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Water Management In Farms For Viable Agriculture Growth

The reform must begin now, and it should start by first changing our mindset. Pricing water and water-related services adequately can encourage people to waste and pollute less

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Water one of the precious natural resources is depleting severely in India. The past few decades has witnessed a significant increase in demand for water across sectors, leaving India facing the worst water crisis in its history. It is estimated that by 2050 the per capita availability of water at national level will drop by 40-50% and water scarcity can lead to loss of up to 6 per cent of GDP by 2030. A recent study by the National Geophysical Research Institute showed that the largest depletion of groundwater in the world is happening in North India, with Delhi being the epicentre of this growing crisis. Experts say that groundwater is being pumped out 70% faster than was earlier estimated. While the situation is alarming, the efforts to conserve water have been negligible as the country lacks both in advocacy and implementation.

Impact on agriculture

Unmonitored water wastage is causing a huge loss to farmers who face increased production cost and extreme poverty in drought-prone areas. Approximately 78 per cent of the fresh water available in the country is consumed by agriculture. The inequity in irrigation water allocation among crops, with more than 60 per cent of it being diverted for the cultivation of water-guzzling crops like sugarcane and paddy adds to the distress. These are the two most water-intensive crops and are being cultivated widely in some of the most water-stressed regions of the country. Further, groundwater is increasingly pumped out for irrigation given the free or subsidized access to electricity in many states resulting in groundwater depletion. It is estimated that Indian farmers use two to four times more water to produce a unit of major food crop than in China or Brazil. With the drop in the water table, there is an increase in the cost of pumping, salination, presence of heavy metals etc., raising questions about the cost of crop production and quality of the produce.

Need for strategic planning

India has capacity to become world’s food basket if sustainable agriculture practices are adopted. Water management can be a huge game changer. Over-dependence on monsoon with little effort of conserving it is costing the sector growth. Today agriculture contributes approximately 17 per cent of the nation’s GDP. With approx. 80% of country population dependent on agriculture, the contribution to GDP can be increased much more. The irrigation infrastructure has seen substantial expansion over the years, but it is clearly not enough. Turning a blind eye to water management with no unified vision towards water resources will soon turn us into a water-starved nation. 

Modern technologies and localized strategies

For sustainable agriculture growth adoption of water-saving technologies with modern irrigation methods such as sprinkler and drip irrigation systems need to be implemented aggressively. Crop rotation should be adopted according to agro-climatic conditions of the region. Agro forestry and horticulture should be given priority in water-deficient areas. Beyond that, each state should work on long-term and sustainable solutions for water conservation. Integrated water development plans should be applied on a priority basis with of coordination between various departments to save the situation from becoming worse. 

Role of government

Our country has also set few examples of water conservation at small scales. The Niti Aayog has reported that Rajasthan has strengthened its water management practices. Other states such as Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh have also shown improvement. However, 60 per cent of the remaining states (15 out of 24) have been classified as low performers in terms of water conservation.

Private sector participation  

It is evident that private company participation can bring a big difference in changing the water scenario of country. Public-private partnership (PPP) in promoting water conservation can go a long way to recharge underground water and channelize water for agriculture. All that we need is common goal and a holistic approach. At present, the government is developing integrated micro-irrigation networks through PPPs to integrate common infrastructure that provides water from canals to the farm gate with on-farm micro-irrigation infrastructure. But the call of the time is more involvement of private companies, devising their own means to develop solutions for water conservation in rural/agriculture belts. 

Solution to bring the change 

Sustainable water management has huge role to play in doubling farmer’s income, a notable goal set by the Government. It will contribute in improving crop yield and enhance quality of crops and better-quality crops will fetch more returns to farmers. The reform must begin now, and it should start by first changing our mindset. Pricing water and water-related services adequately can encourage people to waste and pollute less. Water-related issues have often taken an ugly shape in the past. It is critical that the situation is eased by making best use of the available technologies and resources to increase water use efficiency. Conserving water is the way to secure our future.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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water management

RG Agarwal

The author is Chairman, Dhanuka Agritech

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