Making every drop count: Micro-irrigation for tribal farmers of Gujarat
Subsidies enable tribal farmers to adopt micro-irrigation systems providing them assured irrigation
11 Mar 2022
A key mitigation strategy to deal with water scarcity due to climate change is on-farm management of water using techniques like micro-irrigation (Image: India Water Portal Flickr)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recently released the second part of the Sixth Assessment Report – ‘Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability’. Whereas the first part of the report titled ‘Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis’ outlined the current state of climate and the human role in it, the latest report highlights the impacts and vulnerabilities due to human-induced climate change.

As per the Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability report, more extreme events, more frequent and intense floods and droughts, and changing patterns of precipitation are expected.

The report also discusses the present and possible scenarios for agriculture and irrigation. The report states that global warming could increase the drought conditions in many Asian countries by 5% to 20% by the end of this century. The changing climatic conditions will further intensify the global water cycle, and, precipitation and surface water flows will become more variable. In India, irregular monsoons with intense showers and long dry spells in between have been resulting in devastating impacts on the farmers while also impacting the food security of the country. In conjunction with the undependable monsoon, over-extraction of water for irrigation is leading to a water scarcity situation that needs desperate and immediate intervention.  

India has 158 million hectares of cropped land of which 60 million hectares is irrigated. To irrigate this area, 700 billion m3 of water is used annually, the highest in the world (see chart below). Consequently, one of the key mitigation strategies to deal with water scarcity due to climate change is on-farm management of water using techniques like micro-irrigation to decrease the demand for water for irrigation.

Micro-irrigation is the slow and continuous application of tiny droplets, streams, or sprays of water to the crop as opposed to flood irrigation wherein the whole farm is inundated with water. Two common methods of micro-irrigation are drip irrigation (wherein the water is given to the roots in the form of drops) and sprinkler irrigation (wherein water is sprayed on the crop).

Water use efficiency is much higher in micro-irrigation (more than 90% efficiency in drip irrigation and 75% efficiency in sprinkler irrigation) than surface or flood irrigation (60% water efficiency). Micro-irrigation also results in higher crop productivity, less consumption of fertilizers by employing the more effective technique of fertigation, less energy demand, and overall reduced cost of production.

A study shows that water demand and energy demand reduces by half in sugarcane (one of the most water-intensive crops). While using drip irrigation rather than flood irrigation, the water demand reduced from 3179 to 1767 HP hours per ha, and electricity demand reduced from 2385 to 1325 kWh per hectare. In addition, crop productivity of sugarcane increased from 1124 to 1384 quintal per hectare and the cost of production was reduced from Rs. 48,539 to Rs. 41,993 per hectare. Micro-irrigation evidently has proven benefits, and hence is of particular significance to tribal farmers.

The tribal community is one of the most underprivileged communities in India. The Multidimensional Poverty Index 2015-16 assesses poverty incidence among tribal people at 50%, the highest among all social groups in India. A majority (more than half) of the tribal workforce is engaged in agriculture as per the 2011 Census of India. This agriculture is not very profitable for them in absence of assured irrigation. Agriculture Census 2015-16 reveals that only about 26% of the tribal farmland is irrigated (among non-STs the proportion of irrigated farmland is 41%).

Majority tribal farmlands are located in forested and hilly areas with lesser availability of water for irrigation. As such micro-irrigation which ensures crop productivity at a low level of water and with a low cost of production is a significant intervention for tribal farmers. The initial cost of installation however is a deterrent for the poor tribal farmers, wherein the governmental policy comes into play.

The government of India has been investing in micro-irrigation since 1980. It began with the establishment of the National Committee on the use of Plastics in Agriculture (NCPA) in 1981, later named as National Committee on Plasticulture Applications in Horticulture (NCPAH). Later NABARD the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, in 1985; and. after 1995, Rural Infrastructure Development Fund of NABARD have been used for making investments in micro-irrigation.

In 2006, a dedicated programme was launched for micro-irrigation, which was changed to the National Mission on Micro Irrigation in 2010. The mission was brought under the ambit of ‘Per Drop More Crop’ component of Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana (PMKSY-PDMC) in 2014. Different agencies are implementing the scheme in different states. In Gujarat, the implementing agency is Gujarat Green Revolution Company or GGRC.

GGRC started operations on micro-irrigation in 2005 and has been actively working since then. Under PMKSY-PDMC, Gujarat has been one of the -performing states, the credit for which goes to GGRC.

PMKSY-PDMC is a centrally sponsored scheme wherein the installation cost of micro-irrigation scheme is subsidised. The scheme allows for 45% subsidy to all farmers and 55% subsidy to marginal farmers. GGRC gives additional assistance wherein the subsidy to the tribal farmers is 85% (90% in dark zone).

The additional subsidy and the efforts of GGRC to reach tribal farmers have shown significant results. More than 2 lakh farmers have been given subsidies whose farmlands have been covered under the micro-irrigation systems in Gujarat. Close to 2.75 lakh ha of tribal farmland has been covered under micro-irrigation by GGRC. This represents roughly one-third of the 8.5 lakh ha of gross irrigated area of tribal blocks in Gujarat (as per District Irrigation Plans).

There are specific challenges in tribal farmlands that restrict reaching the full potential of converting them to micro-irrigated farmlands. Tribal land-holdings are mostly small and fragmented with large distance between different farms of same farmer. Farmers do not have access to an assured source of irrigation for each of their farms. So the farmer needs to fulfil this prerequisite of assured source of irrigation to access micro-irrigation system. In most cases they also have to assure a source of energy (diesel, electricity, or solar) to lift water. Therefore, the total cost of installing micro-irrigation systems goes beyond the capacity of tribal farmers even after the micro-irrigation subsidy.

Micro-irrigation is a blessing for tribal farmer as it ensures agricultural income. However, there are still challenges that need to be overcome. Converging the PDMC scheme with MGNERGA (to make arrangements for source of water for irrigation) and with Pradhan Mantri Kisan Urja Suraksha evem Utthan Mahabhiyan) or PM-KUSUM (to make arrangements for energy requirements for irrigation), for example, could be one of the key solutions here. Although the PDMC guidelines mention the convergence with other government schemes their effective implementation is needed on ground.

Professor Kristie Ebi, one of the authors of IPCC Sixth Assessment Report, said, “the future is in our hands, the adaptation, mitigation and development choices we make will determine all of our future.” Micro-irrigation is one such choice that forms part of climate change adaptation and mitigation. The choice albeit is not easy to make especially for tribal farmers due to high initial investments. A continuous and dedicated effort on the part of government may lead to better accessibility for tribal farmers as shown by the case of Gujarat.

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