India is facing the twin challenge of water scarcity and population explosion. The ongoing water crisis has affected nearly 600 million people and is expected to only worsen: The country’s population is touted to increase to 1.6 billion by 2050.
The agriculture sector is the largest consumer of water in India. It accounts for approximately 90 percent of 761,000 billion litres of annual freshwater withdrawals in the country. Per capita consumption of water in the agriculture sector ranges from 4,913 to 5,800 kilolitre per capita per year.
Agriculture may have to face the brunt: Water would be diverted to other sectors and agriculture would have to make its peace with lesser and poorer quality of water.
How and To what: extent would micro-irrigation help in solving India’s water crisis:
- Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana or “more crop per drop”: Under the programme, financial assistance of up to 55 per cent is available for small and marginal farmers and 45 per cent for other farmers for adoption of micro-irrigation systems.
- Micro-irrigation can increase yields and decrease water, fertiliser and labour requirements: By applying water directly to the root zone, the practice reduces loss of water through conveyance, run-off, deep percolation and evaporation.
- Micro-irrigation, through its water-saving approach, has paved the way for higher water use efficiency of around 75-95 per cent.
- Another resource saving practice possible through micro-irrigation is fertigation, which comprises combining water and fertiliser application through irrigation. Fertigation results in balanced nutrient application, reduced fertilizer requirement of around 7 to 42 per cent (thus, saving expenditure cost incurred by farmer), higher nutrient uptake and nutrient use efficiency.
- Focus on degraded and wastelands: It is quite apparent that in the present scenario, vertical expansion of agricultural lands is not possible. Therefore, in order to increase the yield and productivity, we have to focus on degraded and wastelands. Micro-irrigation provides this opportunity. A national-level survey undertaken for the Union government showed that farmers were able to bring 519.43 hectares of degraded land under cultivation through the technique. It also helped use saline water for irrigation without causing salinity or osmotic stress to plants
- Significant electricity savings — resulting in an average consumption reduction of 28.5 per cent, according to a Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry report.
- Another advantage is maintenance of optimum soil moisture conditions that help increase overall productivity and profitability. The productivity for fruit crops increased 42.3 percent and that of vegetable crops by 52.8 per cent.
The practice needs wide scale adaptation in India, particularly in the Indo-Gangetic plains where the soil salinity is high.
Israel can be a good example — a desert nation with water scarcity has become a water surplus nation because it adapted micro-irrigation practises, especially drip irrigation that saves almost three-fourths of the water used for irrigation done through open canals.