You Don’t Know Its True Worth Until It’s Gone. Save Water.
Despite agriculture’s share dipping to about 17 percent, the sector still employs about half of India’s population. The farming community has a place in policy matters because of its sheer importance. India has a twin challenge to surmount: a burgeoning population and sustaining its depleting water resources. To put things in perspective, agricultural development accounts for almost 80 percent of water consumption, which is important for the long-term survival of agriculture. However, the share of industrial consumption of water is also slated to go up to 20 percent by 2050. Climate change has led to unpredictability in the rainfall patterns and thus the rational and judicious use of water has taken center stage for the sake of economic stability. Water management is critically important as India tries to improve the efficiency and use of surface and groundwater.
Realizing the looming water crisis, the Government of India has been focusing on micro irrigation to increase water efficiency in agriculture and sustainable development. Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY-PDMC) is now in the process of increasing the coverage of micro irrigation, after achieving a coverage of 46.21 lakh hectares over the period 2015 to 2020. A Micro Irrigation Fund with a corpus of Rs. 5000 crore was set up with NABARD in 2017 to enhance coverage through innovative projects and to incentivize micro irrigation in general.
Significance of Micro Irrigation
Micro irrigation has gained importance in recent times due to its water efficiency. Water is applied slowly through drip irrigation, sprinklers, foggers, etc., in the form of droplets or low-volume streams.
- Application of water is drop by drop near the root of the plant. Various types of emitters are available, and the use is dependent on the application and type of crop.
- Two types of micro-irrigation techniques widely used are drip irrigation and micro sprinkler irrigation. Drip irrigation is suited to spaced-out cropping, while sprinkler systems are more suited to horizontal crops.
Other types of micro-irrigation techniques used include spray irrigation, subsurface irrigation, and bubbler irrigation.
Micro irrigation offers the following benefits over conventional irrigation:
1. Water conservation with increased yield. Wastage of water is avoided as water application is at the plant root and the ground. Water delivery pipes ensure no water loss through flooding, evaporation, or runoff. Due to uniform and efficient irrigation, the yield tends to increase despite use of less water.
2. Useful for all soil types. Adaptable for all types of soil,. only the method of application changes.
3. Ease in application of fertilizers and chemicals. Uniform application and distribution of chemicals leads to reduction in quantity and increase in efficiency.
4. Power-efficient. Electricity consumption is reduced compared to conventional methods of drawing water from tube wells/irrigation wells.
5. Reduction in weeds and plant disease. Weed growth is inhibited, and plant disease is reduced with limited wet area.
6. Reduced labor and operational costs.
Micro irrigation, Agriculture and Sustainable Development
The three challenges India faces are:
– Water pollution and scarcity
– Growing food demand
– Increasing need for cultivable land
Going forward, as the pressure increases in these areas, the challenges to sustainability will continue.
Micro irrigation provides a precision approach to farming allowing better productivity with reduced depletion of natural resources.
Irrespective of the kind of crop, climate, soil or region, farming communities can increase productivity and look at supplemental irrigation that is cost-effective. The goal of increasing farmer income and reduced dependence on natural resources is the way out of water shortage. The mantra is to achieve food security at a minimum cost.
The challenges in implementation of micro-irrigation methods across India are related to the high capital cost of irrigation systems and maintenance issues. Agricultural development in India, and micro-irrigation coverage is still in its infancy stage and requires a major push by union and state governments. This can be achieved through micro-irrigation subsidies provided by agencies and by promotion of its adoption. Agriculture and development of affordable systems, orienting small farmers to micro-irrigation benefits, prioritizing a water policy, policy support, and institutional mechanisms are the way forward.
Making an Impact: Stories From The Ground
S M Sehgal Foundation, a leading agricultural development NGO in India, promotes irrigation water-use efficiency by promoting the use of micro irrigation, mulching, laser leveling, and the use of water absorbents to maintain soil moisture. The use of these water-saving irrigation practices reduces the consumption of water 25–85 percent, while also improving farm productivity and reducing the cost of labor and the incidences of weeds and diseases in crops. It further educates farmers that efficient use of water is the key to agricultural development.
Ratan Singh, resident of village Goojarwas in Alwar, Rajasthan, and a smallholder farmer, has been able to put together a secure future with his newly developed idea of orchard farming and intercropping of seasonal vegetables. Alwar district in Rajasthan is a water-scarce region, falling in the “dark zone,” where the groundwater table recedes below levels and cannot be regained. With water availability so critical to agriculture, and two-thirds of the state’s population being agrarian, agricultural development is adversely affected in the region. Despite these challenges, Ratan Singh is a farmer with a difference. Mosaic India Pvt. Ltd. and S M Sehgal Foundation partnership’s project, Krishi Jyoti, helped him with information on the best agricultural development practices for different vegetables. Under this project, he understood how he could grow multiple vegetables in his small landholding of one acre even with a limited quantity of water available for irrigation.
With the facilitation of drip irrigation and mulching methods to help prevent degradation and maintain soil health, Ratan Singh was able to intercrop green chili and pomegranate with a minimal need for water. Being a lone farmer practicing horticulture and intercropping, he showed great courage to go against the usual practices in his village.
“I feel confident of better times ahead. I believe that my land can provide for my family way more than I could have earned in my previous profession. Project Krishi Jyoti educated me on ways and means to get better yield by adding a few more components. I learned the correct use of fertilizers, and which kind should be used for which plantation, and in what quantity,” shares Ratan.
Having planned his future in farming, Ratan Singh is ensuring that his one-acre land is used to its full capacity with horticulture and intercropping of vegetables. He is very confident and excited about beginning his own door-to-door delivery service of vegetables and fruits that have promising returns, doubling his income.
The farmers in village Goojarwas are highly dependent on interspersed rains for irrigating their fields; but for Ratan Singh, that isn’t a matter of concern anymore. He irrigates his field with the required optimum amount of water using the newly adopted micro-irrigation practice called drip irrigation, which prevents water from evaporation by covering the base of the plants, a process understood as “mulching.”
Ratan Singh has not only proved himself to be an initiator; he has also successfully promoted himself by being an enlightened farmer. His orchard has become a model for his fellow villagers and a hope to those who refuse to take risks and adopt new mechanisms. All this makes Ratan Singh a farmer to look up to in his region.