India ranks 2nd world wide in farm output. Agriculture and allied sectors like forestry and fisheries accounted 13.7% of the GDP (Gross Domestic Production) in 2019, and employed 50% of the workforce. The irrigation infrastructure includes a network of canals from rivers, ground water, well based systems, tanks and other rain water harvesting products for agriculture activities. Today ground system is the largest, covering – 160 million ha of cultivated land in India with 39 million ha irrigated by ground water, 22 million ha by irrigated canals and about two third of cultivation in India is still depending on monsoon.
- India is facing a water crisis, attributed to its burgeoning population, lack of adequate planning, increased corporatisation, and industrial and human waste. According to a study by the National Geophysical Research Institute, the largest depletion of groundwater in the world is happening in north India, with Delhi as the epicentre. According to estimates, water scarcity can lead to loss of up to 6% of GDP by 2030. Experts say groundwater is being pumped out 70% faster than was earlier estimated. Efforts to conserve water have been negligible, as the country lacks both in advocacy and implementation.
- This water crisis poses a serious challenge to agriculture, with unmonitored water wastage causing a huge loss to farmers who face increased production cost and poverty in drought-prone areas. India ranks second in the world in farm output, and agriculture contributes 17% of the nation’s GDP. Still, irrigation systems in most states are centuries old. There is over-dependence on the monsoon. The irrigation infrastructure—canals, groundwater, well-based systems, tanks and rainwater harvesting—has seen substantial expansion over the years, but is clearly not enough.
- About 78% of the fresh water is consumed by agriculture. The inequity in irrigation water allocation among crops, with more than 60% being diverted for the cultivation of two water-guzzling crops (sugar cane and paddy), adds to the distress. These two crops are being cultivated widely in some of the most water-stressed regions of the country. These must be shifted to regions that have a higher water table. Instead, cultivation of less water-consuming crops like maize, pulses and oilseeds should be encouraged in water-stressed regions.
Effect On Agricultural Activities
Water is essential to the popular occupation of agriculture in India. Farmers are unable to produce crops in the absence of water. The drought in 2019 even destroyed the supplementary crops in addition to the winter crops. The scarcity of water has rendered a lot of valuable farmland in India completely useless and much of the farming industry in these regions has ceased to operate. In 2020, the city of Latur witnessed mass unemployment, where about half of its workforce was threatened to be unemployed as the agricultural industry struggled. Much of the local economy and farming regions nearly collapsed as the citizens were left with no choice but to use the polluted water. This implied reduced job opportunities in rural areas, which pushed citizens to move to the cities in search of jobs. Such a trend only adds pressure to the already strained infrastructure as the demand for water in large cities continues to increase.
Solutions to the Crisis
- However, there are solutions to the crisis such as reducing the need for the enormous amounts of water used for crops. Because agriculture accounts for nearly 90 percent of India’s water consumption, reducing the dependence on water-intensive crops and agricultural methods would substantially increase water for drinking and make farmers less vulnerable to water shortages. Environmental scientist Kyle Davis stated, “Diversifying the crops that a country grows can be an effective way to adapt its food-production systems to the growing influence of climate change.” In addition, the use of alternative grains can improve nutrition and reduce greenhouse emissions from agriculture.
- Other steps are currently underway for alleviating the water crisis. In 2017, Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed an $87 billion plan to reduce flooding and improve irrigation by linking 60 rivers across India. So far only 16 rivers have been linked and the effect of this plan is yet to be determined. Some Indian states such as Maharashtra have followed the example of Israel and implemented a drip irrigation method, which involves dripping water onto individual plants through tubes or pipes rather than flooding whole fields.
- Whatever the means, the India water crisis must come to an end. One-hundred million children in India lack water and one out of every two are underfed. Water security must be guaranteed in India amidst rising temperatures and falling water tables so families can raise their children with dignity and health in the upcoming century. A slew of solutions indicate hope for the future, though.