India should promote water-efficient crops: Official

As the government aims to double farm exports by 2022, Water Resources Secretary U P Singh on Tuesday said India needs to focus on promoting water-efficient crops or else it would be "exporting precious water".

There is a need to talk about 'water footprint' as much as 'carbon footprint' in India because the country has already become a water-stressed nation and the per capita availability is coming down with rise in population, Singh said.

Singh pointed out people are unaware that even a morning cup of coffee that they consume has water footprint of 140 litres.

Highlighting that 89 per cent of water is used for agriculture purpose, Singh said focus should be on the promotion of water-efficient crops.

Latest data shows that 89 per cent of water is used for agriculture purpose in India, where about 50 per cent of the farm land is irrigated while it is only 20 per cent world over, he said.

"We have same area but other countries produce double. They consume 60 per cent of water, we consume 89 per cent of water. There is tremendous scope in improving water-use efficiency," Singh said.

He also mentioned that agri exports need to be doubled but India should improve the water-use efficiency otherwise it would be exporting the precious water.

"We are not against doubling agri exports. But India is exporting precious water as well. Unless we improve our water use efficiency, we would be exporting precious water," Singh said while addressing the fourth Global Agriculture Summit organised by Indian Chamber of Food and Agriculture (ICFA) here.

Stating that the time has come to talk about water footprint as much as carbon footprint, the Secretary said it is because "even a cup of coffee that we take in the morning has water footprint of 140 litres. For growing that much of coffee that you take in the morning, 140 litres of water is required."

The country cannot afford to grow water-guzzling crops in water stressed areas, he said.

"Punjab was not growing paddy till early 1980s. Its water table is not good and rainfall is only 500-700 mm. There are areas where we get 2,000 mm rainfall, we should grow paddy there not in Punjab. We should grow sugarcane not in Maharashtra, but we are growing," he said.

Farmers are doing it as there is a policy to supply free electricity to them for pumping water. Moreover, Punjab hardly uses drip irrigation because the state government thinks it is not suitable for paddy, he added.

Singh also mentioned promoting rice and wheat through assured procurement by the government has made India a "diabetic capital" of the world.

Currently, ground water exploitation in India is 25 per cent of the total ground water extracted all over the world. The country extracts more ground water than China and the US put together, he added.

Noting that tube wells contributed for achieving Green Revolution in India, the Secretary said Ganga river canals do not irrigate more than 25 per cent of the farm land in Uttar Pradesh. Tube wells irrigate 80 per cent of farm land in the state.

In Punjab also, 77 per cent of the farm land is irrigated from tube wells and pumps. Tube wells have been the solution not only for agriculture but also for drinking purpose.

The Secretary also talked about the need to have water budget at gram panchayat level and setting up of Water Use Efficient Authority to promote and regulate water usage.

Speaking on the occasion, National Rainfed Area Authority CEO Ashok Dalwai said the country needs to work in three areas to promote agri exports.

"One is that we need quality that is acceptable in the international market. Second is we should have volumes to meet the demand for a particular quantum. Third of course to meet standards of that particular nation," he said.

A cluster approach will help in promoting these three things, he added.

Dalwai is also the Chairman of the Committee of Doubling Farmers' Income.