India needs to redesign its irrigation policy, including by promoting improved technological interventions in the wake of depleting ground water, according to an article published in the latest issue of RBI Bulletin.
In the backdrop of recurrent episodes of drought and declining ground water table, ensuring irrigation efficiency is of paramount importance for sustainable agriculture, the article published on Tuesday said.
RBI said the article titled 'Irrigation Management for Sustainable Agriculture' analyses the trends in the area-weighted cost and efficiency of irrigation across 19 agriculturally important Indian states using the Comprehensive Cost of Cultivation data published by the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers' Welfare, for the period from 2002-03 to 2017-18.
The area-weighted cost of irrigation declined during the study period perhaps reflecting the impact of increased access to subsidised power in most of the states. However, the costs are still high in some states, said the article authored by officials in the RBI's the Department of Economic and Policy Research.
The estimated technical efficiency of irrigation suggests that majority of the states lie far from the efficiency frontier and have also recorded declining trends over the study period, the article said.
"The inefficiency appears to be driven by the energy consumption in the farm sector and ground water accessibility," it said, and added that the findings call for policy focus on energy and water efficient irrigation technologies, particularly in states where irrigation efficiency is declining.
"Cost and availability of energy to the farm sector along with the depth of ground water level appear to influence the irrigation efficiency.
"There is a need for redesigning irrigation policy, including promotion of improved technological interventions to correct the interstate irrigation imbalances," it said.
The central bank, however, said the views expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the Reserve Bank of India.
In India, even as the share of the agriculture and allied sector in total Gross Value Added (GVA) in the economy has been declining since independence, the sector continues to absorb a major share of water for irrigation purposes.
The share of irrigation in overall water demand is predicted to moderate from 85 per cent in 2010 to around 74 per cent by 2050; however, the quantity of water demanded in absolute terms is expected to increase by 1.6 times, as per the Standing Sub-committee of the Ministry of Water Resources.
The authors noted that agricultural production process continues to be highly water intensive in India. The depleting ground water and increasing demand from the non-farm sectors pose challenges for sustainable agriculture and food security.
"If the current low efficiency water management practices continue alongside the expanding rural electrification and low electricity tariffs for agriculture, it could further amplify imbalances in agriculture," the article said.
There is a need for concentrated policy focus on efficient irrigation technologies like micro irrigation and cropping pattern diversification away from water guzzling crops, particularly in states where efficiency is declining, it added.