7 PM Editorial |Micro-irrigation: The way ahead for sustainable agriculture| 3rd September 2020

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Micro-irrigation: The way ahead for sustainable agriculture

Micro-irrigation can help save agriculture from the crisis of water scarcity.


India is facing a huge challenge of water scarcity. The current water crisis has affected nearly 600 million people. The increase of population to 1.6 billion by 2050 will further increase the water demand and thus compound the water scarcity issues.

Factors which have aggravated this issue:

There are different factors which have aggravated this issue of water scarcity. Some of them include:

  1. The Agriculture Sector: It accounts for approximately 90 percent of 761,000 billion litres of annual freshwater withdrawals in the country. Per capita consumption of water in the agriculture sector ranges from 4,913 to 5,800 kilolitre per capita per year.
  2. Climate Change: It has affected weather patterns, affected livelihood and well being of farmers.

Agriculture has contributed the maximum to the water scarcity. However, it has also suffered the most due to water scarcity.

Why has Agriculture been the biggest sufferer?
  1. Almost 85 percent of the farmers are small and marginal, which means they are dependent on rain and available surface water. Rain is increasingly becoming variable and the water table is gradually depleting resulting in higher irrigation costs.
  2. The high water use in Agriculture has resulted in soil salinity and health deterioration, reduced water table and crop productivity losses.

The governments have been sincerely looking for options to ameliorate the issues faced by agriculture. The government launched a comprehensive programme called Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana which emphasised on reducing water usage through micro-irrigation techniques.

Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana: Financial assistance of up to 55 per cent is available for small and marginal farmers and 45 per cent for other farmers for adoption of micro-irrigation systems. The funding pattern between the Union governments and the state government’s share is 90:10 for North-Eastern States and 60:40 for others.
How can micro-irrigation solve the issue?
  1. Micro-irrigation decreases the water requirements:  By applying water directly to the root zone, the practice reduces loss of water through conveyance, run-off, deep percolation and evaporation.  It has paved the way for higher water use efficiency of around 75-95 percent.These losses are unavoidable in traditional irrigation practices.
  2. Micro-irrigation also saves on fertiliser requirements: Combined application of water and fertilizers through irrigation results in balanced nutrient application, reduced fertiliser requirement of around 7 to 42 per cent (thus, saving expenditure cost incurred by farmer), higher nutrient uptake and nutrient use efficiency.
Fertigation: It is the method of applying water and fertilizers through irrigation.

1. Micro-irrigation also helped in bringing degraded wastelands into agricultural practice: A Union Government survey indicated that farmers were able to bring 519.43 hectares of degraded land under cultivation through the technique.

2. Micro-irrigation also allows the use of saline water for irrigation without causing salinity or osmotic stress to plants.

Best Practices: Israel, a desert nation with water scarcity has become a water surplus nation by using drip irrigation that saves almost three-fourths of the water used for irrigation done through open canals.

3. Micro-irrigation makes significant electricity savings: FICCI reports a consumption reduction of 30.5 percent electricity.

4. Micro-irrigation also helps maintain optimum soil moisture: It helps increase overall productivity and profitability. There has been an average productivity increase of fruit crops by 42.3 percent and vegetables by 52.8 percent.

5. Finally, micro-irrigation has also helped in adaptation of diverse cropping patterns.


Micro-irrigation is immensely beneficial to help achieve sustainability in Indian agriculture. However, we are far away from adopting it. It requires extensive demonstration, training and awareness to adopt it on a large scale in India.

Source: Down to Earth

Mains Question:

In view of increasing water demand across cities and rural hinterland, how far do you think micro-irrigation techniques can help mitigate the issue of water scarcity? Discuss.

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