Water is limiting and increasingly becoming scarce; there are so much data to elucidate this point. It is true whether one looks at a global, national or regional level. It is short in India. It is very limited in Maharashtra and so on. One cannot create this commodity, but only manage with what one has. In India, the highest water consuming sector is agriculture, 48 million ha area is irrigated, the highest in the world. But the way irrigation is practiced in the country for years on end, left us with a very disturbing legacy; the mal–impression that more water is equivalent to more yield. Scientifically, it is a very erroneous and dangerous concept; but followed in hundreds of thousands of farms of different sizes. Fighting hard to erase this concept itself is the core of modern water management. Historically, irrigation development in India meant only creation of large water storage capacities (dams) and channelizing it to the farms. There were no early attempts to control the actual water use in the farm. However in the last 15 –20 years, the on– farm water management has gone for credible changes. Most of this happened with the involvement of private sector like Jain irrigation who pioneered in popularizing drip and sprinkler irrigation among the small farmers in the country. Jain Irrigation went for a conceptual change in the first place, by coining a tag line–more crop per drop as against the popular mis–conception. Using in house research, drip irrigation was successfully adopted for all the crops–agriculture and horticulture– making a long needed impact in sustainable water use and management. I do not think any other intervention in the water picture is as impactful as changing the irrigation practice from flooding the land to dripping to the root zone.
Two of the highest water using crop is sugarcane and rice. Sugarcane is cultivated in 4.5 million ha and totally uses whopping 114300 million m3 water when irrigated in the conventional method for a 12 month duration crop. Introduction of drip irrigation cuts down the water consumption to 54085.5 million m3; a use reduction by 53 %. The water that is generated by the use economy can irrigate another 5.01 million ha. This may sound surprising to many in the non– irrigation field! But that is the true potential. In addition to the water conservation, the precision irrigation method results in higher yields of cane and lower fertilizer and power uses. It is a long way of, looking at the current adoption figures; 5.3 lakh ha of sugarcane under drip irrigation in India. CACP 2013 estimated that in Maharashtra, to produce 1 kg sugar requires 2068 liter water (only irrigation). Adoption of drip reduces this water use to 1000 liter/kg sugar (125 t cane per ha), and 476 liter/kg sugar (250 t cane /ha). Productivity hike makes this technology a sought after intrusion.
Rice production with drip irrigation may surprise many of you. We at Jain irrigation, have in the last 8 years tested, verified , monitored and been extending this technology which is powerful enough to impact the very foundation of rice agriculture: 3.8 t/acre rice was produced with a water use of 3.2 million liter per acre as against 3.1 t/acre rice with 9.5 million liter water per acre in the trial plots (please note average Indian rice yield is only 2.1 t/ha (840 kg/acre). The reduction in water use is 66.3% and increase in yield is 22%. Farmer adoption of this technology is slow, mainly because of the lack of governmental investment (unlike for other crops) and support for adoption and the core issue of attitudinal change.
Drip irrigation technology thus offers HOPE for the difficult times that are to be faced in the coming years where we would be forced to further restrict use of water for agriculture in lieu of providing for other basic human needs!