Here, too, it must be considered that an increase in population — which translates into an increase in the demand for foodstuffs — leads to an expansion of settlements and other urban infrastructure into arable land.

Going by the results quoted in this report, it would be safe to assume that the environment in general and the agriculture sector in particular have been mismanaged in the country. We need to ensure that we use the correct methods for agriculture, such as not overusing the land and soil, rotating crops frequently, irrigating land wisely and using the appropriate, preferably organic, fertilisers. True, the nation has other extremely pressing problems as well, but at the end of the day, the land we live in and fight for must be tended to.

Under the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, Pakistan has committed to increasing its forest cover from an existing 5.2 per cent to six per cent by 2015. But efforts must be taken to make sure that tangible steps, such as breaking the hold of the timber mafia, are taken. It is time that the environment was made a priority and not the slightest deterioration was tolerated. Steps should be taken to review and set in place proper drainage systems, and efforts made to reclaim land lost to water logging and salinity, or, in some areas, to reduce the impact of the salts. Steps should also be taken to control population growth in the country and planners should take care not to extend cities to arable land.

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