The theme for World Water Day 2020 is ‘Water and Climate Change’. Indeed the changing climate has been altering the weather system in multiple ways. Extreme weather events like flash floods, intense heat, prolonged droughts, intense cold spells striking different parts of the world are increasingly being linked to the climate change. Changing water cycle is a major consequence. The farmers are among the most affected, facing all kinds of water problems including droughts, scarcity, flooding, hail storms, cyclones, unseasonal rains and pollution.
Several initiatives are being taken by the farmers, civil society groups to find right solutions to the water challenges, many of which have brought positive changes. Here we have compiled some such positive water options from the past one year. We hope this can encourage us to look for such community driven water options.
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.