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India receives an average of 4,000 billion cubic meters of precipitation every year. However, only 48% of it is used in India’s surface and groundwater bodies. The NITI Aayog has released the Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) which signifies that around 54% of the country is water-stressed. Agriculture is the biggest user of water, accounting for about 80 percent of the water usage and 80% of farmers using groundwater to irrigate their lands. While various technological interventions are being envisaged for addressing water stress in agriculture, the technology needs to be packaged along with adequate policies, support services, markets etc. as these are critical factors to be effectively implemented at scale. This article explores the need and appropriate placement such technologies to achieve desired results.
Hidden under the Covid-19 crisis and amidst the generous and erratic rains of 2020 which resulted in floods in many regions, India continues to face a severe water crisis. The NITI Aayog has released the Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) in 2018 which assesses key water resources-related indicators considering various aspects of groundwater, water body restoration, irrigation, farm practices, drinking water, policy, governance, etc. CWMI estimated that around 21 Indian cities and their nearby districts will face water crisis in 2020. 54% of the country is under water stress (Ref Fig 1).
India receives an average of 4,000 billion cubic meters of precipitation every year but only 48% is retained in surface and groundwater bodies. Dearth of storage processes, lack of adequate infrastructure, inappropriate water management has created a situation where only 18-20% of the precipitationis used in India, water availability per-capita was over 5000 cubic meters (m3) per annum in 1950, which now stands at around 2000 m3 and is projected to be 1500 m3 by 2025 with deteriorating quality and gross inequalities between basins and geographic regions.
Agriculture accounts for about 80% of the Indian water usage and 80% of irrigated lands uses groundwater as irrigation source. There is pressure for diverting water from agriculture to other sectors but the re-allocation of water out of agriculture can have unforeseen and dramatic impacts on agriculture. It is projected that the availability of water for agricultural use may be reduced by 21%within a couple of years, resulting in reduced yield of irrigated crops, especially rice, in-turn resulting ininflation and food insecurity among poor. India is thus required to produce more from less water resources and thereby use water resources judiciously and optimally.
Since irrigated land consumes most of the available water resources, it is necessary to improve the efficiency of the existing irrigation systems to meet the increasing demand. Improved water management by use of effective agricultural practices, suitable cropping pattern in conformity with soil and climatic conditions, prevention of run-offs, water-saving irrigation
technologies like drip & sprinklers, control of soil moisture losses by mulching, organic fertilizer usage, etc. are the need of the hour.
Technology for water stress reduction in Indian Agriculture
Technologies are often classified into hardware, software, and orgware. Hard technologies, or hardware, refer to physical tools, infrastructure development etc.; soft technologies, or software, refer to the processes, knowledge and skills required in using the technology; and organisational technologies, or orgware, refer to the ownership and institutional arrangements pertaining to a technology. In the water sector, ‘hard’ technologies refer to structures such as ponds, wells, reservoirs, and rainwater harvesting equipment, whereas ‘soft’ technologies are those applied to improve water use efficiency,like water recycling techniques.Orgware include institutional mechanisms like water-user associations, water-pricing systems, etc.
Alternately, technologies reducing water stress may also be classified into core technologies, complimentary technologies and enabling technologies, respectively (Refer Fig2). Core technologies constitute of products and services to enhance quality and availability of ground water, surface water, rainwater harvesting and maintenance of soil moisture for agricultural use. A set of products and services also address water stress in agriculture through indirect or complimentary technologies supporting core technologies, like drought resistant seeds, water efficient tools, machines and implements used for non-irrigation related functions in the Agricultural value chains like processing etc. Lastly, enabling technologies find their relevance in servicing core and complementary technologies through functions like development of supportive govt. infrastructure like farm ponds, capacity building of farmers or stakeholders on farming that include water use efficiency etc.
Implementation programs addressing water stress in Indian Agriculture need a combination of all three technology types in a mutually supportive manner to ensure sustainable and effective results.It is also important to understand that technology for addressing water stress needto be delivered in a package and that any standalone innovative technology is extremely difficult to be effectively scaled up Indian Agricultural context. The critical componentswhich are required for effective implementation of technologiesare:
(i)commensurate support services including financial services, logistics, marketing etc.
(ii) good governance and organization of farmers in the form of Farmer producer organisations (FPO), water user groups etc. along with enhanced capacities and awareness levels of farmers and
(iii) supportive government policies in the form of appropriate investments, infrastructure development, energy policies, etc. particularly when technologies are promoted by Business institutions including start-ups.
Addressing water stress in Indian Agriculture calls for effective positioning of technologies for large scale impact.Technology, especially from private developers, in the Indian Agriculture context have a unique relationshipwith the governance situation as described in the techno-governance matrix(refer Fig 2).Although not watertight, the 4 scenariosof the matrix depict Indian agriculture with respect to the level of governance and enabling policies for technology interventions.The technology positioning strategies for each scenario differ from each other.
This scenario depicts the picture of small and marginal farmers In India which constitute more than 80% of the Indian farming population. Typically, this segment is characterized by high volumes and low margin crops like cereals, oilseeds, pulses etc. which have relatively low return on investment. Farmers often face issues related to inferior produce quality and limited market access. Water stress is characterized by lack of water saving practices and lack of basic irrigation infrastructure coupled with low levels of awareness and capabilities. The technological needs of this segment are technological interventions which are low cost, scalable and suited for better adoption with small and marginal farmers. More pertinent skill development and awareness generation initiatives are required at this level. Partnerships with various government institutions and convergence with existing schemes will help in scale-up and outreach.
This depicts the current picture of an evolving Indian agriculture scenario. Farmers are being organized into FPOs and other institutions in a mission mode. Special focus is being given in developing support services for farmers. There are efforts to create market linkages with remunerative markets as well along with Agri-marketing reforms. With new government schemes and programs targeted at this quadrant, technology intervention is catching pace. However existing technologies addressing water stress is still at low levels and opportunities are present to develop appropriate technologies and implement them through capable farmer institutions operating channels like custom hiring centers and enabling services like financial services and marketing.
Ordinarygovernance withadvanced technology:
This depicts a picture of high-end technology including automated green houses, automated irrigation systems, soil less cultivation, digital app-based plant care practices etc. that are currently being used across many parts of the country but at a small scale. Typically, Agri start-ups and Agriculture entrepreneurs are found to engage high end technologies often sourced from countries like the Netherlands or Israel to set up commercial enterprises around floriculture, high value fruits and exotic vegetables. However, the scalability of such initiatives is low since replication of such initiatives without large amounts of private or public investments is extremely difficult.To attract such investments, the respective business model for such technological interventions need to be equipped with adequate market linkage and support services.
Bettergovernancewith advanced technology:
This area is yet to pick-up steam in India, but large-scale advanced technology-based interventions are catching up fast. Drip irrigation systems across 60000 acres of land in Ramthal, Karnataka is one such example. However, for large scale techno enabled initiatives, the government may provide initial investment for setup but private sector partnership and investment particularly to ensure marketing and establishment of business models are inevitable for ensuring long term sustainability.
Annual Report 2017-18: Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare, Govt. of India.
Agriculture Statistics at a glance: 2017
State of Agriculture in India; Tanvi Deshpande, March 2017.
Dynamic Ground water resources of IndiaJune17: Central Ground water Board
Water Productivity mapping of Major Indian Crops; NABARD and CRIER.
National Water Policy 2012.
Technologies for Adaptation in Water Sector – UNFCCC
Food and Agriculture Organization. (2016). India, Water Use. Retrieved
 Technologies for Adaptation in Water Sector – UNFCCC