Economic opportunities in poor countries
The Thar Desert, Rajasthan, India
The Thar Desert is one of the major hot deserts of the world. It stretches across north-west India and into Pakistan (see the map below). The desert covers an area of 200,000 km squared.
Rainfall in the Thar Desert is low – typically below 120 and 240mm per year – and summer temperatures in July can reach 53 degrees. Much of the desert is sandy hills with extensive mobile sand dunes and clumps of thorn forest vegetation, a mixture of small trees, shrubs and grasses. The soils are generally sandy and not very fertile, as there is
little organic matter to enrich them. They drain quickly so there is little surface water.
Economic opportunities in the desert
Subsistence farming – As the climate and landscape is so challenging people just keep a few animals on grassy areas and cultivate some vegetables and fruit trees. Subsistence farming means the farmers only grow enough food for them and their family with little surplus. In good years there may be a little surplus which can be sold. There are some hunter-gatherers called the Kohil tribe.
Irrigation and commercial farming – Irrigation in parts of the Thar Desert has revolutionised farming in the area. The main form of irrigation in the desert is the Indira Gandhi Canal. The canal was constructed in 1958 and has total length of 650km, Two of the main areas to benefit are centred on the cities of Jodhpur and Jaisalmer, where over 3,500 km squared of land is under irrigation. Commercial farming in the form of crops such as wheat and cotton now flourishes in an area that use to scrub desert. The canal also provides drinking water to many people in the desert.
Mining and industry – The state of Rajasthan is rich in minerals. There are large reserves of gypsum (used in making plaster for the construction industry and in making cement), feldspar (used to make ceramics), phospherite (used for making fertiliser) and kaolin (used a whitener in paper). Also large amounts of limestone used in India’s
building industry. Some money is also made from local hide and wool industries.
Tourism – In the last few years, the Thar Desert, with its beautiful landscapes, has become a popular tourist destination. Desert safaris on camels, based at Jaisalmer, have become particularly popular with foreigners as well as wealthy Indians from elsewhere in the country. Local people benefit by acting as guides or by rearing and looking after
The Thar Desert faces a number of challenges for the future:
population pressure – the Thar Desert is the most densely populated desert in the world, with a population density of 83 people per square km, and the population is increasing. This bis putting extra pressure on the fragile desert ecosystem and leading to overgrazing, overcultivation and ultimately desertification
water management – excessive irrigation in some places has led to waterlogging of the ground. Where this has happened, salts, poisonous to plants have been deposited on the ground surface. This is called salinisation and is a big problem in deserts. Elsewhere, excessive demand for water has caused an unsustainable fall in water tables
soil erosion – overcultivation and overgrazing have damaged the vegetation in places, leading to soil erosion by wind and rain. Once eroded away, the soil takes thousands of years to reform
fuel – reserves of firewood, the main source of fuel, are dwindling with the result that people are using manure as fuel rather than using it to improve the quality of the soil
tourism – although tourists bring benefits such as employment and extra incomes, the environment that they have come to enjoy is fragile and will suffer if tourism becomes overdeveloped
A number of approaches have been adopted to address the challenges of living in the Thar Desert and to provide its people with a sustainable future. In 1977 the government-funded Desert Development Programme was started. Its main aims are to restore the ecological balance of the region by conserving, developing sand, harnessing land, water, landstock and human resources. In Rajasthan it has been particularly concerned with developing forestry and addressing the issue of
sand dune stabilisation
Forestry – the most important tree in the Thar Desert is the Prosopis Cineraria. It is extremely well suited to the hostile conditions of the desert and has multiple uses. Scientists at the Central Arid Zone Research Institute have developed a hardy breed of plum tree called a Ber tree, It produces large fruits and can survive in low rainfall conditions, The fruits can be sold and there is the potential to make a decent profit
Stabilising sand dunes – the sand dunes in the Thar Desert are very mobile. In some areas they form a threat to farmland, roads and waterways. Various approaches have been adopted to stabilise the sand dunes, including planting blocks of trees and establishing shelterbelts of trees and fences alongside roads and canals
Thar Desert National Park – The Thar Desert National Park has been created to protect some 3,000 square km of this arid land and the endangered and rare wildlife that has adapted to its extreme conditions
Hot deserts in a poor region: The Sahara