Today is World Water Day. Thetheme for this year is ‘Leaving No One Behind’. In India it’s onset of summer. As usual, many parts of country have started facing water scarcity. After deficient monsoon, half of the country is in drought grip. The drought is further compounding the already stressed situation. Cauvery river has started drying. The monsoon failure and drying of surface water sources have severely affect the ground water resource, which is depleting across the country.
Presently groundwater is lifeline of India. It caters to meet 85 per cent of drinking water supply in rural parts. About 65 per cent of urban potable water supply is also based on ground water. Similarly 65 per cent of agricultural area is irrigated by water below the ground and it is meeting about 55 per cent of industrial demand.
The Water Aid report titled Beneath the Surface: State of the World’s Water 2019 released in this month, draws grim picture of ground water depletion in India. It says that about 24 per cent of all India’s water use is extracted ground water. With about 250 cubic km of extraction, India draws out more groundwater than any other in the world — more than that of China and the US combined. Because of this, the rate of groundwater depletion has increased by 23% between 2000 and 2010.
A try-out of the technique to grow paddy without puddling at village Chehlan of Ludhiana has resulted in higher yield in comparison to puddled fields, while saving water in the process. The crop was ready for harvest days before expected time, saving irrigation water otherwise to be used for another fourteen days. This trial was funded and supervised by ATMA, a central govt. scheme under the Union Ministry of Agriculture.
Puddling is a traditional method of flooding paddy fields with running water, whereas in non-puddling technique, ‘ridges and furrows’ are formed in soil to let water store in spaces and let it stay, thus reducing irrigation frequency.
“Not paddy but puddling is the enemy of waters of Punjab. It is wastage of water to puddle fields as most of it just evaporates. We have saved 45-50 per cent of water in non-puddled fields. Our yield has been almost 30 per cent more from fields where crop was not puddled. Also, non-puddled crop matured very early, saving at least ten days of irrigation water,” says Rupinder Singh Chahal (43) who along with his brothers Jasvir Singh (48) and Kulwinder Singh (52) experimented with ‘non-puddling’ technique on four acres this year.
Allowing Swami Gyan Swarup Sanand (formerly Prof. GD Agarwal) to die unheard is perhaps the most tragic but not the only serious faux pas committed by Prime Minister Modi and his team in the matter of Ganga rejuvenation. It was actually the culmination of a series of missteps that began early in his tenure.
It can reasonably be presumed that candidate Modi was sincere and serious when he made those famous statements at Varanasi during his campaign (and even later) regarding Ganga rejuvenation. They seemed straight from his heart and seemed to be convincing to many. Everybody thought, “Here is a Prime Minister, who does not – contrary to his predecessor – need goading to make all the right noises”. Hopefully these noises shall result into right actions as well. So much so that Swami Sanand waited almost four years before making his discomfort on lack of any worthwhile progress on Ganga rejuvenation known directly to the Prime Minister. He wrote a number of letters before and after embarking (beginning 22 June 2018) on his legendary 111 day fast that ultimately led to his martyrdom on 11 Oct 2018.
In its latest report, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has questioned implementation of sixteen National Irrigation Projects. Before this, the CAG has held mismanagement in dams’ operation responsible for Chennai floods in 2015. Both these reports are available on its website now.
The CAG report on National Irrigation Projects, tabled in Parliament on July 20, has revealed that sixteen major multi-purpose water projects, taken up on an expeditious basis about a decade ago, are nowhere near completion, with no work being undertaken in as many as 11 projects despite the incumbent govt’s much-wanted focus on improving irrigation facilities in the country.
The report also mentioned that out of the 16 projects, undertaken under the Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme (AIBP) in Feb 2008, only five projects with estimated irrigation potential of 25.10 lakh hectares were under implementation and even these projects suffer from 8 to 99 per cent shortfall in physical progress, the CAG said. The remaining 11 projects with estimated irrigation potential of 10.48 lakh hectares are yet to commence and are at different stages of approval.
EAC against entertaining ‘anti-development’ representationsThe expert appraisal committee (EAC) on river valley and hydel projects of the Union Environment Ministry has decided “not to take any cognizance of such representations” received by its members. In its Dec. 30, 2016 meeting, the committee concluded that once a project proposal reaches the EAC for appraisal, it has crossed the stage of public consultation and “the EAC should not go back in time, and should not reopen it, by entertaining unsubstantiated representations received from the people”.
The EAC noted that in case of any clarification regarding action taken on such representations under the RTI Act, the EAC prescribed that a standard reply “action has been taken in accordance with the decisions taken in the 1st meeting of the EAC for River Valley and HEP on 30.12.2016” should suffice. “It was also felt that many of the objections raised are repetitive. Many such kind of representations have an anti-development attitude so that the projects are kept on hold or delayed. This has financial implications to the developers in particular and to the nation in general.
The committee emphasized that relevant ministries scrutinised every aspect of a project and proposed it for final appraisal only when all details were in place. If not satisfied that public consultation had been completed properly, the EAC said it could ask the project promoter to do the needful. The committee also made allowance for representations with “new points” and “grave consequences” on which comments from project proponents could be sought. The EAC considered 13 projects in its December 30 meeting and cleared eight of them.
Environmental activists, however, pointed out the impracticality of the contention that representations should be restricted to the 30-day public consultation window. Sripad Dharmadhikari also, in his blog has mentions various reasons to counter the EAC’s suspicious justifications. He also says that the fact that a body which is supposed to represent the environmental perspective displays such an attitude is the biggest critique of the EAC and the environmental clearance process that it is a part of. The newly constituted MOEF’s EAC on River Valley Projects has in their very first meeting shown anti people, anti democratic and anti environment attitude.
Groundwater issues made news repeatedly in the year 2015. The year saw a 14 per cent deficit in southwest monsoon increasing the dependence on ground water for agricultural, industrial and domestic use. The falling water table and pollution of surface and ground water sources made the situation critical in various parts of the country. Competing demands on the ground water led to protests and litigation. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) tried to safeguard the ground water and pushed the State machinery into action through its orders in various matters. Towards the end of the year, the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) came up with revised guidelines for evaluation of proposals for ground water abstraction.
Adaptive Agriculture: A mix of Millets, Corn, Legumes and Vegetables grown by tribals in the same plot. Photo: Aparna Pallavi, Down to Earth
When the farmers were losing their crop due to less or no rain, the government was still speculating about 2014 being a drought year. Now that the damage is done, we have seen some acknowledgement from authorities of the actual situation. One wonders then why is it that the government has to wait for calamity to strike when it already knows the dangers that lie ahead. In a burst of enthusiasm, it set up the eight missions under the National Action Plan for Climate Change (NAPCC) in 2008, one of which is the National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture. But the ground situation seems to be the same with or without it.
The Indian network for climate change assessment (INCCA) report suggests that there is a probability of 10-40% loss in crop production in India by 2080-2100 unless we take mitigation measures and adapt to the global warming[i]. The 5th assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), estimates that 60% more food will be needed by 2050 given the current trends in food consumption[ii]. It is also estimated that for tropical places especially like India and China, the length of the growing season and suitability for crops will decrease as it is determined by moisture availability and extreme heat, where both are being affected as a result of climate change. This means that there will be considerable losses in agricultural productivity in India, leading to negative impacts on food security in the country. In such a situation, it is important for the government to work towards safeguarding the livelihoods of its farmers, who contribute highly to the GDP (13.7%) and form a big part of the overall labour force in the country. In its National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture, the government stated that there will be an estimated reduction in agricultural yield by up to 4.5-9% in the medium term (2010-2039), whereas a reduction of about >25% in the long term (2040 and beyond) if no measures are taken[iii].
Keeping in line with this, the IPCC report estimates that almost half of the wheat-growing area of the Indo-Gangetic Plains could experience significant amounts of stress due to heat by 2050s, along with the expansion of temperate wheat environments northwards as climate changes. ii The INCCA report said that projections indicated the possibility of loss of 4-5 million tonnes in wheat production with every rise of 1 degree Celsius temperature. i In an instance concerning wheat production in the Indo-Gangetic plains in 2004, the report sites that temperatures were higher by 3-6 degree Celsius, which is almost 1 degree C per day over the whole crop season. As a result, wheat crop matured earlier by 10-20 days and wheat production dropped by more than 4 million tonnes in the countryi.
Similar is the case with rice. In another report on Punjab, it was seen that with all other climatic variables remaining constant, temperature increases of 1⁰C, 2⁰C, 3⁰C would reduce the grain yield of rice by 5.4, 7.4 and 25.1 % respectively[iv]. The report by INCCA, in its projections for 2030, said that the yields of irrigated rice will be affected by about 10% in the coastal areas. Rain-fed rice yields are projected to increase upto 15% in many districts in the east coast, whereas they may fall by about 20% in the West Coasti. In India, rice is a widely grown crop. Its production determines livelihoods of majority of the farmers for one season. It is also the most water intensive crop. As temperatures rise, there is also increased stress on water required through the growing season. In India, 70% of our arable land is prone to drought, 12% to floods and 8% to cyclones[v]. In such cases, farmers who live with uncertainty have less money for food, farm investments and a reduced capacity and willingness to try out new technologies and practices.
To add to the rise in temperatures, in its Summary for Policymakers, the IPCC clearly stated that it is very likely that hot extremes, heat waves and heavy precipitation events will continue to become more frequent. Thus the uncertainty is bound to increase. These climate extreme events are being witnessed in India even this year. There has been high rainfall deficit at many places through most of the monsoon season, thus leading to crop losses. There is extreme rain in the hills, which lead to the floods in Uttarakhand, Bihar, Orissa and now in Jammu and Kashmir. But the government still does not acknowledge the role of climate change in these anomalies.
Adapting farmers: Even though the climate is changing, the farming practices have not changed at most places. But there has been evidence that at some places farmers have adopted different techniques in the face of climate change even if they do not address it directly, but only make decisions based on impacts. The small and marginal farmers, it has been noticed, do not have the capacity to go for fresh sowing in case the crop goes bad when rains fail.
The Baiga tribe of Mandia and Dindori districts in particular have reverted back to this technique of planting multiple crops, which are resilient to environmental stress and give assured yield. The Madia tribe in Maharashtra have reverted to a similar practice of penda. This is happening because the people have suffered huge losses due to unsuccessful paddy crop because of erratic rain. These practices are being implemented with the help of an NGO, Nirman. The problem facing the people today is that the land used for this is forest land and not agricultural land, thus causing land insecurity. However, these people are making the effort to save their livelihoods with no help from the government.
In the case of Bundelkhand region in Central India, over 70% of the population relies on rainfall for agriculture[vi]. The farmers here have started replacing wheat with barley as it is a less water intensive crop and this is a semi-arid region. It is also preferred because the input cost of barley is almost 50% less than wheat and its market price is 20% more. In this region, there have been efforts from organizations such as Development Alternatives which has formed farmers’ clubs to help the community adopt climate resilient techniques for agriculture, like drip and sprinkler irrigation, adoption of drought resistant seed varieties and integrated pest management.
In another report of a similar instance, basmati farmers in Karnal district are reverting back to an old practice of growing maize, which is a less water intensive crop[vii]. This is being undertaken even in large landholdings, as there is less water availability, with groundwater[viii] levels showing a decline in recent years. According to the National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture document, irrigation requirements in arid and semi-arid regions are estimated to increase by 10% for every 1⁰C rise in temperature[ix]. Therefore, it is very important for farmers to adopt techniques which help in its conservation.
The Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research (CGIAR) research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), in collaboration with IFFCO India, has started the pilot for implementing climate smart agricultural technologies in three villages in Bihar. In an attempt to alter the cropping pattern, they re-introduced the sowing of mungbean, which is a short duration crop of the summer season. It is planted during the fallow season and increases soil fertility. For increasing yield, the ‘PusaVisal’ variety of mungbean is used, which is a better variety compared to the previously used one[x]. The yield from the initial trials ranged from about 0.80-1.70 t/ha as against 0.30-0.80 t/ha under farmers’ practice. The yield for the pusavisal variety was also significantly higher than that of the farmers’ variety. Seeing such results, other farmers have also expressed the desire to follow suit.
The CCAFS is also taking initiative in Haryana, where about 26 villages are targeted. Various climate smart techniques like the laser-levelling technique are being implemented here. This technique, it is claimed, helps conserve about 25-30% of the water used otherwise in rice-crop plantation[xi]. Even the way of planting rice is different in that it is directly sown in the field where it then sprouts. This is known as “direct-seeded rice”. Apart from this, there is also the practice of using crop-residue to nourish fields, which saves the cost of extra fertilizer. To optimize the use of fertilizer, farmers are being taught to use a tool called “nutrient-expert”, which judges the amount of fertilizer application required in a field. These techniques help reduce uncertainty in the crop output. The earlier maize growing practice mentioned in the case of Karnal, is also one of the climate smart techniques.
Agriculture also contributes to the emission of greenhouse gases. In fact, in 2004, agriculture directly contributed to 14% of the global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions according to the IPCC[xii]. There has been an increase in CO2 emissions by about 100 ppm since pre-industrial times. Emissions of CO2 are often accompanied by ozone (O3) precursors that have driven a rise in troposphere O3 that harms crop yields. Elevated O3 since pre industrial times has very likely suppressed global production of major crops compared to what they would have been without O3 increases, with estimated losses of roughly 10% for wheat and soybean and 3-5% for maize and rice. Thus it is necessary that the government builds its capacity to better understand and measure the impact this has on agriculture and take the required steps to control it.
National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA): The focus of this mission under National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) is supposed to be to mainly improve the productivity of rain-fed agriculture. One might ask then, why it did not promote techniques like the System of Rice Intensification (SRI)[xiii] which requires much less water than conventionally grown rice. The mission recognizes that in the event of climate change, the vulnerability of India is more pronounced because it is dependent on agriculture, places excessive pressure on natural resources and has poor coping mechanisms.
It estimates that most of the crops are likely to witness a decline after 2020 which is when the temperature threshold of many crops might get breached. Studies suggest a significant decrease in cereal production by the end of this century. The situation will be most critical in areas which are rain-fed and have complex cropping systems. These constitute about 60% of the net cultivated area. But acknowledging it is one thing and doing something about it is quite another. The climate smart techniques are showing results at some places, but are still not being actively adopted by the government. In a recent press release, the ministry of agriculture announced that the sowing of kharif crop has crossed the 986.59 lakh ha mark, but this is still much less than the 1020.78 lakh ha which was sown last year around the same time[xiv]. Despite this, the government has expressed hope for a positive response in crop output next season, envisaging a growth of four percent[xv], while not acknowledging the impact of huge rainfall deficit in June July this year.
The mission acknowledges that since most of the agricultural production takes place in rural areas and engages people from the marginalized sections of the society, their coping capacity during climatic extremities are limited. But what has the government done since the inception of this plan? It has been almost 6 years since NAPCC was launched and the farmers still suffer the same fate without any compensation from the government. Even today, they are at the mercy of the weather. It will not work anymore to ignore the fact that this is now being aggravated by climate change. There is a need for more climate smart agricultural techniques in the country. The least the government can do is to acknowledge that the unpredictable weather patterns, especially the irregular monsoon is in fact a result of climate change. It will do good to also recognize that out of the 300 million undernourished in South Asia, about 250 million are in India[xvi] and any threat to agriculture is an added threat to their existence.
It is officially the monsoon season but there are no dark clouds to be seen on the horizon as yet in majority parts of the country. This year, like some previous drought years, the monsoon has disappointed and the rice crop is in jeopardy. The fields are almost dry and the provision for enough water for irrigation seems to be the only hope the farmers have. Over the past Century, water use around the world has been increasing at a rate more than twice that of population growth1. With the changing climatic conditions, water from rainfall is becoming more unreliable. It is in such a situation that the agricultural sector will have to feed more people and have very little water to spare1 as there is also pressure from increasing water demand from other sectors. In order to then get more crop with less water, our techniques of rice production must be modified. It is in this context that one can look at the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), which, experts argue and studies demonstrate, can be used to preserve this indispensable resource. Studies show that SRI uses upto 52.4% less water per ha of rice farm1.
It has been estimated that irrigated rice uses 34-43% of the world’s total irrigation water.1 Almost all the rice crop grown in India is sustained through irrigation. About 1900-5000 litres of water is used to produce 1 kg of rice2. Thus the water use is immense in rice production. SRI then, is an agro-ecological method for increasing the productivity of rice by changing the way that the plants, soil and water are managed. It is a technique developed in collaboration with the farmers in Madagascar in the 1980s. The purpose of SRI was to enable farmers with limited resources to increase their production and income without relying on external sources7. Most importantly, this practice can be adjusted to suit local climatic and soil conditions. This is because it is based on adjustments in the environment and not a change in the physiological aspect of the seed that is planted. The biggest advantage of SRI is the fact that it uses less seed and less water to give an increased yield as compared to conventionally transplanted (CT) rice. SRI does not require continuous flooding of fields like conventional rice, but requires water only when the crop needs it, i.e., when the field is relatively dry and ready for the next irrigation. Though by its name, SRI only stands for rice cultivation, it is also seen to be used in other crops.
Climate change adaptation: SRI using less water has larger root system in Andhra Pradesh, India.
A number of countries have been practising the SRI technique. In India, this has started becoming popular with farmers. Farmers in states such as Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Bihar, Tripura have been practising SRI and gaining good results from it for many years now. According to a report in The Hindu, the area under SRI management in Tamil Nadu has now reached about half of the State’s rice area8. It says that in Tripura, almost 3,50,000 farmers are practising SRI in about 1,00,000 hectares, almost half of the State’s rice area8. A recent report on Odisha by the Cornell University in their SRI-Rice Global News Update states that among the families studied by them who actively practise SRI, there was a saving of 19% in the cost of production as the grain yield was higher even though the cost of cultivation was 3.2% higher. The farmers had a positive perception about SRI because it was economically better for them6.
Water saving potential of SRI
Various other studies have been conducted to measure the amount of water saved in the use of SRI in different countries. The results have been positive almost everywhere. Jagannath, Pullabhotla and Uphoff1 in their Meta study comparing SRI and non-SRI method for irrigated rice production using data from 251 trials published in various studies, out of which 139 were from India, observe that there is almost 22% reduction in water use if one uses the SRI technique as compared to the traditional ways of cultivating rice. As compared to the mean Total Water Use (TWU) being about 15.3 million litres per hectare for conventional methods, SRI only demanded 12 million litres per hectare. The saving is even higher for the mean Irrigation Water Use, where non-SRl methods used about 11.1 million litres per hectare; SRI used about 7.2 million litres per hectare1. The study demonstrates that on an average, there is a “37.6% increase in water use efficiency (irrigation + other) with SRI methods compared to non-SRI methods”1. A study by Adusumilli and Bhagya Laxmi in Andhra Pradesh, India, in 2011 shows that there was upto 52.4% total water savings in SRI per ha basis and the SRI crop produced 18.5% higher rice, so water productivity of every kg of SRI rice was over 70% higher than that of non-SRI rice.
Y. V. Singh in his field experiment earlier in 2010-11, observed that less quality of water was utilized in SRI for the production of each unit of grain. Water saving of 34.5-36 % was recorded in SRI as compared to CT rice3. In SRI, cycles of repeated wetting and drying have been found beneficial to rice plant growth as it leads to increased nutrient availability leading ultimately to higher grain yield. There are visible gains in terms of yield upturn and water saving with non-flooding conditions7.
Singh, in his report, also recorded that there was a saving of 7-9 irrigations in SRI rice over CT rice. Besides savings in number of irrigations, there was saving in water in each irrigation since only 3cm water depth was filled in SRI whereas in CT used 5cm of water depth3.
The above statistics show that SRI has definitely been more efficient as a growing technique in conserving the water that is used for irrigation of the fields. It has also been observed that this is true for varying soil textures, differences in seasons, soil pH and also the duration of the variety of rice. Therefore, it is adaptable across diverse agro-ecologies.
An Indian woman shows the difference in the SRI (left) and the non-SRI (right) crop.
SRI is even more relevant in times of water scarcity:
So if we look at the question of water today, it becomes extremely important to then look at the benefits that SRI gives us. This year’s troubled monsoon (while the rainfall deficit at national level is 35% as on July 17, 2014, there are regions where the the rainfall deficit is as high as 64% in Punjab-Haryana, 71% in Western Uttar Pradesh & 82% in Gujarat, in fact these deficits were even higher on July 15, 2014) has been a cause for concern for farmers all over India. It is also the season for the rice crop. Areas of Central India and North-Western India have been receiving very less rainfall leading to reduced water availability. It has been getting more and more difficult for the farmers to maintain their crop and hope for the yield to be good. Since most of the rice crop is grown through irrigation, it then becomes important to maintain the sources of irrigation, mainly groundwater, since most dams do not have water at this stage.
In the Ganga Basin, one of the main kharif (monsoon season) crop is paddy or rice, significant part irrigated with water from the river and groundwater. The Ganga river is in crisis today not only because of pollution, but also because the river has very little freshwater most of the times and most of the places. In such conditions, if river is to have more freshwater all round the year, cutting down on water use for agriculture through SRI like technique for all crops can be hugely useful. SRI thus provides a less water consuming alternative to the people. Despite this potential, the government is not making any efforts to provide policy and economic incentives for farmers to take up SRI. It’s tried and tested benefits are being overlooked. SRI thus can also help the cause of the rivers in the Ganga basin.
Importance of Irrigation management:
Though all these studies have demonstrated that there is definite reduction in water use under SRI as compared to conventional methods, Adusumalli and Sen have also observed that even though this decrease is there, there are chances that the potential of water saving may be only marginally utilized4. This large potential in water saving can be realized through various measures like the better control and management of timeliness of water availability. But implementation of such types of irrigation is often difficult by farmers mainly due to lack of reliable water source & little water control7.
SRI practice in Uttarakhand Photo by Padmakshi Badoni
Application of such water saving technique to rice cultivation has the potential to reduce irrigation water requirements by upto 50% with yield advantage of upto 25%. This system requires low investment and is easy to operate. Proper water management is in fact key to higher yields and net income in SRI as this important input influences the effects of other inputs also.7
It is the Union Agriculture ministry, the state governments, agriculture universities and extension system which needs to wake up to this huge water saving potential of SRI, in addition to so many other advantages of SRI, including, most importantly, increasing the incomes of the farmers. This is particularly relevant in North West, West and Peninsular India. Even in climate change context, the SRI plants have shown greater adaptability to both droughts and floods. So why is it that this potential is not being harnessed? Why is it that on the one hand the government is making big budget plans for the apparent rejuvenation of rivers and on the other hand doing nothing about preserving their water? Why is it not pushing SRI in this drought year, particularly the western and North West India where there is maximum monsoon deficit?
Jagannath, P., Pullabhotla H. and Uphoff, N. 2013. Meta-Analysis Evaluating Water Use, Water Savings, and Water Productivity in Irrigated Production of Rice with SRI vs. Standard Management Methods. Taiwan Water Conservancy. Vol. 61. No. 4.
Jagannath, Pratyaya. “More Crop per Drop- System of Rice Intensification”. Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development. – published as a poster by the Cornell University.
Singh, Y. V. 2012. Crop and Water Productivity as influenced by Rice Cultivation Methods under Organic and Inorganic sources of Nutrient supply. Paddy and Water Environment. DOI 10.1007/s10333-012-0346-y. Springer-Verlag.
Adusumilli, R. and Schipper, R. Groundwater Irrigated Rice: A Techno-Economic exploration of the possibilities of producing ‘More Rice with Less Water’. Development Economics Group. Wageningen University and Research.
Adusumilli, R and Sen, D. Irrigation System Reforms: New Policy Opportunities with SRI.
Dass A and Dhar S. 2014. Irrigation Management for improving Productivity, Nutrient uptake and Water-use Efficiency in the system of rice intensification: a Review. AnnualAgricultural Research. New Series. Vol. 35 (2): 107-122.