Agriculture and need of water
- Agriculture uses about 78 per cent of fresh water resources.
- As the country develops, the share of drinking water, industry, and other uses is likely to rise.
- Unless one learns to give effect to the credo of “per drop more crop” in agriculture, the challenge can be daunting.
- We need a paradigm shift in our thinking and a strategy to not just increase land productivity measured as tonnes per hectare (t/ha), but also maximise applied irrigation productivity measured as kilogrammes, or Rs, per cubic metre of water (kg/m3).
- So far, with decades of large public and private investments in irrigation, only about half of India’s gross cropped area (198 million hectares) is irrigated.
The Challenges: –
- Groundwater contributes about 64 per cent, canals 23 per cent, tanks 2 per cent and other sources 11 per cent to irrigation.
- This results primarily from the skewed incentive policy of free or highly subsidised power, particularly in the country’s north-west, the site of the erstwhile Green Revolution.
- Over exploitation of groundwater has made this region amongst the three highest water risk hotspots, the others being north eastern China and south western USA (California). Overall, about 1,592 blocks in 256 districts in India are either critical or overexploited.
- When it comes to the issue of using water more wisely in agriculture, two crops — rice and sugarcane — deserve special attention.
- As per a NABARD-ICRIER study on Water Productivity Mapping, these crops alone consume almost 60 per cent of India’s irrigation water.
Irrigation and Productivity: –
- While Punjab scores high on land productivity of rice, it is at the bottom with respect to applied irrigation water productivity.
- Similarly, in the case of sugarcane, irrigation water productivity in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu is only 1/3rd of that in Bihar and UP.
- There is, thus, a need to realign cropping patterns based on per unit of applied irrigation water productivity.
Irrigation Technologies: –
- There are technologies to produce the same output of these two crops with almost half the irrigation water.
- Jain Irrigation, for instance, has set up drip irrigation pilots for paddy in Karnal (Haryana) and Tamil Nadu and for sugarcane in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
- The results of these pilots indicate while it takes 3,065 litres of water to produce 1 kg of paddy grain (yield level 7.75 t/ha) under traditional flood irrigation, under drip, it can be reduced to just 842 litres.
- The benefit cost ratio of drip with fertigation in case of sugarcane in Karnataka is observed to be 2.64.
- “Family Drip System” is innovated by the largest drip irrigation company in the world, the Israel-based — Netafim.
- The company has also launched its largest demonstration project in Asia at Ramthal, Karnataka. Technologies like Direct Seeded Rice (DSR) and System of Rice Intensification (SRI) can also save 25-30 per cent of water compared to traditional flood irrigation.
- Unfortunately, however, technological solutions cannot make much headway unless pricing policies of agri-inputs are put on the right track and farmers are incentivised for saving water.
3.The Punjab government, along with the World Bank and J-PAL, has started some pilots with an innovative policy of “PaaniBachao Paise Kamao” to encourage rational use of water among farmers.
- Under the initiative, meters are installed on farmers’ pumps, and if they save water/power compared to what they have been using (taken as entitlements) they get paid for those savings — this is credited directly into their bank accounts.
- Overall, it seems it is time to switch from the highly subsidised price policy of water/power (and even fertilisers) to direct income support on a per hectare basis, and investment policies that help with newer technologies and innovations.
- Water and power need to be priced as per their economic value or at least to recover significant part of their costs to ensure sustainable agriculture.
Technological solutions to make rice and sugarcane cultivators use water more sustainably can work if there are right incentives, and Agri-input pricing is on the right track. Discuss.