Growing gap in irrigation potential and usage major challenge

To reduce the consumption of water and maximise agricultural productivity in the country, the government is trying to introduce different innovations

By Jitendra
Published: Friday 06 September 2019

The gap between irrigation potential created, through major and minor projects, and the actual usage is increasing and affecting the country’s agricultural productivity, according to the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR), the premier agricultural education and research body under the Union Ministry of Agriculture.

"The key challenge facing the irrigation sector in India is the growing gap between Irrigation Potential Created (IPC) and Irrigation Potential Utilised (IPU), and uneven distribution of water over the length of the canal system," says Trilochan Mohapatra, Director General, ICAR.

About 80 per cent of the current water use is drawn by agriculture. Irrigated area accounts for nearly 48.8 per cent of the 140 million hectare (mha) of agricultural land in India. The remaining 51.2 per cent is rainfed.

The increasing gap also impacts rainfed production in the country. The mean productivity of rainfed area (71.62 mha) is about 1.1 tonne per ha compared to 2.8 tonne per hectare of irrigated area.

The country receives annual precipitation (including snowfall) of almost 4,000 billion cubic metre (BCM), which results into estimated average water potential of 1,869 BCM. But its per capita availability is reducing year on year, the ICAR said. The per capita annual water availability has declined from 5,177 cubic metre (cm) in 1951 to 1,508 cm by 2014, and is likely to reduce further to 1,465 cm and 1,235 cm by 2025 and 2050, respectively. This reducing availability of water compounded by climate change would further deteriorate the condition, the agricultural research body said.

To reduce the consumption of water and maximise agricultural productivity in the country, the government is trying to introduce different innovations. It also plans to come up with district wise crop plan data to promote crop diversification, Mohapatra said at a recent press conference in New Delhi.

As a result of climate change the country has been witnessing drought and flood at the same time, which has impacted agriculture productivity. About 40 mha of the country is flood prone and every year about 8 mha is affected by floods. The waterlogged area in the country is about 11.6 mha.

“The situation may further deteriorate, if the anticipated impact of climate change on hydrology and water resources are also considered,” Mohapatra told Down To Earth.

However, some technological breakthrough could help in increasing efficiency of surface irrigation system and groundwater irrigation system, according to ICAR scientists.

The overall irrigation efficiency of the major and medium irrigation projects is estimated to be around 38 per cent. “The efficiency of surface irrigation system can be improved from about 35-40 per cent to around 50-60 per cent and that of groundwater from about 65-70 per cent to 72-75 per cent,” Mohapatra noted. 

Mohapatra said that ICAR institutes have developed a cost effective water sensor to measure soil moisture to control flooding irrigation, automated sensor to make time table for irrigation.

A recent experiment on the water guzzling crop banana, by researchers from the New Delhi-based Indian Agriculture Research Institute (IARI), showed 40 per cent lesser water consumption and 25 per cent lesser fertiliser consumption. Another experiment is finding ways to use treated waste water for agriculture.

ICAR has also constituted a committee to look into viability and further scaling up of zero-budget farming, Mahapatra said. 

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.