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Sustainable Irrigation and Development in India

Experiencing a period of drought on a normal basis before the rainy season, the farmers of India often find themselves at the mercy of nature as well as heavily relying on diesel oil in order to irrigate their farms. Not only that, it is estimated that only 32% of India’s farms are irrigated.

For this reason, over the next five years, the government of India is aiming to reduce this reliance by installing solar energy pumps in rural India. This project is also expected to protect the level of groundwater in the Subcontinent.

The investment needed to initiate this clean and sustainable alternative will cost around $1.6 billion, which will be channeled into replacing non-solar pumps with 26 million solar powered ones to provide access to sufficient electricity to farmers in certain areas of the country wherein electricity resource is still insufficient.

If this project proves to be a success, it will enable India to save $6 billion annually in energy subsidies handed out to farmers, a sum that could go a long way in terms of rural development.

This will also allow farmers—many of whom are poor—to be able to water their plants with no operation cost at all. Thus, this project will not only help the state to save, it will also expand the profit margin of rural farmers of the world’s second most populous country. In certain states, such as Punjab, the state authorities are already helping farmers to acquire necessary materials for the installment of drip-irrigation watering system via subsidization.

The drip-irrigation method, also known as the micro-irrigation method, is an agricultural technique used in order to curb both the use of fertilizer as well as water by trickling water in a very small amount directly to the roots of the plants. Thus, in addition to the solar pump the investment of which will be disseminated countrywide, in the southern state of Kerala, another $62 million is going to be spent to put in place drip-irrigation infrastructure.

Once complete, it will allow more people access to water on their farms regardless of where they are, as water will be dispensed equally throughout a larger area.

With the agricultural sector commanding 51% of India’s total workforce but nevertheless providing India with only 15.7% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). This indicates a huge disparity when more than half of the country is in a sector that earns less than a fourth of the total GDP. Thus, with the expanded profit margin and more government’s attention in the sector India and its dynamic economic growth will—in the foreseeable future—be able to lift more people out of poverty.

Peewara Sapsuwan

Sources: We Demain, Bloomberg, India Text, Irrigation Direct, Bloomberg Sustainability, World Bank
Photo: Ingetje Tadros