Kashmir, faced with a prolonged dry spell, has asked farmers not to cultivate paddy this year. Water levels in streams and other water bodies in the state have fallen, and the state irrigation and flood control department, that provides water to 2.5 lakh hectares in the state, issued the advisory to farmers in six districts in North Kashmir even though some varieties grown there are known to be comparatively water-efficient. It has instead urged them to sow pulses and other crops that consume less water. Getting farmers to stay off paddy, though, can be a long march given many of them believe the soil is best suited to paddy cultivation, not other crops.
Though the government has clarified that the circular is an advisory and not a directive, the very fact that the irrigation department will not supply water in the districts for paddy cultivation—the crop is grown in over 1.4 lakh hectares in the state—should send a strong signal to farmers. The move is not a new one—J&K had issued similar advisories in 1957 and 2000, as per a report in The Indian Express—but it represents a seriousness in dealing with water-scarcity that other states will do well to emulate.
A Tamil Nadu, whose farmers grow water-intensive varieties of paddy such as Samba, Kurivai and Thaladi, or a Maharashtra, where sugarcane acreage drains off a large volume from the overall irrigation water available, need to urgently take a leaf from Kashmir’s books. Tamil Nadu, that has done little to wean farmers in the Cauvery basin off Samba cultivation, already faces a severe water crisis—it had the highest number of “dark zones” (areas where groundwater consumption outstrips recharge) and, due to lack of storage capacity, is forced to let 30% of the annual rainfall it receives drain into the sea.
Paddy cultivation is heavily water-intensive—on an average, it needs more than 1,400 mm of water against, say, 600 mm for pigeon pea or 500 mm for soybean. Worse, the water-demand varies across states—as it should, given differing weather conditions. In Punjab, over 5,330 litres go into producing 1 kg, while in Bengal this needs 2,700 litres. Water-stressed states like Tamil Nadu and Punjab will benefit greatly—in the case, of Tamil Nadu, the festering Cauvery problem will also meet partial resolution—if they let farmers know in no uncertain terms that paddy won’t get any irrigation support in a dry year.