Article By Randhir Chauhan, MD, Netafim India and Senior Vice President, Netafim Ltd.
In India, over fifty per cent of cultivated land faces the vagaries of aberrant monsoons. Additionally, rising population, persistent adoption of unsustainable agricultural practices and increased input cost resulting in sluggish income has bought the Indian agricultural sector at an inflection point that needs immediate attention. For achieving sustained growth in farmers’ income and better crop results, ensuring scientific and egalitarian application of water in agriculture and minimising wastage of water stands paramount.
The government has been rigorously promoting schemes such as Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY) to help farmers get the maximum yield from every drop of water. In that light, micro-irrigation tackles the country’s twin challenges of water scarcity and increasing crop yield at a macro level. More specifically, the ‘Per Drop More Crop’ component of the scheme focuses on micro-irrigation systems (sprinkler, drip, pivots, rain-guns etc.) that promote precision agriculture by making water available in an efficient manner to the crops.
Micro-irrigation goes beyond effective irrigation; from decreasing input cost to enhancing the productivity and quality of the crop, there are several case studies showcasing benefits to the farmers that outweigh the cost of installation of micro-irrigation systems. The benefits include increase in the water use efficiency up to 80-90% owing to reduced water requirement, about 30% less consumption of electricity per hectare and up to 30% decrease in fertiliser consumption which translates into significant cost savings. Controlled application of water and fertiliser has resulted in increasing the productivity of the crops by 50%. All these boost farmer income levels by more than 40%.
The adoption of new technology in agriculture, however, is still hampered by low education and high initial investment. While looking for a way out, it is imperative to acknowledge that the future of farming is not just dependent on forthcoming technological capabilities, but also on the affordability of the available technology.The coverage is increasing at 0.5 mn ha per year at the national level. With 68 mn ha of tilted land and 5 mn ha coverage of drip irrigation, it would take around 100 years to cover our current irrigated area. This is a tragic proposition! For instance, various states in India have subsidized the drip irrigation system, one of the best forms of micro-irrigation, and thus, helping farmers to adopt the practice at affordable rates.
Studying the current situation of micro-irrigation programmes, we need to drive their adoption at full scale with proper and accelerated execution. Since Indian farmers are receptive to take up any technology that brings certainty in their life and leads to an increase in income level, drip irrigation needs extensive propagation as it excels on both these fronts with proven benefits. The backbone of the success of micro irrigation is essentially also awareness generation and effective training amongst small and marginal farmers in potential states. Continuing to tread the path of adopting suitable technology will make doubling farmers’ income an achievable goal.