Agricultural Sector and Marketing Reforms – eNAM, Model APMC Act, Eco Survey Reco, etc.

Need for technological solutions to use water for agriculture more sustainably


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3- Using technology to use water sustainably in agriculture

The article examine the use of water for sugarcane and rice cultivation in India and its impact. 

Water availability and usage in India

  • As per the Central Water Commission’s reassessment of water availability, India receives a mean annual precipitation of about 3,880 billion cubic meters (BCM) but utilises only 699 BCM (18 percent) of this; the rest is lost to evaporation and other factors.
  • The demand for water is likely to be 843 BCM in 2025 and 1,180 BCM by 2050.
  • As per the UN’s report on Sustainable Development Goal-6 (SDG-6) on “Clean water and sanitation for all by 2030”, India achieved only 56.6 per cent of the target by 2019.
  • Further, as per the Niti Aayog’s Composite Water Management Index (2019), 75 per cent households in India do not have access to drinking water on their premises.
  • India ranks 120th amongst 122 countries in the water quality index.
  • India is identified as a water-stressed country with its per capita water availability declining from 5,178 cubic metre (m3)/year in 1951 to 1,544 m3 in 2011 — this is likely to go down further to 1,140 cubic metre by 2050.

How free or highly subsidised electricity skews water use pattern

  • Despite decades of large public and private investments in irrigation, only about half of India’s gross cropped area:198 million hectares is irrigated.
  • Groundwater contributes about 64 per cent, canals 23 per cent, tanks 2 per cent and other sources 11 per cent to irrigation.
  • This results primarily from incentive policy of free or highly subsidised power, particularly in the country’s north-west, the site of the erstwhile Green Revolution.
  • Overexploitation of groundwater has made this region amongst the three highest water risk hotspots.
  • Overall, about 1,592 blocks in 256 districts in India are either critical or overexploited.

Need to focus on rice and sugarcane

  • Agriculture uses about 78 per cent of fresh water resources.
  • As per a NABARD-ICRIER study on Water Productivity Mapping, these crops alone consume almost 60 per cent of India’s irrigation water.
  • We need a paradigm shift to increase land productivity measured as tonnes per hectare (t/ha), and to maximise applied irrigation productivity measured as kilogrammes, or Rs, per cubic metre of water (kg/m3).
  • Figure 1 shows applied irrigation water productivity against land productivity for rice and sugarcane in important growing states.
  • Note that while Punjab scores high on land productivity of rice, it is at the bottom with respect to applied irrigation water productivity.
  • In the case of sugarcane, irrigation water productivity in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu is only 1/3rd of that in Bihar and UP (Figure 2).
  • There is, thus, a need to realign cropping patterns based on per unit of applied irrigation water productivity.

Use of technology

  • There are technologies to produce the same output of rice and sugarcane with almost half the irrigation water.
  • Jain Irrigation, for instance, has set up drip irrigation pilots for paddy and sugarcane.
  • The results of these pilots indicate while it takes 3,065 litres of water to produce 1 kg of paddy grain (yield level 7.75 t/ha) under traditional flood irrigation, under drip, it can be reduced to just 842 litres.
  • The benefit cost ratio of drip with fertigation in case of sugarcane in Karnataka is observed to be 2.64.
  • An extension to this is the “Family Drip System” innovated by Israel-based — Netafim.
  • The company has also launched its largest demonstration project in Asia at Ramthal, Karnataka.
  • Technologies like Direct Seeded Rice (DSR) and System of Rice Intensification (SRI) can also save 25-30 per cent of water compared to traditional flood irrigation.

Need for right pricing policies

  • Technological solutions cannot make much headway unless pricing policies of agri-inputs are put on the right track and farmers are incentivised for saving water.
  • The Punjab government, along with the World Bank and J-PAL, has started some pilots with an innovative policy of “Paani Bachao Paise Kamao” to encourage rational use of water among farmers.

Consider the question “Examine the impact of rice and sugarcane cultivation on the groundwater table in India. How technological solutions can help use water more sustainably for agriculture?”


Overall, it seems it is time to switch from the highly subsidised price policy of water/power (and even fertilisers) to direct income support on a per hectare basis, and investment policies that help with newer technologies and innovations.

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