Today’s Question ❓

Q The cropping pattern in India is highly skewed towards crops that are water-intensive. In this context, discuss the need to shift the focus from land productivity to irrigation water productivity.

Approach 🔍

• Briefly mention the issues related to cropping pattern in India.
• Highlight the reasons for the highly skewed crop pattern towards water intensive crops.
• Discuss the need to shift the focus from land productivity to irrigation water productivity.
• Conclude accordingly.

Answer ✍️

India’s cropping pattern highlights the rampant cultivation of water intensive crops such as sugarcane production in Maharashtra, paddy in North-West India, which are amongst the water stressed regions of India.

Various reasons behind this trend:
• Government’s incentive structure: The government’s policies for various inputs including subsidies on water, power and fertilizer has promoted farmers to cultivate crops, which are highly water intensive such as paddy and sugarcane. Rice and sugarcane crops together consume more than 60% of water available for irrigation.
• Minimum Support Prices (MSPs): Though MSPs are currently announced for 23 crops, the most effective price support is for sugarcane, wheat and rice.
• Demand for water intensive crops: Rice is one of the most important staple food crop in India. Similarly, there is large industrial demand for crops like cotton, which push the farmers to grow them as they bring larger profits.
• Increased water demand by crops: The new artificially modified HYV seeds have been giving higher crop yields, but they require more water than natural seeds.
• Lack of sensitization: There is a lack of awareness among farmers about the strain on natural resources due to water-intensive crops. Mostly, the same cropping pattern keeps continuing over the next generation of farmers.
In this context, Economic Survey 2018-19 suggests a transition from land productivity to irrigation water productivity, which emphasizes on more crops per drop, improving total nutrition per drop and total food crops per drop. The need for such a shift is due to the following factors:
• Water crisis: Growing water intensive crops has led to severe water scarcity across various regions like Vidarbha. As per the Niti Aayog, around 600 million Indians are facing high-to- extreme water stress and the situation is set to worsen as water requirements increase.
• Skewed balance of input and output: India’s agricultural sector accounts for 89 percent of groundwater extraction for irrigation purposes, but contributes only 15 percent to the country’s GDP.
• Nutrition and food security: To increase irrigation water productivity, there is need to focus on cultivation of less water intensive crops like millets, bajra etc. India could reduce the amount of water it uses for irrigation by a third and simultaneously address its persistent malnutrition problem, if it replaces its rice crop with more nutritious and less thirsty cereals
• Climate change: Climate change has increased the frequency of drought in the country. In the coming times, India is going to face water scarcity hence there is a need to focus on improving water productivity.
• Soil productivity: After decades of success of the Green Revolution, states like Punjab and Haryana are facing the challenge of soil salinity which has lowered the productivity of soil in the states. Degrading soil productivity is also affecting the sustainability of farming.

In order to bring this shift, governments need to focus on crop diversification, sustainable practices like Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF), nudging farmers to use micro-irrigation techniques such as drip irrigation and micro-sprinklers. The focus should be on growing crops, which are climatically suitable for any region. In Eastern India, water intensive crops can be grown while in semi- arid regions of India like Central India, Rajasthan etc the focus should be on cultivation of less water intensive crops like millets and bajra etc.

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