New Delhi: Nearly a quarter of India`s land mass is desert or is turning into desert, according to a study published on Wednesday, with deforestation and overgrazing among the main factors spurring the process.
Northern and western India are the worst parts of India affected by the phenomenon, according to the study, which used satellite mapping and was the first national-level government-commissioned research published on the issue.
"There has been a long-pending need for desertification/land degradation status mapping of the entire country based on scientific methods," said the study by the Space Applications Centre and the Current Science journal.
It said the total area under desertification -- areas already considered desert and those under threat -- was over 80 million hectares (200 million acres) or almost a quarter of India`s 328-million hectare land area.
The study noted that India accounted for 2.4 percent of the global land mass, but supported about 16.7 percent of the world`s population and 18 percent of its cattle.
"There is tremendous pressure on our land-based natural resources," it said.
Changes in the frequency and amount of rainfall, water and wind erosion, as well as harmful agricultural practices, were other causes for desertification cited in the research.
In total, just over 32 percent of the country was described as undergoing "land degradation," with the process most pronounced in the states of Rajasthan, Kashmir, Gujarat and Maharashtra.
The Space Applications Centre study comes after research led by consulting firm McKinsey and Co revealed this week that India`s water needs were set to double by 2030, which could dry up its river basins.
Demand for rice, wheat and sugar will push India`s huge agricultural sector to consume 1.5 trillion cubic metres (53 trillion cubic feet) of water by 2030, almost double that of China, the McKinsey study warned.