Fertilising Growth

Micro-irrigation scenario in India

The irrigation sector is the largest consumer of water in the country. The current stress on the country’s finite water resources is worrisome. In response, micro-irrigation techniques, such as the drip and sprinkler irrigation systems, have started gaining prevalence. Micro-irrigation can increase yields and decrease water, fertiliser and labour requirements. By applying water directly to the root zone, the practice reduces loss of water through conveyance, run-off, deep percolation and evaporation. Moreover, fertigation, which involves combining water and fertiliser application via irrigation, is possible through micro-irrigation. Fertigation results in balanced application of nutrients, reduced fertiliser requirement and higher nutrient uptake. Further, the re­newed focus on adoption of micro-irrigation by farmers in the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchay­ee Yojana (PMKSY) has enabled efficient on-farm water use. Since 2015, the area covered under micro-irrigation systems has increased at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10 per cent and reached 1.02 million hectares in 2021-22.

Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana

Launched in 2015-16 by the central government, the PMKSY comprises the following initiatives or components: the Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme (AIBP), Har Khet ko Pani (HKKP), the Per Drop More Crop (PDMC) initiative and watershed development. Adoption of micro-irrigation techniques has resulted in significant reduction of energy demand and increased wat­er-use efficiency at the same time.

Under the AIBP, financial assistance is be­ing pro­vided to identified major and medium irrigation projects, including those with micro-irrigation. Further, for the projects selected for financial assistance under the command area develo­pment and water management components of the PMKSY, at least 10 per cent of the command area is required to be covered un­der micro-irrigation.

The PDMC component is being implemented by the Department of Agriculture, Coopera­tion and Farmers’ Welfare. It primarily focuses on increasing farm-level water consumption efficiency through precision/micro-irrigation. It also supports micro-level water storage or water conservation/management activities to supplement micro-irrigation.

The PDMC plan is being widely publicised in the press and print media and through the organisation of workshops, exhibitions, farmer fairs, and dissemination of information on state/ na­ti­onal online portals, among other means, with farmers being urged to make use of the plan. In addition, through Krishi Vigyan Kendras, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research provides training and field demonstrations to farmers in order to promote efficient micro-irrigation techniques for diverse crops.

Small and marginal farmers receive financial assistance/subsidy of 55 per cent of the suggested unit cost, while other farmers re­ceive a 45 per cent subsidy, to encourage them to build drip and sprinkler irrigation systems under the PDMC scheme, thus increasing coverage. Furthermore, some states provide additional incentives/top-up subsidies to farmers that employ micro-irrigation, lowering their portion of the cost. In addition, the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development has es­tab­lished a micro-irrigation fund.

A recent evaluation study of the PMKSY scheme, conducted by NITI Aayog, indicated that micro-irrigation is relevant to achieving national priorities such as substantially improving on-farm water use efficiency, enhancing crop productivity and generating employment opportunities. Further, the scheme has been quite effecti­ve in terms of ensuring benefits for farmers with high productivity; reducing fertiliser usage, labo­ur expenses and other input costs; and inc­rea­sing the overall income of farmers.

Due to the success of the programme, in December 2021, the Cabinet Committee on Ec­o­nomic Affairs approved its continued implementation for the period 2021-26, with an outlay of about Rs 930 billion. The components that have been approved for continuation during this period include the AIBP, HKKP and watershed development. Under the AIBP, an additional irrigation potential of 1.38 million hectares is targeted to be created during 2021-26. The watershed development component envisages the completion of sanctioned projects covering 4.95 million hectares of rain-fed/degraded lan­ds, to bring an additional 0.25 million hectares un­der protective irrigation, during 2021-26.

Recent developments

The Haryana government laid the foundation stone of a micro-irrigation project of the Irriga­tion and Water Resources Department, covering the area from the Shiv Colony sewage treatment plant to Hakikat Nagar, in May 2021. The project will cost Rs 132.9 million. Along with this, the government also laid the foundation stone of a micro-irrigation project running from the sewage treatment plant in Karnal city to various villages. An estimated amount of Rs 652.9 million will be spent on the project. This project will benefit about 6,400 acres of agricultural land in the Ranwar, Sheikhpura, Gan­go­garhi, Uncha Samana, Bajida Jatan, Kutail, Kairavali, Amritpur Kalan, Mubaraka­bad, Alipur Majra, Kalon and Chaura villages. There are plans to utilise the sewage water after treatment for micro-irrigation.

Meanwhile, the Andhra Pra­desh government has decided to resume its micro-irrigation scheme, chiefly to promote horticultural crops. Many sub-schemes under the micro-irrigation scheme had been kept on hold for the last three years due to a shortage of funds. The government will extend 90 per cent subsidy for the implementation of drip irrigation systems. Far­mers, particularly from the Rayalaseema dis­tri­ct and upland areas in the Guntur, Praka­sam and Nellore districts, are expected to benefit from the revival of the micro-irrigation scheme. Further, the government has decided to cover at least 0.4 to 0.45 million acres of area under the micro-irrigation scheme during fiscal year 2022-23.

The Rajasthan Micro Irrigation Mission, which has a proposed budget of Rs 27 billion, aims to benefit 0.5 million farmers. In addition, a centre of excellence for micro-irrigation will be set up. In the next three years, Rs 148.6 billion will be spent under the Rajasthan Irrigation Restructuring Programme for supply of water. This will include the development of 37 solar energy-based micro-irrigation projects at a cost of about Rs 5.5 billion.

Challenges

In the case of micro-irrigation projects, the time available to contractors for the installation of systems is limited due to seasonal cropping pa­tterns. Delays in design approval and issuance of work orders by the government can create a lot of problems for the contractors.

The high costs of the technology and its maintenance despite subsidy support, and the need for power and an assured water source are some other key issues that have inhibited the adoption of micro-irrigation.

The way forward

Going forward, there should be greater focus on micro-irrigation, which can help improve water use efficiency. Further, state-specific schemes should be devised to encourage the use of wa­ter-efficient technologies for crop production. There is a need for a streamlined process covering all the steps from application and installation to subsidy payment for micro-irrigation equipment. Moreover, micro-irrigation should be supplemented with the creation of water harvesting storage structures and related afforestation/in-situ moisture conservation schemes in overexploited water zones in order to recharge aqui­fers. A sustained programme for micro-irriga­tion that brings together financing support, operational support and technical assistance remains essential.

GET ACCESS TO OUR ARTICLES

Enter your email address