Addressing India’s Water Crisis

Most of the efforts to tackle the water crisis are concentrated in desperately and endlessly trying to increase the supply of water. But not enough attention is paid towards solutions on the demand side.

Water Consumption in Farming

Agriculture is the largest consumer of water in India. About 90 per cent of is consumed in farming. About 80 per cent of this water in irrigation is used for water-guzzling crops such as rice, wheat and sugarcane.

Hence India has to look at measures for reducing this number and it is advocated as the most effective way of solving India’s water problem.

How to reduce water consumption in Farming?

Crop Diversification

Farmers, even in drought-prone areas, grow these water-intensive crops due to the steady demand for these crops. Also, the governments over the past 50 years, have primarily procured wheat and rice. Further sugarcane is provided with steady demand by sugar factories.

Hence there is a need to diversify the procurement operations to include less water-intensive crops, like millets, pulses and oilseeds, especially in India’s drylands. This would incentive farmers to grow them.

Post Procurement

Before diversifying the procurement a question which needs to be answered is “what will we do with these crops after procurement? A simple solution to this would be to introduce them in the mid-day meal scheme and the integrated child development services.

This would create an enormous and steady demand for these crops and farmers in the regions where it is ecologically appropriate to grow them and farmers would be incentivised to shift away from water-intensive crops.

Benefits of Crop Diversification

There is no doubt that the Green Revolution has played a key role in India’s food security in the 1970s and 1980s. But there is also no doubt in the fact that in 21st century, the returns from chemical fertilisers and pesticides have steadily fallen. The Finance Minister in her budget speech spoke about the need to move towards nature-based farming. But this was not backed up by any change in the budgetary allocations, which continue to flow in support of chemical agriculture with a whopping Rs 80,000 crore fertiliser subsidy.

Multiple Wins in Agriculture

The crop diversification will not address the water woes, it will also provide for improvement in soil and water quality, higher and more stable net incomes for farmers, reduced malnutrition and obesity, and a simple solution to India’s water problem through a huge reduction in the use of water in agriculture.

Providing water for other sectors

Diversifying the cropping pattern and aligning it more closely with India’s agro-bio-geo-ecological diversity will release voluminous quantities of water for meeting the drinking water needs in both rural and urban areas, and the demands of industry.

Malnutrition and Obesity

The nutri-cereals are enriched with much higher protein, iron and fibre but with a significantly lower glycemic index. This will make a great contribution in twin problems of malnutrition and obesity.
In India diabetes has increased in every Indian state between 1990 and 2016. Even among the poor there has been an increase in instances of diabetes from 26 million in 1990 to 65 million in 2016. This number is projected to double by 2030.

A major contributor to this epidemic is the displacement of whole foods in our diets by energy dense and nutrient-poor, ultra-processed food products. This transition had a clear relationship with the monoculture India adopted after the Green Revolution where farmers mainly grew wheat and rice. Crop diversification will aid in addressing all these problems.

Need of People Participatory Approach

By its very nature Water is a shared resource. It can only be nourished through participatory governance. Hence India needs to democratise water.

Whether it is rivers or groundwater, they can be protected only if we recognise the integral inter-connectedness of catchment areas, rivers and rural and urban aquifers. There are countless examples all over India where stakeholders have come together to form democratic associations to manage their shared resource collectively, equitably and sustainably.

It is now for the government to take the necessary steps to learn from these pioneers and upscale their efforts through a respectful partnership with the primary custodians.

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