Micro Irrigation Technology in India

By : Dr. P.Soman, Senior Vice president & Chief Agronomist, Jain Irrigation Systems Ltd.
Posted on : 11thJuly 2015, Jalgaon


Agriculture in India is climate restricted; 48% of the geographiacl area of the country receiving less than 1000 mm rain and the rest 1000-2500 mm. The difficulty is that the rainfall is occuring in 3-4 months duration making it imperative for rainwater storage and irrigation. But the availble water for irrigation can not cover the net cultivted area. Only 48% of cultivated area is presently irrigated. Irrigation cover can not be increased as the available 1143 BCM water would not extend further. By 2050 our water need (both irrigation and total need) would cross the availabity level. This is a grim situation. It is made more so by the need for increasing food production. To achieve the increased food production of 494 million t by 2050, our irrigated area should increase from 79 million ha to 146 million ha. This can not happen as the water is limited. Production can not be increased by increasing in area alone; area will increase only by 2 million ha during 2010-2050. So we are into a very difficult situation.

The only way out is to identify water conserving irrigation methods. Incidentally, the technolgy of drip irrigation serves better in this scenario. It offers a way of irrigating more land with less water (water security); more yield with less water (food security) and more food production with less energy use (energy security). Micro-irrigation offers effective solutions in the area of water conservation and effcient and sustainable water use.

Micro-irrigation scenario in India

Micro irrigation technology is gradually emerging as DEMAND driven technology  these days in India. This stage has come about over a period of 25 years. The role of Private manufacturers, Government policies and Level of farmer awareness and role of media has helped to create the present situation. From a scantily respected “forced in Technology” micro irrigation has grown to a “sought after” technology.

The coverage of micro irrigation is 7.5 million ha (Drip 3.2 and Sprinkler 4.3 million ha each) in India by 2014. The awareness level however has grown tremendously. The spread of technology has however, been restricted to states like Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. The North and North Eastern states of India still have not come into the main picture yet. States like Haryana and Punjab are slowly getting into the groove.

There is an overall potential of 27.80 million ha area in India is suitable for providing drip irrigation. This includes fruits, vegetables, Sugarcane, Cotton, Tobacco, spices, Tea, Coffee, Rubber and Coconut and floriculture crops. Additional potential exists in the future by more crops getting adapted to drip or sprinkler method of irrigation with modified cultivation practices.

For example, trials are underway with positive results in the case of pulses, especially pigeon pea.  These irrigation methods are also getting acceptance for   primary cereals like wheat and maize.  And the last frontier, rice is also grown successfully with drip and fertigation technology  (Soman, 2010).             

Of the potential area for Drip irrigation only 58% comes under irrigation cover at present. The idea of rain water harvesting, and farm pond concept would have to be taken with high priority to bring in the presntly rain fed areas also under drip irrigation.

Similarly, 38.7 million ha area grows crops that can be suitably irrigated by Sprinkler systems.

 Micro irrigation technology aims to enhance crop productivity and quality, besides reducing water and power used for crop production. It is applicable to all regions of the country irrespective of being irrigated (water sufficient) or dry (water deficit). Even States with sufficient water resources have adopted micro irrigation. Haryana, for example has the highest adoption rate of Sprinkler systems in the country. Andhra Pradesh has the highest rate of drip adoption.

Comprehensive crop cultivation package catalyzed by drip-fertigation technology.

The idea of drip irrigation is not just the plastic tubes and metal or plastic filters that go along with it. Its application is a marriage of thorough understanding of the physiology of the crop at different developmental stages and the requirements of the crop in terms major inputs: water and nutrients. The physical part of drip system gives a tool to effectively consummate this marriage. Knowledge of the soil, climate, crop and its growth stages are essential to apply this technology to our advantage. Its application should produce high yield at lower rate of input consumption. The irrigation technology thus impacts crop productivity and production in a more sustainable manner.

One of the essential issue that was factored into the Jain irrigation business model for popularizing drip /sprinkler technology is educating the user/farmer and enhancing his capacity to adopt it successfully. Considering the small land holdings of average Indian farmer and the remoteness of his locations, adapting the technologies to his requirement was one other key factor.   We have to educate farmers in the use and benefits of micro irrigation using the approach of “ SEEING is BELIEVING”; using field demonstrations.  Therefore we established Research, Development and Demonstration farms in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan. Several crops with drip or sprinkler systems are grown continually every season /year and visiting farmers are given a complete exposure to these real time demonstrations.  Farmers are also given training in operation and maintenance of the systems.  This effort has yielded very good results. If one is to assess the impact of these technologies in the Indian context, these efforts would prove to be the best drivers. Drip technology succeeded only because of  the persistent  support to farmers by field level technical support offered  through  a team Agronomists of the company.

The Company established a well recognized Training centre (JAIN HIGH TECH AGRICULTRE INSTITUTE, JHAI) located in Jalgaon where training of farmers in modern methods of agriculture is continuous activity. This centre has been recognised by several Indian and foreign universities and FAO as a center of excellence.

Adapting drip technology to various crops- Changes in Agronomy

As indicated above, drip irrigation is not just a way water conveyance to the crops alone.  The uniqueness is in the matching water/fertilizer delivery rate to crop requirements. While progressing along this line perceptible changes need to be introduced in crop geometry and management. This process also addresses the need for cost optimization without curtailing performance  of the system (see photo).

Change in crop density leads to optimization of plant population aiming to produce maximum yield. This was achieved quite spectacularly in the case of Onion cultivation in Maharashtra. From 35-50, 000 plants per acre yielding 4-5 tons per acre a change was brought about by planting 1.8 to 2.5 lakh plants and harvesting 11-14 t/acre. Change in plant population and varied geometry also resulted in maximum utilization  of the water  emitted by the drip line.

Another major  intervention in the cropping package is the introduction of multiple rotations of crops in a year on a drip system installed once.  Here the idea is that the physical system is not unique to any one crop, but can support a series of rotation crops by changing irrigation and fertigation schedules and assist farmers in  growing 2 or 3 seasonal crops per year. The interventions by high value crops, quality seeds/seedlings and drip and fertigation technology and farmer training and technical back stopping arrangements helped to achieve this in a very short time (Table 1)

Another major  intervention in the cropping package is the introduction of multiple rotations of crops in a year on a drip system installed once.  Here the idea is that the physical system is not unique to any one crop, but can support a series of rotation crops by changing irrigation and fertigation schedules and assist farmers in  growing 2 or 3 seasonal crops per year. The interventions by high value crops, quality seeds/seedlings and drip and fertigation technology and farmer training and technical back stopping arrangements helped to achieve this in a very short time (Table 1)

Crop Yield under Conventional Yield under high tech
t/ha  t/ha
Gherkin 10 30
Baby Corn* 4.5 6.5
Tomato Hybrid* 35 70
Potato* 15 25
Sugar cane 65 130
Chilly green* 12.5 25
Chilly red* 1.8 3.6

*Crops in rotation on the same drip system.

In the above project in Kuppam region of Chitoor District of Andhra Pradesh, farmers also replaced low value low yielding crops like Sorghum and Pearl millet  with high value vegetables . 

Another impactful project level intervention of micro irrigation and fertigation is the precision farming projects. The State of Tamil Nadu first introduced this type of project and achieved several records in productivity, incomes and even entrepreneurship, in an area where water is very short and season length is determined by the scarce water availability. A number of small technological steps were taken by the farmers- effective land preparation, soil surface management, nursery practices, optimizing plant population and efficient input management thru drip and fertigation and a very well-planned crop rotation strategy. The result is there everyone to see. A record yield of 148 t/ac of brinjal is produced here. Several other crops have also yielded very high. Farmers in this project also formed a producers co-operative and began marketing the farm produce.

Table 2. Performance of high tech packages in Precision farming Project in, Dharmapuri  Dist.,Tamil Nadu, India.

yield in conventional 50 t/ha
yield in drip + package 112.5 t/ha
gross return in conventional 1,50,000 Rs/ha
gross return in Drip + package 5,62500 Rs/ha
Farmer business income in Conventional 1,01250 Rs/ha
Farmer business income in Drip + package 3,56,250 Rs/ha

The high- tech package, that Jain Irrigation has developed with tissue culture sapling+ drip+ fertigation + Ratoon management, for banana has been successfully adopted by farmers in several parts of the country. Table 3 shows the assessment of the package.

Table 3: Tissue culture banana performance with High tech practices including drip and fertigation , in Theni District, Tamil Nadu, India.

  main crop ratoon 1 ratoon 2
yield in Conventional 50 t/ha 30t/ha None
Yield under drip + TC+ high tech package 105t/ha 105 t/ha 105t/ha
Net income (conventional)  Rs 2,40,000 in 36 months    
Net income in TC+ drip + high tech package Rs 14,40,000 in 30 months    

If one takes a view of overall country and the spread of the drip technology one would find a lot of variation in its adoption among the different states. This variation has been due to different factors:

  • Variation in the prevailing knowledge about the technology in each state
  • Perceptional difference in role of drip technology vis- a- vis irrigation water availability.
  • Difference in the governmental support and involvement at the state level.
  • Variation in farmer apathy to new technology
  • Variation in the efforts by private equipment manufacturers in concept familiarization.
  • Variation in the quality maintenance approach by small scale manufacturers and short term players threatening the concept from establishing itself.

Role of Govt. in propagating the technology.

The policies of the government, the central Government and most of the states’ are supportive. The States that are lagging behind should be encouraged to participate in the national program. They should focus in extending governmental support, building up farmer awareness through training and extension and begin to implement the micro Irrigation program through a well focused single implementation agency.

All state governments should consider drip irrigation as a necessary component of High tech crop production package. From the past it is learned that States which formed single focused agency for implementing the program could make impressive progress in adoption of the technology. Restrictions regarding, crops, location, cumbersome proceedures etc. only limit the adoption and spread of the technology.

Future of the technology

The technology has proved beyond question in some 45 different crops. As such drip irrigation sector has no limitation  for growth except the quantum of investment that the country can make. Every crop can get a suitable micro irrigation system type based on its characteristics. A growth of 30-40 % every year in the next 10 years in anticipated of this technology adoption. Its extension has to be   farmer- centric and the technology providers will have to work as a solution provider to all water users across the globe.

Introduction of this technology for major cereals , rice and wheat in large scale would be the culmination of the long saga of adaptation and adoption.  We at Jain Irrigation successfully grew rice and wheat for the last 8 years with drip irrigation and fertigation. In both cases the yields improved by 25-45% and water consumption reduced by 50 to 60 percentage in Research plots.   These technologies are demonstrated to the farmers in various states and the adoption has begun.  This of course would be the future in terms of application of the technology.  

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