Gaining Traction: Slow but steady increase in micro-irrigation uptake

Slow but steady increase in micro-irrigation uptake

Micro-irrigation has been gaining prominence over conventional flooding methods of irrigation. It is gradually emerging as a demand-driven technology. During 2020-21, the area covered under micro-irrigation systems reached 0.87 million hectares, of which drip irrigation accounted for 0.32 million hectares and sprinkler irrigation for 0.55 million hectares.

Indian Infrastructure takes a look at the progress in micro-irrigation in the country so far…

Experience so far

The number game

Since 2015-16, the area covered under micro-irrigation has grown at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 19.64 per cent, increasing from 573,000 hectares during 2015-16 to 1,174,000 hectares during 2019-20. However, during 2020-21, the area covered under micro-irrigation systems witnessed a decline due to the disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Statewise, Tamil Nadu accounted for the maximum area covered under micro-irrigation during 2019-20. It increased from around 32,000 hectares in 2015-16 to over 263,000 hectares in 2019-20 clocking a CAGR of about 70 per cent. Tamil Nadu is followed by Karnataka and Maharashtra.

Types of micro-irrigation

Micro-irrigation systems can be broadly classified as sprinkler and drip irrigation. Drip irrigation involves dripping water on to soil at a very low rate from a system of small-diameter plastic pipes fitted with outlets called emitters or drippers, while in the case of sprinkler irrigation, water is distributed through a system of pipes usually by pumping. Sprinkler irrigation is more popular in the states of Karnataka, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh. However, drip irrigation is popular in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat. The area covered under drip irrigation has grown at a CAGR of 15.8 per cent, increasing from 347,000 hectares in 2015-16 to 624,000 hectares in 2019-20. Similarly, the area covered under sprinkler irrigation has grown at a CAGR of 28.04 per cent, increasing from 205,000 hectares in 2015-16 to 551,000 hectares in 2019-20.

Government impetus

While there have been some policy initiatives in the past, the real push to micro-irrigation came in 2006 when the government launched a centrally sponsored scheme, which was later upgraded to the National Mission on Micro Irrigation (NMMI) and was effective until 2013-14. The NMMI was later subsumed under the National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture and was implemented under the On-Farm Water Management component of the scheme. Launched in 2015-16, the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY) integrated micro-irrigation with the Per Drop More Crop (PDMC) component. During 2020-21, 867,000 hectares of area was brought under micro-irrigation under the PDMC component. Meanwhile, the 2021-22 union budget has doubled the micro-irrigation fund created with the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development to Rs 100 billion to strengthen and expand the adoption of micro irrigation systems in the country. The main objective of the fund is to facilitate the states in mobilising the resources for expanding the coverage of micro irrigation by taking up special and innovative projects and also incentivising micro-irrigation beyond the provisions available under the PMKSY-PDMC.

Apart from the central government, state governments have been taking initiatives to expand the area under micro-irrigation. For instance, the Rajasthan government has made the use of micro-irrigation technologies such as sprinkler and drip irrigation mandatory. As a result, the culturable command area in the state has increased from 0.13 million hectares to 0.24 million hectares with the same quantity of water by adopting sprinkler systems. In Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh, the increase in coverage under micro-irrigation by 28,324 hectares has resulted in raising the irrigation potential by 5,023 hectares. Micro-irrigation has also been an integral part of the Gujarat green revolution, which helped the state to embark upon the Jal Sanchay Abhiyan and work towards water conservation. Over 700,000 farmers have adopted micro-irrigation, covering a total area of more than 1.1 million hectares.

Next steps

The irrigation sector is the largest consumer of water in the country. The current stress on the country’s finite water resources has been worrisome. The need of the hour, therefore, is to improve water use efficiency in the irrigation sector through the adoption of micro-irrigation techniques such as the drip and sprinkler irrigation systems. Despite some promising initiatives, coverage under advanced micro-irrigation systems remains low. Currently, only about 9 million hectares of area in India is under micro-irrigation although the actual potential in the country is about 70 million hectares.

Going forward, the use of efficient micro-irrigation practices will play a crucial role in improving water management. In this respect, providing infrastructure status to the micro-irrigation industry can reduce some of the operating costs for micro-irrigation system manufacturers by way of incentives, thereby reducing the cost of equipment for farmers. There is also a need to streamline processes, from application, installation, to subsidy payment, for micro irrigation equipment. Further, micro irrigation development strategies need to technologically address the concerns of small farmers in terms of scale economies, capital constraints and post-installation service requirements.