Govind Naik, 35, a farmer in the Kondrapole village in Nalgonda district, Telangana, gets a message on his mobile every three hours about the water level, soil moisture, temperature and humidity level in his paddy field. Accordingly, he irrigates his field with alternate wetting and drying (AWD) method, which is a water saving technology that farmers can apply to reduce their irrigation water use in fields and enhance crop yield.
Paddy is one of the largest water consumers. Moreover, due to lack of awareness farmers keep the paddy fields flooded across the cropping season, which is not a mandate. But, this progressive farmer, Naik saves more than 40 percent of irrigation water by using the sensors and AWD technology developed by Water and Land Management Training and Research Institute (Walamtari), Hyderabad.
Under the ClimaAdapt project, Walamtari has developed this water monitoring system, which monitors water level and flow, soil moisture, temperature and humidity in the field. Besides, the system sends weather forecast alerts on the farmers’ mobile phones. It also keeps an eye on the depth of water in the canals and quantum of water in the reservoir.
Dr. Kaluvia Yella Reddy, Director – Agriculture and Research, Walamtari, says, “The objective of the project is to implement some adaptive strategies to cope with climate change, especially with water scarcity. Under this project, water saving technologies are being promoted, which measures and quantify the water.”
“Capacity building of farmers through training and exposure visits is also an important component of the project,” adds Dr. Reddy.
In a bid to create awareness and educate farmers about the benefits of this technology, the institute had trained 30 farmers and installed the sensors in their fields in Kondrapole and surrounding villages. Later, the institute also imparted training to about 200 farmers. Now, they are also churning out the benefits from the technology.
Naik is satisfied with the project outcome, he says, “The technology has brought very good results. It not only saves water, but also increases the yield. Earlier, we used to keep the paddy fields flooded every time. Now, guided by the Walamtari, we irrigate through the AWD method.”
The water level is allowed to recede by 15 cm below the surface of the field. Thus, the roots penetrate deeper with receding water which help getting micro-nutrients from the depth of the soil. The long roots makes the plants stronger and micro-nutrients increase yield.
“Our efforts have yielded in improving the understanding of farmers about better water management under changing climate conditions,” Dr. Reddy informs.
With funding and technological support from the Norwegian government, the project is run jointly by Walamtari, Irrigation and CAD Department of Telangana, International Water Management Institute, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University and MS Swaminathan Research Foundation.
“Our basic concern is to monitor the water in the canal and in the farmers’ field. A farmer has to install two systems. One at the inlet and another at the outlet. The inlet sensor provides the details of quantum of water pouring into the field. However, the outlet sensor measures the water level, temperature, humidity and soil moisture,” informs Laxman Bolleddu, Assistant Executive Engineer, Irrigation and CAD Department, Government of Telangana, who is also the coordinator of the project.
“The system reduces the usage of water by more than 40 percent and helps increase the yield by around 30 percent. The paddy fields do not need flooded water all the time. Water logging increases the problem of weeding, weakens the plant and further decreases the yield,” claims Bolleddu.
He further says that the same system is also available in the market, but their cost is 10 to 15 times higher than our technology.
Need to Commercialise
The system comprises of a sensor, solar panels, battery backup and a mini computer comes within Rs 20,000. However, the technology has not been commercialised so far and if a farmer wants to buy the system, the institute is unable to supply.
Dr. Reddy says, “We are the researchers. We do research on the new technologies. We cannot manufacture the sensors commercially. But, for the benefits of the farmers, we can commercialise the technology in future.”
With just 2 percent of global fresh water resources, India feeds 17 percent population of the world. The country’s 80 – 85 percent fresh water is consumed only by the agriculture sector. Climate change and global warming are further posing threats of frequent droughts and floods. Thus, water conservation, its better utilisation and irrigation should be the focal point of policymakers.
The new concept of consuming minimum water for irrigation has been initiated in an area which is already facing several problems of water scarcity in the summers. The scenario is more or less similar in rest of the country. Irrigation facilities are available in just 35 to 40 percent of arable land in India while rest is still rainfed. Thus, these kinds of water saving technologies can play a vital role in the agriculture sector. And therefore, need of the hour is to commercialise such technologies for the larger benefit of the farming community.