The drought-hit regions in India are reeling under shortage of water, posing a challenge for sustainable agriculture. On the other hand, few technologies have come up which use water efficiently. MOHD MUSTAQUIM highlights the technological development in irrigation and tries to ascertain possibilities in the Indian agriculture scenario
Three months to go in the arrival of monsoon with its uncertainties. But, some parts of India are still reeling under severe droughts and water scarcity. Around two crores of population in the drought-hit Marathwada region of Maharashtra is dependent on water tankers for their daily needs. Three droughts in four years have increased the challenges of water availability in many parts of the country. The effects of global warming and climate change are likely to further increase the challenges in the future.
India feeds 17 per cent of the world’s population and 15 per cent of livestock with just 4 per cent of water resources and 2.4 per cent of land resources. Around two-third of water is consumed by agricultural practices in the country. If this central component of life is being misused continuously, no wonder the life on the earth has to face dry days. And therefore, it becomes critical to use water in efficient manner.
In the global scenario, there are examples of doing agricultural practices without natural availability of water. Considering the value of this natural resource, they found the alternative ways to irrigate their crops with efficient and sustainable consumption.
Using water efficiently
The thirst for water forces Israel, a small country in the deserts of Middle East, to develop technologies which help them consume water efficiently. Giving away the world’s traditional irrigation methods such as flood irrigation, four decades ago Israel invented drip irrigation system for irrigating only the roots of the plants. In the flood irrigation methods, when a farmer has to irrigate the entire field in which more than 70 per cent water gets wasted, drip irrigation system irrigates only roots of the plants and saves this natural resource. Due to its success, the technology got widely accepted in the world.
“Drip irrigation is the most advanced technology in the world. The technology has 95 per cent water efficiency while flood irrigation has only 30 per cent. This is the example what we do and we are trying to tell the farmers how to use the resources like water, land and energy in an efficient way,” Dan Alluf, Counsellor – Science & Agriculture at Israel’s International Development Cooperation (MASHAV), says.
Describing the reason of advancing such technologies, Alluf says, “Israel doesn’t have much fresh water to irrigate its fields. That’s why we have been needing such technology through which we can use water efficiently without any wastage. The technology has enabled us in semi-arid dry areas to have sufficient water for irrigation.”
After taking such advancements in the irrigation technologies, Israel has transformed its agricultural landscape in a revolutionary way. Today, around 90-95 per cent agriculture in the country; from cotton, maize to fruits and vegetables is cultivated through drip irrigation. Moreover, the country has created sustainable water resources by recycling urban sewage water and by making sea water usable for irrigation in the deserts.
Alluf terms Israeli farmers as educated, progressive and innovative who push the industry to come out with innovative solutions for agriculture sector. The State funded R&D teams table advanced research and development solutions that are connected with the challenges of the farmers. “The industry is very proactive and all the time brings relevant solutions to the farmers. The big advantage of Israel is the triangle of farmers, R&D and industry which works hand in hand proactively,” he adds.
Agriculture is a traditional profession. Therefore, the policymakers in Israel do not believe to impose the ideas on the farming community. They demonstrate technologies in front of the farmers. If farmers get convinced and willing to adopt the changes, they share it with them. Their profitability and income are the first priority which Israel claims to have in mind.
Replicating Israeli Model
Even with very low resources of water, Israeli farmers are able to grow food better than others. This success made drip irrigation technology widely acceptable to the world. In this process, one of world’s largest agrarian country, India joined hands with Israeli authorities. Today, this technology has made inroads in various parts of the country. MASHAV in association with Agriculture Department, Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India and various State governments is running Centres-of-Excellence (CoE) in various parts of the country.
The first CoE under India-Israel Partnership in Agriculture was started in 2006 from Gharaunda, near Karnal in Haryana. Though in the initial stage, there are 15 CoEs for various crops are functioning in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Furthermore, 11 centres are expected to be operational very soon in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, West Bengal and Goa. All existing and upcoming centres are and will be equipped with drip irrigation.
However, the tech-master claims not to copy-paste their technologies in India. “For example, the things which will work in Bihar, may not be worthy for Punjab, so we bring knowledge as per the requirements of local conditions. We are working as a knowledge partner with India with localised expertises,” Alluf says.
Dripping into Rice
Rice is the staple food of over half of the world’s population, especially in the Asian countries and India. This crop needs abundant of water in the field. Farmers keep their fields submerged through flood irrigation from seedling transplantation to crop maturity. It takes three to four months. Thus, rice is being considered one of the largest consumer of water.
Considering the overuse of water, the Israeli micro and drip irrigation company, NETAFIM has been demonstrating drip irrigation with fertigation in the rice fields across the globe. In India, the company has formed joint venture with Water Technology Centre of Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU), Coimbatore and demonstrating the technology in the fields of a group of progressive farmers at Govindapuram village in Tiruppur district, Tamil Nadu, since 2013.
After joint consultations with farmers by TNAU and NETAFIM, as of now, 25 farmers in their 100 acres of land are cultivating rice through drip irrigation. The initial field demonstrations saved around 45 per cent water and 25 per cent fertiliser. The average yield was 11-12 tonne per hectare. The success of the project is now attracting other farmers to adopt the technology. The company with TNAU is planning to demonstrate this technology in the maize and onion in future.
Besides, the consecutive droughts have forced around 70 per cent of tomato cultivators in Maharashtra to adopt drip irrigation. It has further increased 20 per cent of their yield.
The climate change and global warming are likely to affect the monsoon which may result in shortage of water. If the country doesn’t put proper rainwater harvesting system, watershed management, management of local water bodies, the run-off rainwater will pose further threats in the future, especially in the winters and summers. To keep the momentum of agricultural growth, the country needs to harvest rainwater and use it in an efficient manner. Wastage of a single drop hits the agricultural landscape.
It is a good sign that Government of India has incorporated micro irrigation in its flagship irrigation programme, Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana (PMKSY) as an important component. The Economic Survey 2015-16 has raised concerned about declining agricultural growth. It says that the transformation of agriculture has to be driven by raising productivity in agriculture, by investing in efficient irrigation technologies.
There is need to adopt appropriate technologies for efficient utilisation of water through affordable prices for the farmers. The adoption of irrigation technologies which improve efficiency in the use of water is imperative in a scenario where flood irrigation has resulted into wastage of high valued natural resources. The focus on efficient irrigation technologies is owing to climate change and indiscriminate wastage of water in agriculture and other uses. At first sight, the ‘more crop per drop’ motto looks influential to improve productivity in agriculture which can ensure food and water security in the future.
To achieve efficiency in the use of irrigation systems will be the main determinant of agriculture productivity. The conventional systems of irrigation have become harmful in many parts of the country due to increasing shortages of water and wastage of water through over irrigation. The efficient irrigation technologies need to be economically and technically viable like drip and sprinkler irrigation that can improve water use efficiency, reduce costs of production by lowering labour costs and power consumption.