Agriculture is the biggest user of water. Nationally, groundwater contributes up to 62% of water used for irrigation. Alarming rates of ground water depletion deserves urgent attention. Rice, wheat, cotton and sugarcane are the four major crops in India which occupy 46% of gross cropped area (GCA) but take up 65% of the gross irrigated area (GIA).
This signifies the need for sustainable cropping pattern, which is in line with water usage.
It has been projected that population and income growth will boost water demand in future to not only meet food production, but also to support living standards. The water availability for agricultural uses has already reached a critical level. The next step is to move up on the water usage, conservancy and recirculation by advanced precision agriculture, which will direct the water to the precise seed bed, thereby reducing the quantity of water even up to 30% of current needs. More importantly, water will be directed only to crops rather than unwanted areas like weeds. Most of the soil is left undisturbed, thereby reducing losses due to evaporation and preserve soil quality.
Improved water use technologies for farmers – such as micro-irrigation systems – can improve fertiliser and power use efficiency by 28% and 30% respectively, and this can be directly translated into considerable water savings. This saved water will further help in bringing more area under cultivation.
The challenge in future will be to ensure efficient as well as productive utilisation of available water, through a collaborative participation of all concerned stakeholders.
Therefore, an integrated agriculture water policy at the national level is essential to address major concern areas in the context of agricultural water use. The FICCI-PwC report on ‘Plugging India’s agri-water gap: Sustainable and Innovative approaches’ (http://ficci.in/publication.asp?spid=23182) consolidates relevant facts and analysis on the aspects of water usage in the agriculture sector. I am certain the report will be of interest to policymakers, industry players and academia.
The author is Chairman, FICCI National Agriculture Committee and Group President, TAFE Ltd