NEW DELHI: India has the potential to bring nearly half of its net cultivated area (140 million hectares) under micro irrigation. But so far, only 10.12 million hectares (mha) as against the estimated potential of 69.5 mha has been covered by a dedicated scheme for this purpose launched by the Centre 12 years back.
Realising that the scheme to increase the country’s micro irrigation (MI) footprint to stop indiscriminate use of groundwater has not gained desired pace, the Centre had last year set a five-year target of bringing 10 mha under MI.
In the backdrop of the new target, top officials of agriculture ministry will discuss the issue during the kharif campaign conference here on April 25-26. “The ministry will also finalise its framework to operationalise the Micro Irrigation Fund (MIF) for this purpose”, said an official.
The government has already earmarked Rs 5,000 crore (Rs 2,000 crore during 2018-19 and Rs 3,000 crore during 2019-20) as an initial corpus for the MIF. The dedicated fund is expected to encourage public and private investments in sprinkler and drip irrigation.
But, how would the country be able to move fast towards MI by making it scalable when majority (85%) of its farmers are small and marginal? The question has been bugging the minds of policy-makers as they want this system to work as a cost-effective tool.
A recent ground-level study, released by Pune-based Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR), has found a solution to realise the country’s full potential of bringing nearly 50% of its net cultivated area under MI.
The study, based on the Trust’s action research projects in Maharashtra, Telangana and Madhya Pradesh, found that small farmers who undertook ‘group micro irrigation’ through pooling of land and water resources greatly benefited through increase in productivity and profit margins.
“Research shows that sprinkler irrigation can use 30-40% less water, while drip can use about 40-60% less water as compared to flood irrigation methods. Productivity gain due to use of micro irrigation is estimated to be in the range of 40 to 50% for different crops,” said Arjuna Srinidhi, senior researcher, climate policy, WOTR. He referred to the projects in those states where small and marginal farmers are being benefited through ‘group micro irrigation’.
The Trust listed details of its projects in the study (Micro-irrigation for small and marginal farmers), highlighting how a group of 14 small farmers in Jalna district of Maharashtra came together to set up a drip irrigation system with a single dug well as the source of water. It also cited similar examples of Mahabubnagar district of Telangana where 18 farmers joined hands and of Mandla district of Madhya Pradesh where three farmer households organised into a group to share sprinkler irrigation sets.
“Many issues may be solved by bringing farmers together in groups… Such groups of farmers can then develop their own infrastructure, access common irrigation facilities and have better bargaining power in the market,” the study said while referring to how lack of funds prevented them from going for investment in drip and sprinkler systems.
With the government lining up Rs 5,000 crore financial assistance for next two years to increase MI footprints, officials during the Kharif campaign conference will on Thursday also discuss how to utilise the MIF effectively and how to check misuse, if any, of the subsidies given to farmers for this purpose.
This discussion will happen in the backdrop of many reports which talked about how many farmers continued with the MI system only till the time they got subsidies to put in place the necessary infrastructure. There were also reports that the farmers in certain areas sold equipments and pipes to others once done with subsidy disbursement and follow up inspection.
Giving momentum for geo-tagging of MI assets created under the central programme on the BHUVAN App, encouraging fertigation (use of fertilisers through drip irrigation system) and additional incentivisation for promoting adoption of MI are some the key issues which will be discussed during the mega meet of farm policymakers.
“Geo-tagging of MI assets will check fund diversion and misuse of subsidy,” said an official.
Though many states have started programmes to encourage adoption of MI,Gujarat (1.65 lakh ha under MI),Andhra Pradesh (1.41 lakh ha), Karnataka (1.39 lakh ha), Maharashtra (1.06 lakh ha) and Telangana (61,980 ha) have made some good progress.