Gujarat’s agricultural growth story: Reality check and important lessons for water management – A paper by Institute for Resource Analysis and Policy

This paper attempts a reality check on the ‘miracle growth’ in Gujarat’s agricultural production by looking at the gross value of the outputs from agriculture

 The agricultural ‘growth’ seen in the recent past in Gujarat is nothing but a good recovery from a major dip in production occurred during the drought years of 1999 and 2000, because of four consecutive years of successful monsoon and bulk water transfer through the Sardar Sarovar project. The real ‘miracle growth’ in Gujarat’s agriculture appears to have occurred during the period from 1988 to 1998.

The analyses presented in this paper provide important lessons for water management in other semi-arid and arid regions of the country, not only because of their implications for agricultural production, but also their positive linkage with advancements in human development and economic growth. The key sub sectors which have contributed to this growth are identified and the trends in cropped area, yield and total production systematically examined. Further, the factors which might have actually changed the agriculture growth scenario in the state are identified.

The state’s water and energy policy had catalyzed uncontrolled exploitation of groundwater with mining in many areas. The state hadn’t seriously thought on the sustainable use of its water resource so far. In the process it had used up all its renewable water resources, both surface and underground, and also most of the groundwater stock available in the alluvial basins of semi-arid areas. The ‘criticality’ of rains to the state’s agriculture had become greater than ever before. This is a dangerous situation.

The study concludes that -

  • To overcome its groundwater crisis, Gujarat government launched a massive programme of decentralized groundwater recharge. This seems to have been driven by the general notion that more structures meant more water. There were no hydrological and economic consideration involved planning water harvesting systems in any of the basins. Most of these interventions were concentrated in basins which are already “closed”, leading to dividing of the water rather than its augmentation. Often, structures are over-sized leading to poor economics.
  • The states like Gujarat which are facing groundwater depletion problems should now look beyond such piecemeal solutions, and try to tackle groundwater depletion through long term, institutional and policy measures.
  • While water harvesting, large water systems and water imports all have a place in water management, the chances of achieving desired results from the same would depend on the hydrological planning of the basin water resources.
  • The catchment and basin hydrology needs to be studied and the scale, at which various small water harvesting systems and large water systems can be taken up in the basin, need to be assessed based on proper estimates of dependable yield of the basin and the water demands.
  • Potential for water demand management in agriculture, with diversification of cropping system to accommodate water efficient crops, and use of micro irrigation systems also needs to be explored. Further deficits can be filled through water imports, like what has been done in the case of Gujarat under the SSP. Only such an approach can ensure sustainable and equitable use of basin water resources for sustaining agricultural growth. 

The paper can be downloaded here

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