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Indian Express

16-October-2023

1) Keep Water at the Centre

Context:

  • World Food Day is celebrated on October 16 to commemorate the creation of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in 1945 whose primary goal was to provide food as well as global food security in the period following World War II.
  • With this year’s theme for world food day being “water is life. Water is Food”, this article will discuss India’s progress in food security and use of its water resources for agriculture.

India’s Progress on Food Security:

  • India exported 85 million tonnes (MT) of grains in the last three years, from 2020–21 to 2022–23, primarily rice, wheat, and maize.
  • This was the case even after the PM Gandhi Kalyan Yojana provided free food (rice or wheat) to more than 800 million people.
  • This is an incredible accomplishment.
  • The production of milk in India has also increased significantly, rising from 17 MT in 1951 to 222 MT in 2022–2023.By far, the nation produces the most milk.
  • Fishery and poultry production have seen rapid growth during 2000-2001.
  • India has so now ushered in a pink (poultry) and blue (fishery) revolution in addition to the green and white revolutions.

Challenges:

  • According to the most recent National Family Health Survey, nearly 16.6% of Indians (2020–2022) are undernourished, 35% of children under the age of 5 are stunted (low height for age), and 32% are underweight (low weight for age).
  • If things continue as they are, India would not be able to meet its Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of eradicating hunger and malnutrition by 2030 as Progress on this front has been very slow.

How is India using its water resources in agriculture?

  • Although India is home to roughly 18% of the world’s population, only 4% of the world’s freshwater resources are found there.
  • This water is used extensively in agriculture.
  • While the FAO estimates this percentage to be 90%, the Indian Central Water Commission states that it is only 78%.

What should be India’s strategy w.r.t water in agriculture?

  • First, it must increase buffer stocking of water during the monsoon season in its reservoirs and recharge groundwater through check dams and watersheds, among other supply-side measures.
  • Second, it needs to work on the demand side to enable more rational water allocation and efficient use across crops.

Results of various studies:

  • It was found that in Punjab while land productivity of rice is one of the highest, its irrigation water productivity is the lowest.
  • This means that Punjab is one of the most inefficient growers of rice in terms of water used.
  • On top of this, Punjab also emits the highest levels of carbon emissions (CO2eq), almost 5 tonnes / ha of paddy cultivation.

What steps should be taken?

  • This necessitates institutional reforms in the Indian irrigation industry as well as changes in the cost of water and electricity for irrigation.
  • We need to increase irrigation coverage in India from its current level of about 50% to at least 75% if we are to be able to deal with the weather fluctuations brought on by climate change.
  • Massive investments are required for this.
  • Priority must be given to water productivity rather than land productivity. For instance, instead of looking at, say, tonnes per hectare, we might consider kilogrammes of grain per cubic metre of irrigation water.
  • When we begin to view productivity from a water perspective, we can spot inefficiencies in the distribution and use of water in agriculture.

Revamping Policies:

  • All of this necessitates a redesign of agricultural practises, regulations, and goods that keeps water at its core.
  • Farmers can be rewarded for converting from water-intensive crops like rice and sugarcane to ones that require less water, such as millets, pulses, and oilseeds.
  • According to a research on Punjab, the subsidy for power and fertilisers used in paddy cultivation is approximately Rs 30,000/ha.
  • Farmers in Punjab who want to switch from paddy to pulses, oilseeds, and millets can be granted this amount.
  • This will level the playing field for all crops and is advantageous for both the environment and human health.
  • Above all, it will spare Punjab from a water catastrophe as almost 78% of its blocks overuse groundwater.
  • Direct seeded rice (DSR), alternating wet and dry (AWD) irrigation, zero till, etc., are examples of farming techniques that can be rewarded since they will save water.
  • Additionally, drip irrigation, particularly in sugarcane, can save half the water.

Way Forward:

  • In order to ensure food security it is of paramount importance that we give equal attention to the efficient use of water.

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