Agriculture World

Micro Irrigation: A Solution to India’s Water Crisis

Garsha Sai Nitesh
Garsha Sai Nitesh

India is facing a harsh water crisis due to increasing corporate privatization, lack of proper government planning, industrial and human waste. The agriculture industry is also the major cause of the crisis. Outdated irrigation techniques used in the country led to wastage of water.

Adapting new water irrigation techniques such as micro-irrigation will help farmers to achieve better results,” The adoption of micro-irrigation by farmers provides a clear solution that not only drastically curbs water usage, but also delivers other benefits to farmers like improved yields, cost savings, and higher profits” said Brajesh Singh Tomar, Deputy General Manager, Ambuja Cement Foundation.

Micro-irrigation is a process of slow water application via discrete or continuous drips, tiny streams, or miniature sprays on, above, or below the soil by surface drip, subsurface drip, bubbler, or micro-sprinkler systems. This technique proved successful been in developed countries like Israel in turning around their national water crisis.

Presently, India has over 2.3 crore pumps drawing water for agriculture with 70 percent of all groundwater and 80 percent of freshwater in India being used for inefficient flood irrigation and other irrigation purposes. Due to the lack of laws and measures to regulate water usage, and in many cases, unrestricted access of electricity by the government to farmers’ water is pumped around the clock; most farmers rely on traditional methods of flood irrigation to grow their crops.

“Flood irrigation delivers only 35-40 percent water use efficiency, as opposed to micro-irrigation which has up to 90 percent efficiency.  Unfortunately, the coverage of drip is just 2.13 percent and the sprinkler is 3.30 percent. The methods of irrigation are very meager compared to their total potential in India, which is estimated to be 21.01 million hectares for drip and 50.22 million hectares of sprinkler irrigation.” said Brajesh.

In many states like  Punjab where the state Government provides farmers with free or subsidized power to pump water, it does not promote the efficient use of water among farmers, and in these areas, it is difficult to incentivise farmers to convert to more efficient methods of irrigation such as micro-irrigation. 

“In such places, there is a need to highlight the negative impacts of flood irrigation on crop productivity and profits, to incentivise these farmers to convert to more efficient micro-irrigation.  For flood, irrigation does not only affect groundwater levels, but it also impacts crop productivity too – and so farmers suffer Overuse of limited water, Reduction in crop productivity, Increased cost of crop cultivation and use of fertiliser, and Limited irrigation area,” he added.

The government of India launched a program called, ‘Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana’ more specifically, the ‘Per Drop More Crop’ component of the scheme focuses on micro-irrigation systems that promote precision farming by making water available in a targeted manner to the root zone of crops.

“But as with anything, the success of micro-irrigation lies in the adequate education and support of farmers as they implement it, to ensure they reap the benefits of the investment - for micro-irrigation holds many benefits for both farmers and the country,” Tomar noted 

With drip irrigation being up to 90 percent more efficient than flood irrigation, water is conserved and optimised, and by being able to control, quite precisely, water application at the plant roots, crop yield is increased, resulting in an increase in profits.  There is also a reduced cost of cultivation for farmers who make cost savings - saving electricity thanks to reduced pumping, reducing the use of seeds via line seeding vs broad seeding, and reducing the costs of weed control.

Research highlights that the slow spread of Micro Irrigation is not mainly due to economic reasons, but due to a lack of awareness among the farmers about the real economic and revenue related benefits of it.

Whilst education is critical to convincing farmers of the benefits of converting to micro-irrigation, investing in it is expensive.  There is a need to support farmers and help them tap into the Government aided Micro Irrigation or Per Drop More Crop Schemes which provides a maximum subsidy of up to 60 percent of the total cost, which varies from state to state.

“However, despite this subsidy, farmers are still required to invest the remaining 40 percent or more, which equates to a significant amount as their own contribution. One way to support farmers in this investment is the set-up of a ‘revolving fund’ for loans so that farmers can meet the set farmer contribution.  This has proven to be an effective model to help farmers make the ‘leap’ from flood to micro-irrigation,” Said Brajesh about the cost involved in setting up the technique

“We have found that the promotion of drip irrigation and a collaborative approach to tackling large scale water problems is the solution to the looming crisis India faces.  Having successfully led multiple collaborative efforts, including pushing salinity back to the coastline in large tracts of coastal Gujarat directly impacting a population of over 200,000, we believe that a multipronged approach and collaboration is the way forward – and that conversion of farmers to micro-irrigation plays a critical role in turning India’s looming water crisis around,” he added.

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