Reshaping Farming: Emphasis on micro-irrigation and solar pumps

Emphasis on micro-irrigation and solar pumps

In India, irrigation has a crucial role in agriculture and rural development. Over the ye­­a­­rs, it has gained traction, with a greater focus on major multipurpose irrigation proje­c­ts. The government has made concerted effor­ts to promote infrastructure creation through various flagship initiatives. One such progra­­m­me is the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY), app­roved for implementation by the Cabinet Com­mittee on Economic Affairs during 2021-26 with an outlay of Rs 930.68 billion. In addition, sche­mes like the Accelera­ted Irrigation Benefit Prog­ramme, and the Har Khet ko Paani and Water­shed Development co­m­po­nents have been ap­proved for continuation during 2021-26.


A look at the recent trends in the irrigation sector and the way forward…

Adoption of micro-irrigation

Given the stress on finite water resources and fast depleting groundwater, micro-irrigation has gained prominence over conventional flooding me­thods of irrigation. Micro-irrigation techni­­qu­es such as drip and sprinkler irrigation are gra­dually emerging as demand-driven techno­logies. According to the latest report released by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), Andhra Pradesh is a leader in micro-irrigation implementation, ah­­­e­ad of other states in the country. The total land cultivated under micro-irrigation in Andhra Pra­­desh is 51 per cent. It is followed by Karna­taka (49 per cent), Maharashtra (34 per cent), Tamil Nadu (29 per cent) and Gujarat (22 per cent). Punjab and Haryana are the two states with the lowest number of farmers using the micro-irrigation technique.

In March 2022, the Andhra Pradesh government decided to resume its micro-irrigation scheme, mainly 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 has extended a 90 per cent subsidy for the implementation of drip irrigation systems. Farmers, particularly from Rayala­se­ema district and upland areas in Guntur, Prakasam and Nellore districts, are expected to benefit from the revival of the scheme. Further, the government has decided to cover 0.4-0.45 million acres of the area under the micro-irrigation scheme during 2022-23.

In a step towards water conservation, the Haryana government has also launched a state-level flagship programme on the drip irrigation method to meet the water requirements of farmers. In June 2022, the state organised a one-day seminar and demonstration for the farmers to increase awareness regarding drip irrigation at 7,500 locations across the state, where the water depth is below 100 feet. Under this scheme, 1,445 villages have been identified with a water table below 100 feet depth for the implementation of the drip irrigation system. Farmers are also being motivated to grow crops that consume less water and adopt the drip irrigation method, which will help in the consumption of the right amount of water while maintaining groundwater levels.

Due to the rapidly declining groundwater level, issues related to the cost of irrigation and the efficiency of water use have taken centre stage in recent years. To ensure the judicious use of water in farming, the central and state governments are actively promoting micro-irrigation in the farm sector. As per an impact ev­a­­luation study of the micro-irrigation scheme carried out by the Department of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, it was found that water savings in micro-irrigation in comparison with fl­ood irrigation are 30-50 per cent, with an av­erage of 32.3 per cent. These water-saving be­ne­­fits of micro-irrigation have helped it evolve from a for­ced technology to a much-desired and de­mand-driven technology.

Solar-powered irrigation

Solar pumps have proven to be a feasible and non-polluting source of energy for agricultural us­ers. The Government of India launched the Pra­dhan Mantri Kisan Urja Suraksha evamUt­thaanMahabhiyan (PM-KUSUM) with the objective of providing energy and water security to farmers, and reducing the use of diesel in the farm sector. To achieve these objectives, the scheme has set three main targets — 10,000 MW of decentralised ground-mounted grid-connected solar power plants (Component A); installation of 2 million stand-alone solar-powered agricultural pumps (Component B); and solarisation of 1.5 million grid-connected agricultural pumps including through feeder-level solarisation (Component C). This scheme is a demand-dri­ven scheme and capacities are allocated ba­sed on the demand received from the states.

Further, the replacement of existing diesel pumps with solar pumps helps reduce irrigat­i­on costs by around Rs 50,000 per year. How­ever, the pace of installation of solar pumps in the country has been significantly affected due to the Covid-19 pandemic. To compensate the implementing agencies for challenges faced due to supply chain disruptions, and capital and liquidity issues, the government has provi­ded multiple extensions. Despite this, of the 0.36 million solar pumps approved under the scheme, only 0.12 million have been installed under Component B, as of June 30, 2022. As per the latest updates, Rajasthan (44,340), Har­yana (36,793) and Punjab (10,131) are the top three states with the highest number of solar pump installations under PM-KUSUM.

Other state-level initiatives

The Telangana government is planning an innovative initiative, that is, irrigation tourism, to attract tourists to major irrigation projects that would be developed into tourist spots. This unique concept is being taken up by the state government to increase awareness about irrigation projects that have been developed in the state in the past eight years and make Telan­ga­na an agricultural hub. Some of the irrigation projects developed by the state are the Kalesh­wa­ram lift irrigation scheme, India’s lar­gest sc­he­me, with a massive canal system and a series of reservoirs like Annaram, Su­n­dilla, Me­diga­d­da, Yellampally, Mid-Manair, Malla­n­n­a­­­sagar, Kon­da Pochamma, Ranganayaka Sagar and Bas­wapur. The state is also developing tourist spots at existing irrigation projects like Kalva­ku­rthy, Kari­vena, Sriramsagar, Ram­appa and De­va­­du­la. The state government had allocated Rs 7.5 billi­on in the state budget towards the development of irrigation projects as part of its effor­ts to build an ecotourism circuit.

The way forward

With the increasing demand for groundwater from the farm and non-farm sectors, enhancing irrigation efficiency is critical for sustainable agriculture. Going forward, greater em­phasis sh­ould be laid on micro-irrigation, which can he­lp improve water efficiency. Further, the sta­tes should launch schemes to encourage the use of water-efficient technologies for crop pro­d­uction. Moreover, micro-irrigation sh­ould be supplemented with the creation of wa­ter harvesting storage structures and launch of related affore­s­ta­tion/in-situ moisture conservation schemes in overexploited water zones in order to recharge aquifers. There is also a need for a streamlined process, covering all the steps, from application and installation to subsidy payment for micro-irrigation equipment. A sustained programme for micro-irrigation that br­ings together financing support, operational support and technical a­s­sistance is also essential. Furthermore, the government is working towards increasing the country’s solar water pump manufacturing capacity. It targets to in­stall or solarise 3.5 million pumps through central financial support under PM-KUSUM. Fur­ther, the government is also en­couraging the direct participation of manufacturers of solar pumps and solar photovoltaic modules either as sole bidders or members of a joint venture in bidding for Component B or Component C.