Column: Tapping water management

By: and |
Published: March 23, 2016 12:26:20 AM

Micro-irrigation will not only help farmers, but also boost livelihood security in agriculture-related industries

Globally, 50% of workers (1.5 million) work in water-demanding sectors like agriculture and certain industries and almost all jobs in the world depend on water (UN Water 2016). In India, 53% of population is involved in agriculture, the most water-intensive sector in the country (Census 2011). Water is the backbone of the agriculture sector. Timely and sufficient quantity of irrigation water is a must for ensuring high agriculture productivity. Changes in irrigation water availability or precipitation affects the crops which in turn affects the livelihood of millions of people linked to agriculture directly or indirectly. With the vagaries of climate, hydrological regime is getting impacted and this is one of the biggest threat to livelihood and jobs of millions of people. Additionally, rapidly declining water tables are shrinking the source of irrigation water.

Declining water table, especially in northern India (Central Ground Water Board, 2014), will potentially reduce area under ground-water irrigation, and will increase dependency on unpredictable monsoon which will lead to uncertainty in achieving proposed enhanced agricultural production and targeted agricultural growth rate of 4%, as proposed in 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17).

The government is taking some pro-active steps to manage water resources for the agriculture sector. Under Budget FY17, it has given focus to groundwater management, for which R6,000 crore has been allocated. Recognising the role of water in generating livelihoods of farmers, the government has attached a great deal of importance to irrigation schemes with the larger objective being to double the income of the farmers. Newly-launched irrigation schemes—like Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana (PMKSY), under which, it is proposed that 28.5 lakh hectares be brought under irrigation—has the potential to increase agricultural production and productivity by reducing dependency on the monsoons. As per the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, the productivity of irrigated land in India is approximately three times higher than that of rain-fed land, and can increase total agricultural production by approximately 40%. This would help enhance income of the farmers.

Additionally, the PMKSY scheme, in the last financial year, promoted the use of micro-irrigation systems which are very effective in enhancing water-use efficiency and conserving water resources. According to an impact assessment study carried out under the National Mission on Micro Irrigation (NMMI) programme, micro irrigation systems benefitted various farmers by increasing irrigated area under horticulture crops, resulting in significant cost savings, increasing productivity of vegetable and fruit crop, and saving nearly 15-40% of the water by consumption. The promotion of judicious water-use in this sector will help sustain a large number of people. With such initiatives, not only farmers, but also allied industries like agricultural equipment manufacturing, micro-irrigation system manufacturing, etc, will be benefited and many will secure jobs. Enhanced agricultural productivity will in turn ensure food security of the country and will affect individual productivity and nation’s economic development. Such irrigation initiatives should gain more momentum and efforts should be made to reduce stress on water resources. This would not only help water conservation and the agriculture sector, but also positively impact the lives and livelihoods of millions of people.

India, as an agrarian economy, needs to conserve its water resources both in terms of quantity and quality to ensure sustainable development. Many research institutes are also constantly thriving to attain the goal of conserving water resources to secure the future of the society. In one such research project, an adaptation framework to ensure agricultural water security for the farmers working in Krishna basin has been developed by TERI. This adaptation framework was developed in consultation with farmers and decision-makers, after assessing the possible climate change impact on irrigation water availability for time-slices in the future, under various scenarios. Adoption of adaptation frameworks that involve scenario-planning would ensure that farmers are able to keep their livelihood thriving in periods of water shortage, too, by taking some precautionary steps.

As Leonardo da Vinci has said, “When you put your hand in a flowing stream, you touch the last that has gone before and the first of what is still to come.” Hence, water management comes with lot of challenges, but more than that it offers lot of opportunities that, if tapped properly, can solve many issues and help in the development of the nation.

The authors are researchers with the Water Resources and Forestry Division, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI). Views are personal

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