Lesson 2. Soil Conservation

2.1 Introduction

Soil conservation is an on-field activity to address the problem of soil erosion of any type, which has been discussed in previous lecture. In broader sense soil conservation activities control soil erosion through adaptation of different methods. The ultimate objective of soil conservation is to check the further soil erosion and sustain the agricultural productivity. The integrated nutrient management is also associated with soil conservation, and this employs the measures such as correction of soil defects, application of manures and fertilizers, proper crop rotations, irrigation, drainage etc., which aim at maintaining the higher level productivity in soils. However, soil conservation mainly deals with improvement of land use and reclamation of eroded land to utilize the unusable land resources under cultivation as well as protecting the land resources from further degradation. In other words, soil conservation is by itself the proper land husbandry, which would preserve the land and its fertility on a sustained basis and at the same time promote better agriculture, increase yields and achieve maximum benefits from such land.  Such land husbandry should be based on proper classification of land utilization and balance allotment of lands for the different purposes, for which various local conditions are suitable.

2.2 Need for Soil Conservation

The basic needs of soil conservation remain to enhance and sustain the agricultural productivity in tandem with the prevailing agro-socio-economic practices in the respective region. However, specific objectives of soil conservation are as follows:

  1. To sustain the production from natural resources to meet the basic requirements of food, shelter and clothing of growing population.

  2. To preserve topsoil to reduce deterioration in soil fertility and the water holding capacity, thus sustaining productivity.

  3. To check the formation of rills and gullies due to soil erosion in the field, which adversely affect the productivity.

  4. To increase the groundwater recharge, by sustaining the soil moisture retention capacity of the soil.

  5. To maintain the land productivity and prevent shrinkage of arable area.

  6. To reduce the dredging work due to sedimentation in creeks, rivers, lakes and reservoirs.

  7. To protect water bodies from non-point source pollution.

  8. To minimize the flooding risk that affects the sustainability and livelihoods of humans, animals and plants.

  9. To control the deterioration of ecosystem due to soil loss, which leads to interruption of nutrient cycle, loss of soil fertility, extinction of flora and fauna and soil erosion etc. ultimately resulting in biological impoverishment and human sufferings.

  10. To facilitate environmental system that affects the plant growth and rejuvenation of forests.    

2.3 Soil Conservation Programmes

Various watershed development programmes are being implemented by mainly three ministries, namely, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Rural Development & Ministry of Environment & Forests for development of degraded lands.

 These programmes are listed below,

  1. National Watershed Development Project for Rainfed Area (NWDPRA)

  2. River Valley Project & Flood Prone River (RVP & FPR)

  3. Watershed Development Project for Shifting Cultivation Area (WDPSCA)

  4. Reclamation & Development of Alkali and Acid Soil (RADAS)

  5. Watershed Development Fund (WDF)

  6. Drought Prone Area Programme (DPAP)

  7. Desert Development Programme (DDP)

  8. Integrated Wasteland Development Project (IWDP)

  9. National Afforestation and Eco-Development Project (NAEP)

 2.3.1 National Watershed Development Project for Rainfed Area (NWDPRA)

Rainfed areas constitute about 57% of the total 140.30 million hectares cultivated in the country.  Rainfed agriculture is characterized by low levels of productivity and low input usage.  Variability in rainfall results in wide variation and instability in yields.  The bulk of the rural poor live in the rainfed regions, therefore, Government of India accords highest priority to the holistic and sustainable development of rainfed areas through watershed development approach. The scheme of National Watershed Development Project for Rainfed Areas (NWDPRA) was launched in 1990-91 in 25 States and 2 Union Territories based on twin concepts of integrated watershed management and sustainable farming systems.  

 During IX Plan, the scheme was extended to three newly formed States of Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. The scheme of NWDPRA has been subsumed under the Scheme for Macro Management of Agriculture (MMA) from 2000-2001. At present, this scheme is being implemented as a programme of Centrally Sponsored Scheme of Macro Management of Agriculture in 28 States and 2 UTs. Funds are released to the States based on Approved Annual Work Plan. The scheme is presently being implemented on the basis of Common Guidelines for watershed development projects developed by National Rainfed Area Authority (NRAA).

 2.3.2 River Valley Project and Flood Prone River (RVP & FPR)

Natural resources conservation, development and their scientific utilization are very crucial for sustained agricultural production. Land and water constitute the important natural resource base for meeting the essential requirement of the society such as food, fodder, fiber, fuel and timber. Land degradation poses a severe challenge to useful life of reservoirs and agricultural productivity. The Centrally Sponsored Scheme of Soil Conservation in the catchments of River Valley Project (RVP) was launched during the Third Five Year Plan for mounting a concerted effort at prevention of catchment deterioration.  

Floods are annual features in the Indo-Gangetic Plains & in the Brahmaputra basin.  Five States, namely, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Assam and Orissa account for nearly 80% of the total flood area and about 75% of the damages caused. Several Expert bodies have highlighted the need for proper catchment management for moderating peak floods and improvement of land resources and moisture regime in the catchments and reduction of silt load in the channel flow affecting river beds. In order to achieve these objectives a Centrally Sponsored Scheme of Integrated Watershed Management in the Catchments of Flood Prone River (FPR) in the Gangetic Plains was launched in Sixth Five Year Plan.

 2.3.3 Watershed Development Project for Shifting Cultivation Area (WDPSCA)

Shifting cultivation known as Jhum cultivation in the North Eastern States is a traditional form of crop production, practiced on hill slopes. Shifting cultivation involves clearance of forest on sloppy land (usually before December), drying and burning the debris (Mid-February to Mid-March before the onset of the monsoon) and cropping. The plot remains fallow and vegetative regeneration takes place till the plot is reused for the same purpose in a cycle.  Population pressure compels the shifting cultivators to reduce the earlier fallow period of 20-25 years to 2-5 years in the present days hence reducing the cycle. This form of cultivation is therefore, highly resource depleting and environmentally degrading.

 The Scheme of Watershed Development in Shifting Cultivation Areas (WDPSCA) was launched in 1994-95 by the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperation, Government of India in the seven North Eastern States. The scheme is aimed at overall development of jhum areas on watershed basis, reclaiming the land affected by shifting cultivation and socioeconomic up gradation of jhumia families living in these areas so as to encourage them to go in for settled agriculture.

 2.3.4 Reclamation & Development of Alkali and Acid Soil (RADAS)

The main objectives of this programme are to:-

  • Reclamation and development of the lands affected by alkalinity and acidity

  • Improvement of soil fertility by under taking appropriate on-farm measures.

  • Development and application of soil amendments for growing suitable field crops and horticulture crops

  • Plantation of suitable fuel wood and fodder trees as per local demand and suiting to soil capability

  • Improving capacity of extension personnel and beneficiaries in various aspects of alkali and acid soils reclamation technology and

  • Generate employment opportunities & thereby reduce rural urban migration.

 2.3.5 Watershed Development Fund (WDF)

A Watershed Development Fund (WDF) has been established at NABARD with the objective of integrated watershed development in 100 priority districts of 18 States through participatory approach. Under WDF, two-thirds of amount is given for loan based project and one-third of amount is given for grant based project in the State. A number of externally aided projects are also under implementation on watershed approach, which covers an area of about 1.5 lakh hectares annually.

 2.3.6 Drought Prone Area Programme (DPAP)

The basic objective of the programme is to minimize the adverse effects of drought on production of crops and livestock and productivity of land, water and human resources ultimately leading to drought proofing of the affected areas. The programme also aims to promote overall economic development and improving the socio-economic conditions of the resource poor and disadvantaged sections inhabiting the program areas.

 2.3.7 Desert Development Programme (DDP)

The basic objective of the program is to minimize the adverse effect of drought and control desertification through rejuvenation of natural resource base of the identified desert areas. The program strives to achieve ecological balance in the long run. The program also aims at promoting overall economic development and improving the socio-economic conditions of the resource poor and disadvantaged sections inhabiting the program areas.

 2.3.8 Integrated Wasteland Development Project (IWDP)

Agriculture is the mainstay of India’s economy. Land and water therefore, are of critical importance. Vast tracts of the land are, however, degraded but can be brought under plough with some effort. Such lands are known as wastelands. The productivity of these lands is very low and people owning these lands are poor and are therefore forced to earn a living from wage employment. Redressing these lands is regarded as a powerful tool of attacking the issues of poverty and backwardness. Government of India has therefore, launched the Integrated Wastelands Development Program (IWDP) throughout the country so as to improve the productivity of these lands and there by improve the living standards of the rural poor who own these lands. The IWDP is a 100% centrally sponsored scheme. The development of wastelands is taken up on watershed basis. The objective of the program is to arrest rainwater runoff and conserve it in situ where it falls. This would in turn lead to control of soil erosion which is usually caused by rainwater –runoff. Soil and water conservation also leads to improved green cover in the project areas leading to improved productivity of land. Under this program, Wastelands are sought to be developed in an integrated manner based on village micro watershed plans. These plans are prepared after taking into consideration the land capability and site conditions and in consultation with the local people in regard to their needs. The watershed projects are executed by the local people using locally available low cost technologies. 

 2.3.9  National Afforestation and Eco-Development Project (NAEP)

The National Afforestation and Eco-Development Board (NAEB), set up in August 1992, is responsible for promoting afforestation, tree plantation, ecological restoration and eco-development activities in the country, with special attention to the degraded forest areas and lands adjoining the forest areas, national parks, sanctuaries and other protected areas as well as the ecologically fragile areas like the Western Himalayas, Aravallis, Western Ghats, etc. The detailed role and functions of the NAEB are given below.

  • Evolve mechanisms for ecological restoration of degraded forest areas and adjoining lands through systematic planning and implementation, in a cost effective manner.

  • Restore the forest cover in the country for ecological security and to meet the fuel wood, fodder and other needs of the rural communities.

  • Sponsor research and extension activities to disseminate new and proper technologies for the regeneration and development of degraded forest areas and adjoining lands.

  • Create general awareness and help foster people's movement for promoting afforestation and eco-development with the assistance of voluntary agencies, non-government organisations, Panchayati Raj institutions and others

  • Coordinate and monitor the action plans for afforestation, tree plantation, ecological restoration and eco-development

  • Undertake all other measures necessary for promoting afforestation, tree plantation, ecological restoration and eco-development activities in the country.


  • Hariyali, (2003). Dept. of  Land Resource, Min. of  Rural Development, Govt. of India. http://dolr.nic.in/HariyaliGuidelines.htm.

  • Michael, A.M. and Ojha, T.P. (1978). Principles of Agricultural Engineering, Vol. II, Jain Brothers, New Delhi, India.

  • Singh, G. , Venkataraman, C. and Shastry, G. (1981). Manual of Soil and Water Conservation Practices in India. Central Soil and Water Conservation Research and Training Institute, Dehradun

  • Suresh, R. (1997). Soil and Water Conservation Engineering, Second edition, Standard Publisher Distributors, Delhi, India.

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Last modified: Tuesday, 21 January 2014, 5:31 AM