Australia offers water management solutions to India

Written by Sandip Das | New Delhi | Updated: Feb 4 2012, 09:21am hrs
Australia, one of the worlds biggest wheat exporters despite being among the driest inhabited countries, has offered to help India improve water usage efficiency in agriculture.

Australia has managed to sustain its wheat production despite scanty rainfall and drought or near-drought conditions in recent years through efficient management of its river waters. It is this expertise the country is offering India to develop river basins, control pollution and provide efficient allocation of water to farmers.

Through better management and distribution of our scarce water resources, we have managed to provide water for the irrigation purpose even during prolonged dry spells, Subho Banerjee, deputy secretary, department of climate change and energy efficiency with the Australian government told FE.

Banerjee said the basic frame work for water distribution had been given by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, responsible for regulating the Murray and Darling rivers, and the water is shared between states such as New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. Although the Murray-Darling basin receives only 6% of Australia's annual rainfall, over 70% of the country's irrigation resources are concentrated there.

As India faces erratic rainfall, impacting agricultural production, our expertise on water management would be of help, Banerjee said. Besides wheat, Australia is one of the biggest exporter of cotton and canola.

In 2010-11, Australia produced 26 million tonnes (mt) of wheat, of which close to 21 mt was exported. India is second biggest producer of wheat, with 86 mt produced last year. However, most of the crop is consumed domestically.

With depletion of groundwater in northern India and erratic rainfall affecting production of key grains such as wheat and rice, the government is looking for technologies that would promote efficient use of water in agriculture and also ensure proper distribution of water from river basins.

Meanwhile, India's draft National Water Policy 2012, unveiled on Tuesday, has suggested hiking tariffs to reduce wasteful use of water and developing a system for evolving benchmarks for promoting efficient use of water.

Water management is a natural area of collaboration between the two countries where we are seeking a partnership, said Banerjee. Many of regions in India do not get adequate rainfall and depend on groundwater for irrigation and to support agricultural activity.

For sustaining our food production, we must promotion efficient irrigation systems, an official with Indian Council for Agricultural Research said.