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Abstract

High concentration of salts in the rootzone soil limits the productivity of nearly 953 million ha of productive land in the world. Australia, followed by Asia, has the largest area under salinity and sodicity. Most of the salt-affected soils and brackish ground water resources are confined to arid and semiarid regions and are the causative factors for triggering the process of desertification. The problem of salinity and sodicity has degraded about 6·73 million ha area in India. Secondary salinization associated with introduction of irrigation in dry areas like Thar desert in the western part of the country and Sharda Sahayak in Central India have caused desertification due to rise of salts with the rise in ground water level. Large scale cultivation of prawns using sea water in coastal Andhra Pradesh and elsewhere rendered about 2.1 million ha area unfit for agriculture. Similarly, 30–84 per cent ground water in north-western states of the country is either saline and /or brackish and is unfit for irrigation. Use of marginal quality water for irrigation has rendered several thousand ha of productive land unfit for cultivation. The Central Soil Salinity Research Institute was established in 1969 at Karnal to develop sustainable and eco-friendly technologies for reclamation and management of salt-affected soils and judicious use of marginal quality waters. The institute has developed location-specific techniques for reversion of salinity related desertification in India. Salient findings of research during the last three decades and more are presented in this review. This paper deals with (a) classification, nature and extent of salt-affected soils and poor quality water in India, (b) case studies/socio-economic concerns of salinity related desertification, (c) chemical, hydrological and biological approaches in use for rehabilitation of salt-affected soils, (d) guidelines for safe and productive use of marginal quality ground water through cyclic and mixed mode and precision irrigation techniques, (e) successful rehabilitation case studies, (f) alternate land use practices such as raising forest plantations, horticulture, agroforestry, high value medicinal, aromatic and flowering crops, etc., (g) technological, social, economic and environmental impacts and (h) future line of research. Issues requiring policy initiatives to halt salinity-related desertification are also discussed in this review paper.