In the scope of Indian agriculture, a variety of crops is cultivated in India due to the vastly distinct weather and soil conditions that are available in various topographies across the country. These crops are majorly divided into food grains, cash crops, plantation crops and horticulture crops. Water is one of the essential resources that are required for proper growth of these crops. The majority of the farmers are still dependant on growing water intensive crops. Irrigation water, exclusive of precipitation and stored moisture, is required to meet the consumption rate of a crop during its growth period. But the amount of irrigation water required differs for each plant, not only because different plants need to survive different environments, but also because each plant has its own unique physical features.The rural Indian population is largely dependent on agriculture as its primary source of livelihood. Agriculture is one of the major contributors to India’s GDP, with an 18% share (KPMG report), this population plays an integral role in the Indian Economy.
In this regard, we would like to highlight some of the most water intensive crops that are popularly grown by Indian farmers
Rice acts as one of the most important staple food in the world and India is one of its largest producers. However, its production requires a great quantity of water. The rise in population has led to an increase in the demand for food crops; in turn escalating the amount of water required for irrigating them. Traditional farming needs 3,000 to 5,000 liters of water to produce a kilo of rice. The crop requires flooded soil for its growth as it suppresses weed growth and increases the uptake of nutrients from the soil for better yield. In India, it is grown in West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Bihar, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Assam, Tamil Nadu and Haryana.
Also known as ‘white gold’, Cotton is a Kharif crop. India is one of the largest producers as well as exporters of cotton yarn. On an average, India uses 22,500 liters of water to produce 1 kg of cotton. Most Indian cotton is grown in drier regions. States cultivating this crop the most are Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Orissa.
India is the second largest producer of this popular cash crop. It has one of the longest growing periods and its growth can come to an untimely halt if there is a shortage of water. Generally crops require 300-500mm of rainfall/water for their growth; however, sugar cane requires 1,500-2,500mm of rainfall/water to complete the growth cycle. Therefore, the crop requires 1500-3000 liters of water to produce a kilo of sugarcane! In India, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Uttarakhand, and Punjab are the major producers of this crop.
With 12 million tons of production; Soybean is one of the fastest growing crops in India. The crop is considered to be well suited for Indian soil. A major source of protein, vegetable oil, and animal feed, the crop requires around 900 liters of water for 1 kilo worth produce. This crop is majorly grown in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan.
After the Green Revolution, wheat production in India has been on the rise. After rice, wheat is the most consumed crop by the Indian population. Not just that, our country is also one of the largest exporters of all varieties of wheat, making us the second largest producer of the crop worldwide. However, the fact that cannot be ignored is that 900 litres of water is required to produce 1kg of wheat. In India, this crop’s production is mainly in the northern region – Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Bihar, Gujarat, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Uttarakhand are the major producers of this crop.
We can, therefore, see how Economic growth is indirectly dependent on fresh water. There needs to be an understanding that for greater agricultural productivity, for there to be a better harvest, there needs to be enough water. If water is used up by such water-intensive crops, there will come a time when there will be no water for agriculture. Most of these crops are grown in dry areas, which do not receive ample rainfall, and the farmers are either dependent on other freshwater sources or groundwater pumps. In a country like India, where 76 million people do not have access to safe drinking water, using up a great amount of water in such crops seems unfair. Water intensive agriculture takes away liters of water that can be used to help a significant population survive. Cultivation of these crops has even endangered some areas of water scarcity. In fact, due to intense drought conditions year after year, there have been multiple pleas by local officials for farmers to switch to pulses and oilseeds in Rampur. Tamil Nadu government has also asked farmers to switch to millets and pulses from rice, as the new crops will use less water and are as nutritious. However, in some areas, switching to different crops cannot be considered an ideal solution because of climatic limitations, soil requirements etc, therefore, a switch to better irrigation techniques like drip irrigation can be taken up. Furthermore, groundwater irrigation pumps are either dependent on irregular grid electricity or diesel, causing additional strain on the current environmental conditions. Solar powered pumps can be considered a model solution to overcome that problem. The water needs of these crops need to be considered to formulate an immediate solution.
Our water woes can be addressed by our own everyday use of water. Save water before it’s too late.
Written By: Prakriti Sharma
Edited By: Anirban Banerjee