According to the FICCI-Grant Thornton Strategy Paper, 2016, agriculture accounts for approximately seventy per cent of global freshwater withdrawals and ninety per cent of its consumptive use. There is considerable strain on water resources due to non-judicious conveyance and application in agricultural practices. A United Nations (UN) study further indicates that nearly 3.4 billion people would be living in water scarce countries by the year 2025. Without doubt, agriculture is a sector wherein ‘water scarcity’ has very critical relevance, specially, in context of the ongoing climate change vulnerabilities.
In India, food grain production has largely been possible through irrigated agriculture. But over fifty per cent of cultivated land that produces more than eighty percent of nutri-cereals, pulses, oilseeds, fruits and vegetables is monsoon dependent. Such land in ‘rainfed’ regions also face vagaries of aberrant monsoons, soil degradation, nutrient deficiencies and more importantly declining ground water table. We are a food secure nation notwithstanding. However, a mammoth challenge for the future is increasing agricultural productivity, first and foremost, by prudent and efficient use of water resources. The Doubling Farmers Committee (DFI) Report of Government of India, 2018 correctly observes that to achieve doubling farmers income the need of the hour is to ensure scientific and egalitarian application of water to achieve the right crop result and also avoid wastage.
Therefore, to address end to end solutions for water management in agriculture, Government of India has launched a comprehensive flagship programme called, ‘’Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana.” More specifically, the ‘Per Drop More Crop’ component of the scheme focuses on micro irrigation systems (sprinkler, drip, pivots, rain-guns etc.) that promote precision farming by making water available in a targeted manner to the root zone of crops. There is an area ceiling of five hectare on subsidy support and subsidy can be topped by state governments.
To supplement the above programme, the Government has also approved an initial corpus of Rs. 5000 crores for setting up a dedicated “Micro Irrigation Fund” with National Bank of Agricultural and Rural Development (NABARD). The latter aims to extend loans to state governments to undertake special and innovative projects in micro irrigation.
Unlike flood irrigation in command areas, where water is lost in conveyance, micro irrigation not only leads to water saving but also aids soil heath management and prevents water logging. As per DFI Report, 2018, micro irrigation delivers water savings upto 40 per cent over conventional flood irrigation, crop and income enhancement to the extent of approximately 47 per cent and 48 per cent respectively.
The Task Force on Micro Irrigation, 2004 had estimated a potential of 69.5 million hectare under micro irrigation. As per the DFI Report, 2018, out of the 6.4 million hectares of net cultivated area under irrigation in the country, the coverage of micro irrigation by the end of 2016-17 stood at approximately 9.5 million hectares. It is proposed to add an extent of 10 million hectares over five years period of 2017-18 to 2021-22, the Report adds. Such coverage is to include propagation of micro irrigation in water guzzling crops like sugarcane, rice, banana, cotton etc. Geographically, the states with the largest areas under micro irrigation include Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat and Haryana. These six states cover 81 per cent of the total area under micro irrigation.
Experts opine that a key operational and implementation issue in states is improving the efficiency of the entire process from application, installation till subsidy payment for micro irrigation equipment. Information technology-based initiatives in the states of Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra have enabled real time monitoring of transactions for small and marginal farmers including geo tagging of installed equipment.
Another critical issue is convergence of micro irrigation with creation of water harvesting storage structures (ponds, tanks, check dams, injection wells etc.) and related afforestation/in-situ moisture conservation schemes in over exploited/critical underground water zones to recharge aquifers. Haryana government has identified 36 ‘over exploited/critical’ community blocks to propagate micro irrigation systems along with creation of water harvesting structures under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) and Integrated Watershed Development Programme (IWDP). It has further innovated to offer special incentive through uniform subsidy at 85 per cent for all category of farmers in the state.
Similarly, Narmada (Sinchor) Rajasthan, Mission Kakatiya and Micro Irrigation Scheme, Gujarat are integrated micro irrigation projects run by the Government of Rajasthan, Government of Telangana and the Gujarat Green Revolution Company Ltd respectively. The key feature common to all three projects is participatory management and necessary crop alignment by active involvement of marginal farmers through water users’ associations and Gram Panchayats.
Yet another area of future concern is strengthening multi stakeholder institutional support to propagate micro irrigation through public private partnerships. Niti Aayog has recently issued a draft concept note on “Micro Irrigation Through Public Private Partnership”. Therein, it has highlighted the dire need for involving the private sector in implementation and maintenance of integrated micro irrigation networks to ensure water efficiency at the farm level and achieve economy of scale. The aim is to channelize investment into micro irrigation for both social and environmental impacts coupled with rational returns.
In this context, Kaladera village in Jaipur District of Rajasthan is the location of a Public-Private Community Partnership that includes the Department of Horticulture, Government of Rajasthan, The Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) Takdera and Coca Cola/Hindustan Coco Cola Beverages Pvt. Ltd. Herein, sustainable water management practices using drip irrigation for vegetables are being propagated amongst five hundred farmers. Similarly, Pepsico Ltd in partnership with Government of Maharashtra has propagated drip irrigation for potato cultivation spread over nineteen hundred acres involving over two thousand farmers.
The backbone for the success of water use efficiency initiatives through micro irrigation is, first and foremost, effective training and awareness generation amongst small and marginal farmers in potential states. Equally critical is crop alignment and diversification backed by “Green Water” techniques such as land levelling, field bunding, mulching, zero tillage etc that help in conserving water and increasing yield. In both measures, Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs), as focal points, have to ensure effective demonstrations to farmers especially in over exploited and critical community blocks. In this backdrop, the mission mode “Jal Shakti Abhiyaan” through the Jal Shakti Scheme launched in 225 districts for enhancing conservation in water scarce areas is a momentous step in the right direction.
(The writer is a Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, Government of India. Views expressed are personal)