NEW DELHI: Amid reports of fast depleting ground water from many parts of the country, the Centre has written to sugarcane producing states to consider issuing necessary directions to farmers to go for this water-guzzling crops only after installing drip irrigation infrastructure. Such directions may be linked to the subsidies which are given to farmers for setting up micro irrigation (drip and sprinkler) network.
In a missive, sent by the Union agriculture secretary S K Pattanayak a few days ago, the states have, in fact, been asked to follow the Maharashtra model to increase the footprint of drip irrigation in order to conserve water.
Maharashtra had recently asked private and cooperative-run sugar mills to mandatorily use drip irrigation for sugarcane farms by June next year. The state had last year extended additional incentives to farmers in terms of providing loan at a nominal rate of interest for setting up necessary infrastructure for this purpose in their farms.
Besides Maharashtra, the other major sugarcane producing states include Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab, Haryana and Bihar. Uttar Pradesh is the highest sugarcane producing state having acreage of nearly 22.77 lakh hectare.
Sugarcane is a high water requirement crop. About 250 tonnes of water is needed to produce one tonne of sugarcane. Research shows that the drip irrigation method can, however, use about 40-60% less water as compared to flood irrigation methods.
Will such directions and incentives to farmers help? Sudhir Panwar of the Kisan Jagriti Manch said, “It is a good step, but such direction or advisory does not seem to be practicable if you pitch it as a water conservation step.”
Panwar, former member of the UP planning commission, said, “You need to tell the farmers how the drip method can cut their input cost through efficient use of fertiliser and pesticides using those micro- irrigation network. Otherwise, even if the government provides 90% subsidy for setting up drip infrastructure, the farmers won’t go for investing remaining 10% as long as they get water for their crops.”
Keeping ground realities in mind, the government had last week approved a dedicated fund with an initial corpus of Rs 5,000 crore for two years (2018-20) under NABARD to promote micro-irrigation in the country.
The NABARD will provide this amount to States on concessional rate of interest to set up required infrastructure for micro-irrigation, which currently has a coverage of only 10 million hectares as against the potential of 69.5 million hectares in the country. The states, in turn, will provide loan to farmers at low interest so that they can be encouraged to opt for water efficient methods of irrigation.
“Though the drip irrigation method will be beneficial for all the crops, we want to focus in the sugarcane producing areas as the crop consumes lot of water, resulting in depletion of ground water in states like UP, Punjab and Haryana,” said an official.
The dedicated fund under NABARD would supplement the efforts of the ongoing Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY) programme and help bring about additional 10 lakh hectares under micro-irrigation. The states may access this fund for innovative integrated projects, including projects in the Public Private Partnership (PPP) mode and also for incentivising micro irrigation.
Farmers Producers Organization (FPO) or cooperatives can also access the funds with state government guarantee or equivalent collateral. Farmers co-operatives may access this fund for innovative cluster based community irrigation projects.
Panwar said, “You need to first create a success model of drip irrigation. Besides, there should be a target oriented approach to set up the micro irrigation infrastructure with the help of 100% subsidy. Farmers will themselves move to the drip method of irrigation if they find how it would save their money in terms of reduced input cost.”