June 2023 – Using water efficiently in agriculture

In India, water availability per capita is projected to decline to 1500 m3 by 2025 leading to far less water availability for agriculture.  The country uses more than 80 per cent of the surface water for agriculture alone. On the other hand, inefficient and dilapidated canal irrigation systems have led to a spurt in groundwater usage. India is the largest user of groundwater in the world with over 60 per cent of irrigated agriculture and 85 per cent of drinking water supplies dependent on aquifers. Also, our input subsidies and commodity price policies favor water intensive crops. Population growth, deforestation, urbanisation, industrialisation, land conversion to non-agriculture purposes, and certainly climate change, all point to a worsening situation. The planet and its people need a smarter way to safeguard the water supply.

With water table going down drastically due to overexploitation, what are farmers doing to address this issue? Are they redigging wells which increase cost or are they recharging the aquifers, through percolation tanks, community ponds and other creative ways of using landshaping techniques to harvest rainwater to improve water tables. Sharing of borewells by a group of farmers is another possibility which has been tried out in Andhra Pradesh. How both traditional alternatives and others have been replicated and scaled up?

Farmers across the globe are constantly facing floods, droughts and extreme weather conditions. Majority of the farmers live in rainfed conditions. How do these farmers manage water resources? What are the water conservation measures they use? Are they still using the traditional water harvesting structures? Are they adopting organic soil management practices, like application of organic manure, humus or mulching, which help in better water retention. Are they shifting to systems like System of Rice Intensification or System of sugarcane Intensification in reducing the water needs of the crops? There is a growing realization to switch over less water intensive crops like millets.

We also see a number of instances where farmers are switching to modern techniques like hydroponics to reduce water usage. Automation in irrigation technology is also being tried out to reduce the water use.

How are policies supporting small-scale farmers in improving their access to water and supporting water audits? How can good governance ensure a more prudent, less wasteful use of water, and promote the production and consumption of water efficient crops? How can urban planners create space for urban agriculture that uses recycled wastewater?

Send us your suggestions for articles, the articles themselves, photographs, names of people you feel we should talk to, ideas for topics you feel we must definitely address, your opinion, or just information about the issues mentioned above, to the Editor, at leisaindia@yahoo.co.in before 1st May 2023.

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