When you start to think about sustainable development and things like food and water security, you come to realise that it is the humble farmer, who has the most valuable and important job of this country. Farmers are saddled with a difficult dual responsibility: to supply primary agricultural produce in large enough quantities, safely, and at affordable prices – whilst minimising damage caused to the fragile environment.
Farming is a complex enterprise that requires many tasks – ensuring enough soil and water, machinery to prepare fields, plant crops, harvest and transport them. It needs fertilisers to supplement natural soil nutrients, antibiotics to tackle animal disease and pesticides to protect crops. It also requires capital to finance all of this, and to boot, favourable weather conditions.
It is little wonder then, that in today’s turbulent times of climate change, that farmers are indeed one of the primary causes behind the over-extraction, and inefficient use, of water in India. With the agricultural sector consuming as much as 80-85% of India’s total freshwater and 70 percent of India’s groundwater, there is a need to shine a spotlight on this pivotal sector – where flood irrigation delivers only 35-40% water use efficiency, as opposed to micro-irrigation which has up to 90% efficiency.
Educating Farmers on Efficient Water Management – Key to Drinking Water Crisis in India
According to one estimate, a mere 5-10% improvement in water efficiency by farmers would be enough to meet all the drinking water needs in India. But to date, much of the strategy to address the impending water crisis has focused on the ‘supply side’ – large infrastructure projects to harvest or tap into more and more water, to meet the needs of India’s swelling population.
However, there are large gains to be made in focusing efforts on the ‘demand side’ – working with the people to be more water-efficient and educating them on ways to consume less of this valuable resource. If we compare the water consumption of India to China with a slightly larger population and double the size of the economy, the latter uses 28% less water than India. Clearly something is going wrong here.
Simple technologies, like micro-irrigation, can be the ‘game changer’ when it comes to water in India if only adoption and uptake would increase. Unfortunately, the coverage of drip (2.13%) and sprinkler (3.30%) methods of irrigation is very meagre compared to its total potential in India, (which is estimated to be 21.01 million hectares for drip and 50.22 million hectares of sprinkler irrigation). India has a long, long way to go.
However, it can be achieved. Even in states like Punjab where farmers have access to abundant water for free, the education of farmers has proved the deciding factor – farmers in Bhatinda have invested in micro-irrigation, convinced of reaping returns in terms of improved yield, cost savings and improved profitability. That, along with the environmental savings to be made in terms of the availability of groundwater to be handed over to the next generation, has motivated them to put their hand in their pocket and adopt a new method of irrigation.
Investments at Grassroots
Investment is to be made in people, at the grassroots. There is a need to build their capacity, generate awareness, handhold and guide them to change their behaviour and adopt a different way of doing things.
We need to place higher value on the role our farmers can play in meeting the food and water needs of our country. Whilst they may have been part of the problem in the past, they certainly provide a key to the solution in the future, if only we turn our attention towards them, respect the work they do and begin to educate them on the way forward for producing food, sustainably, to meet the needs of current and future generations.
Views of the author are personal and do not necessarily represent the website’s views.
Pearl Tiwari is the Director of Ambuja Cement Foundation, the CSR wing of Ambuja Cements Limited. In a professional career spanning over 30 years, Pearl has been associated with the not-for-profit, educational and corporate sectors. Pearl joined Ambuja in 2000 and ever since has been at the helm of nurturing the Ambuja Cement Foundation that has expanded from a fledgeling team to nearly 400 development professionals, with a pan-India presence active in 21 locations across 11 states.
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The CSR Journal Team