India will soon have a water atlas, thanks to an initiative by National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Nabard). The facility will help the country improve crop planning for judicious use of water, a rapidly depleting resource. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development had estimated that about 80% of India’s total available freshwater is used for agriculture. It is estimated that 50-55% of the irrigation water across India is used up by just two crops: Rice and sugarcane. The Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (Icrier) has just completed mapping the physical and economic productivity of water available in India. Rice, wheat, maize, chana, tur, groundnut, mustard, sugarcane, cotton and potato are the crops whose water use has been mapped. Nabard chairman HK Bhanwala told FE: “Icrier, which has estimated water productivity of 10 important agricultural crops, is almost ready with its report… It is expected to be out in a month.” Cultivation of rice and sugarcane is the biggest contributor to depletion of groundwater in Punjab and Maharashtra.
The government’s efforts to incentivise Punjab farmers to shift from water-guzzler rice to other crops like maize and cotton haven’t been very successful so far in the absence of strong, remunerative and guaranteed procurement system for these crops. Former chairman of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices Ashok Gulati had earlier written in FE that farmers in Punjab and Haryana use a staggering 5,000 litres of irrigation water to produce just one kilogram of rice.
Bhanwala said: “Water requirements of crops vary from one state/region to another. Based on water availability in a region, we should plan and differentiate growing of crops. In Icrier’s segment-wise mapping of crops, cereals, coarse cereals, pulses, oilseeds, cash- and horticulture crops are assessed, based on their popular acceptability among farmers. Asked whether the next logical step after water mapping is crop planning, Bhanwala said: “It is not possible to force farmers (to adopt a certain crop). But the incentives can be reoriented on the basis of water usage of a crop and its necessity in an area,” adding that stress should be on use of micro irrigation. Using the water productivity mapping, the cropping patterns can be certainly improved and effectively realigned with respect to water availability and its demand in a particular agro-climatic zone, officials in agriculture ministry said. The Nabard chairman also said that there is a need to focus on command area development for distribution of water from the reservoir being completed from the Rs 40,000-crore Long Term Irrigation Fund.