Micro-irrigation lags far behind potential, shows study

The study says that only 7.73 million hectares in India, compared to a potential 69.5 million hectares, were covered under micro-irrigation by March 2015


According to the report, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat and Haryana account for over 82% of India’s micro-irrigation coverage.  Photo: Mint
According to the report, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat and Haryana account for over 82% of India’s micro-irrigation coverage. Photo: Mint

New Delhi: Farming uses over 90% of India’s fresh water, but despite the potential savings micro-irrigation can offer, its penetration is abysmally low, shows a recent study.

Just 7.73 million hectares in India, compared to a potential 69.5 million hectares, were covered under micro-irrigation by March 2015, shows a study, titled ‘Accelerating Growth of Indian Agriculture-Micro Irrigation, an Efficient Solution’, released last week by business lobby group Ficci and Irrigation Association of India.

And despite the scheme’s low penetration and back-to-back drought due to deficit rains, the subsidy for micro-irrigation, under the Centre’s flagship scheme Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayi Yojana (PMKSY), fell from Rs.1,112 crore in 2014-15 to Rs.1,075 crore in 2015-16, the study said.

With the current target of covering 0.5 million hectares per year under micro-irrigation, and a budget of only around Rs.1,000 crore, it will take nearly a century to achieve the potential 69.5 million hectare under micro-irrigation, the study said.

It added that savings from using micro-irrigation systems like drip and sprinklers are enormous—between 20% and 48% savings on water use, about 28.5% less fertiliser use and 30.5% energy savings.

According to the report, just six states—Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat and Haryana—account for over 82% of India’s micro-irrigation coverage.

Since 2006, micro-irrigation has been a dedicated scheme but it was incorporated as a component under PMKSY in 2015, leading to a dilution of attention and lower utilisation of funds despite heavy demand from farmers, the study noted.

Between 2013 and 2016, budgetary allocations for micro-irrigation came down by 31%, and subsidies to farmers —towards the cost of installing drip or sprinkler systems—were cut from 50% to 35%, leading to lower adoption rates.

The lacklustre performance of micro-irrigation comes as a surprise as Prime Minister Narendra Modi has repeatedly campaigned for increasing water use efficiency in agriculture, using catch phrases like “more crop per drop”.

To improve the performance of micro-irrigation schemes, the study recommended a move towards the direct benefits transfer (DBT) model or direct cash transfer to farmers, to promote “on-demand” micro-irrigation. The other recommendations are adopting better process management and online tracking schemes, and making micro-irrigation mandatory for water guzzling crops like sugarcane.

The study further suggested that if companies providing micro-irrigation equipment and services are brought under priority sector lending, and farmers can avail of interest subsidies through the subvention scheme, dependence on subsidies will come down over time.

The Centre is fully on board on implementing direct cash transfers for implementing micro-irrigation schemes, agriculture secretary Shobhana K. Pattanayak said, while releasing the report.

“Successive drought years have made use of micro irrigation an imperative and we are considering to make it mandatory for growing water-guzzling crops like sugarcane,” he added.

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