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From plate to plough: Bettering Indian agriculture’s water effectivity

Applied sciences exist that may produce the identical output with virtually half the irrigation water in these two crops.

By Ashok Gulati & Ritika Juneja

On World Water Day (March 22), PM Narendra Modi launched a marketing campaign, ‘Catch the rain’, below the Centre’s flagship Jal Shakti Abhiyan. He emphasised that each penny being spent below MGNREGA have to be used to preserve water. It is a laudable goal. However, what wants shut consideration is the place can we stand on the water entrance, and the way can we make sure that everybody has entry to secure consuming water, whereas trade and agriculture additionally get adequate water to provide what’s demanded.

As per the Central Water Fee’s evaluation of water availability utilizing house inputs (2019), India receives imply annual precipitation of about 3,880 billion cubic metres (bcm) nevertheless it makes use of solely 699 bcm (18%), the remainder being misplaced to evaporation and different components. The demand for water is prone to be 843 bcm in 2025 and 1,180 bcm by 2050. So, the targets aren’t past our attain if we stay targeted and comply with an acceptable technique that not solely ‘catches extra rain’ but in addition manages demand of this valuable useful resource higher.

But, as per the UN’s report on Sustainable Growth Aim-6 (SDG-6)—Clear water and sanitation for all by 2030—India achieved solely 56.6% of the goal by 2019, indicating the necessity to transfer a lot sooner. Additional, as per the Composite Water Administration Index of Niti Aayog (2019), 75% households in India do not need entry to consuming water on their premises, and India ranks a hundred and twentieth amongst 122 international locations within the water high quality index. India is recognized as a water-stressed nation with its per capita water availability declining from 5,178 cubic metre (m3)/yr in 1951 to 1,544 m3 in 2011, which is prone to go down additional to 1,140 m3 by 2050. This doesn’t paint a really rosy image on the water entrance.

How does one transfer ahead? Agriculture makes use of about 78% of India’s freshwater sources. And, as India develops, the share of consuming water, trade, and different makes use of is prone to rise. Until one learns to provide ‘extra crop per drop’, the problem may be daunting. For this, we want a paradigm-shift in our pondering and technique to not simply improve land productiveness measured as tonnes per hectare (t/ha) but in addition maximise utilized irrigation productiveness measured as kilograms or Rs per cubic meter of water (kg/m3).

To date, with many years of enormous private and non-private investments in irrigation, solely about half of India’s gross cropped space (198 million hectares) is irrigated. Groundwater contributes about 64%, canals 23%, tanks 2% and different sources 11% to this irrigation. This outcomes primarily from the skewed incentive of free or extremely subsidised energy, significantly within the northwestern belt of India, the erstwhile seat of the Inexperienced Revolution. Over-exploitation of groundwater has made this area one among the three prime water-risk hotspots, the others being northeastern China and southwestern US (California). General, about 1,592 blocks in 256 districts in India are both crucial or overexploited.

If we’ve to make use of our water extra correctly in agriculture, two crops—rice and sugarcane—deserve particular consideration. As per a NABARD-ICRIER research on water productiveness mapping (, these two crops eat virtually 60% of India’s irrigation water. The accompanying graphic exhibits utilized irrigation water productiveness towards land productiveness for rice and sugarcane in necessary states rising these crops. It’s attention-grabbing to see whereas Punjab scores excessive on land productiveness of rice, it’s on the backside with respect to utilized irrigation water productiveness. Equally, in case of sugarcane, irrigation water productiveness in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu is just a 3rd that of Bihar and UP. Thus, there’s a must realign cropping patterns based mostly on a per unit of utilized irrigation water productiveness.

Applied sciences exist that may produce the identical output with virtually half the irrigation water in these two crops. Jain Irrigation, as an illustration, has arrange drip-irrigation pilots for paddy in Karnal (Haryana) and Tamil Nadu and for sugarcane in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. The outcomes of those pilots point out whereas it takes 3,065 litres of water to provide 1 kg of paddy grain (yield stage 7.75 t/ha) below the standard flood irrigation, below drip, the requirement may be diminished to simply 842 litres. The benefit-cost ratio of drip with ‘fertigation’ in case of sugarcane in Karnataka is noticed to be 2.64. An extension to that is the ‘Household Drip System’ innovated by the most important drip irrigation firm on the planet, Netafim (Israel-based). Netafim has additionally launched its largest demonstration undertaking in Asia at Ramthal, Karnataka. Direct Seeded Rice (DSR) and System of Rice Intensification (SRI) may also save 25-30% of water in comparison with conventional flood irrigation. However, sadly, the tough actuality is that technological options can not make a lot headway until pricing insurance policies of agri-inputs are put heading in the right direction and farmers are incentivised for saving water.

The Punjab authorities, together with the World Financial institution and J-PAL, has launched sure pilots below its Paani Bachao Paise Kamao coverage to encourage rational use of water amongst farmers. Beneath the initiative, water-meters are put in on the farmers’ pumps, and in the event that they save water/energy in comparison with what they’ve been utilizing (taken as entitlement), they receives a commission for these financial savings, with direct transfers to their financial institution accounts.

It’s time to change from extremely subsidised pricing of water, energy, and even fertilisers, to direct earnings assist on a per hectare foundation and funding insurance policies that assist with newer applied sciences and improvements. Water and energy have to be priced as per their financial worth or at the very least to get better important a part of their prices to make sure sustainable agriculture.

Gulati is Infosys Chair professor for agriculture, and Juneja is a guide, ICRIER

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