Affordable Irrigation in IndiaEven today, agriculture remains a significant portion of India’s economy that is relied on by over 58 percent of rural households for sustenance. This, alongside fisheries, forestries and livestock, is expected to grow to 17.3 percent of the gross value added (GVA) in the 2016 to 2017 term, as estimated by the Central Statistics Office (CSO). But India’s historic environmental challenge of inconsistent accessibility to water creates difficulties for small farmers in obtaining fruitful harvests and maintaining livelihoods. These challenges are further exacerbated by their lack of capital and subsequent susceptibility to take out loans and plunge into debt. Furthermore, their higher vulnerability to the effects of natural disasters on their fields puts them at further risk and loss. A method to address affordable irrigation in India not only in terms of agriculture but sustenance is increasingly desirable.

These problems are indeed foremost attributed to India facing a water crisis, as the country devises 16 percent of the global population but only four percent of the world’s fresh water. Seventy-six million people do not have access to safe drinking water, 21 percent of the country’s diseases are water-borne, and over 329,000 children under age five died due to diarrhea here in 2015. Women, the main collectors of water, spend around 150 million work days fetching and carrying water each year, equating to a net loss in income due to not working of 10 billion Indian Rupees ($160 million). And, due to current irrigation practices, only 9.2 percent of potential areas are brought under micro-irrigation, leaving around 38.8 million hectares of land greatly disadvantaged.

These problems are only to become more pertinent, where by 2050 there is an expected 35 percent needed increase in food production to meet the food demand of India’s exponentially growing population. The gap between water supply and water demand is expected to surpass 63 percent by 2050. Affordable irrigation in India for its prospects domestically as well as internationally must be addressed as they currently rank third in farm and agriculture outputs, and are the second-largest fruit producers in the world.

This explains the budding success of International Development Enterprises India (IDEI) and their positive impact on agricultural turnover in these regions. Founded by Amitabha Sadangi to develop and distribute micro-irrigation technology that saves water and increases crop yield, it has already assisted hundreds of poor farmers in 226 districts of India and beyond in Egypt, Sudan and Pakistan, too. The organization’s range of programs includes sustainable agriculture, income enhancement and climate-smart agriculture, working closely with smallholders to improve them and their families’ social, economic and environmental circumstances. In turn, their efforts help to reduce hunger and poverty, as they make it possible for rural poor and farmers to reap the benefits of affordable and high-value crops through improved productivity and quality. It further allows smallholder farmers to be more competitive and market-oriented with their products and earn more per harvest as through affordable irrigation in India and beyond.

The success of the company’s Surface Treadle Pump is attributed to both its targeting of small-plot farming downfalls in developing countries and promotion under the KB or Krishak Bandhu (Farmer’s Friend) brand as a premium, smallholder-friendly, low-cost and quality technology. As a result, as found through an external impact assessment by Universal Consulting, treadle pump users earn about 200 percent more than non-users, gradually easing them out of poverty. Treadle pump users have higher standards of living compared to non-users, and can hence put more into healthcare, education and quality food, where they on average spend 35 percent more on school fees for children and 200 rupees more on food than non-users. IDEI also offers supplementary technologies alongside the treadle pump to ease the burden on smallholder farmers, such as those for water storage, accessing, lifting and application.

Through such technology, IDEI is working to upturn productivity by at least 15 to 20 percent in these plots, allowing farmers to irrigate more crop area per unit water, requiring 60 to 70 percent less water than other systems. The pump accomplishes this by moving water through a slow channel or elected pressurized pipe to maintain optimum moisture at the roots, improving plant quality and yield in the process. The pump works through positive displacement, channeling water from surface sources like wells or canals. It is operated easily through a pedaling system that manipulates body weight per a twin-barrel device. It only requires 35 to 40 kilograms of body weight to function, making it suitable for all types of crops. It achieves a maximum flow of 4,500 liters per hour for up to one acre of land and is equipped to last eight to ten years.

The advantage and need for reliable and convenient technology in the agricultural sector for not only rural farmers but for the national economy and food supply has become a pressing but not impossible issue, as social enterprises such as IDEI and the Surface Treadle Pump visibly help India and surrounding communities to move past water scarcity for success and allow for affordable irrigation in India.

Zar-Tashiya Khan

Photo: Flickr