The immediate context
Recently the Indian metrological department forecasted a normal monsoon. While it has come as a relief for the farmers as well as the economic planners, it should not take away the focus from making the Indian agriculture efficient with respect to water use.
As such, the Indian farmers use at least three times more water as compared to their counterparts in China, Brazil etc.
How to make irrigation in the Indian farms more efficient in water utilization
To make the Indian agriculture more efficient in water utilization, the following measures may be considered.
- The farmers need to explore ways to cut water use, since India uses two to three times more water per tonne of grain produced compared to China, Brazil and the U.S. The farmers need to be given technical input and training by the personnel of nearby agricultural colleges and universities.
- To prevent misuse of groundwater, the practice of subsidizing electricity and diesel should be gradually phased out.
- The farmers need to be made aware and be provided with the tools for drip irrigation. This type of irrigation is highly precise and least wasteful for water. The area under drip irrigation, estimated to be less than 10% of net area sown, can be expanded. Slowly the system can move towards precision irrigation.
- In the villages, the steps can be taken to create ponds, provide solar power for more farms and mechanise operations.
- Aiding small farmers with the tools and providing them formal financing can relieve their cyclical distress of drought.
- At the level of village community, there is a need to develop and popularize scientific rainwater harvesting systems.
The farmers need to be counselled by agricultural scientists and planners to avoid cultivating water intensive crops in arid regions of the country. For example, sugarcane farming in Maharashtra need not take place in water starved regions.
When more than half the population is sustained by agricultural livelihoods, highly efficient water utilisation holds the key to higher farm productivity.
What more needs to be done
- Preparing for drought remains a top priority today. Data on grain output show that the negative impact of drought on productivity is disproportionately higher than the positive effects of a normal or surplus monsoon.
- The farmers with small holdings are in need to be taken care of. They are far more vulnerable with respect to crop losses in the event of a drought.
- As agriculture scientist M.S. Swaminathan has pointed out, the focus has to be on plant protection, water harvesting and access to post-harvest technologies.