View from India: Good irrigation creates employment

According to the 2011 Census, India’s south-western state of Karnataka has population of 61 million, with a decadal growth rate of 16.4 per cent - the sixth highest among the states. Given this pace of growth, it’s only imperative that Karnataka chalks out irrigation projects to meet the water requirements for its urban, industrial and agricultural sectors.

The irrigation sector in Karnataka has been undergoing a makeover since 2013, when Siddaramaiah took charge as chief minister. Significantly, from 2013-2018, a vast expanse of land — 6,55,637 acres — has now become potentially suitable for irrigation. The land takes into account field irrigation canals and field drainage canals. A recent newspaper announcement to this effect has been made just ahead of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly Election scheduled to be held in April-May 2018 to elect members of the 224 constituencies. The last election was held in May 2013.  

At another level, the irrigation-based efforts are in sync with World Water Day, which is celebrated on 22 March, as declared by the United Nations (UN). ‘Nature for Water’ is this year’s theme and explores nature-based solutions to address water-related challenges. Though nature-led solutions are more to do with the setting up of new forests, and restoring wetlands, let’s not forget irrigation also takes into account aspects like farm ponds, which are expected to lead to sustainable agro-based livelihood, soil and water conservation.

Coming to Karnataka, the five-year irrigation initiative has taken on challenges. Like the Ramthal Micro Irrigation Project that has brought relief to the people of the drought region of Karnataka. Initiated at a cost Rs 762 crore, the project is dedicated to the nation and is described as the world’s biggest community-based micro-irrigation project. It is spread across 59,300 acres and has brought 55 villages under its fold. A fully automated tech-based drip irrigation project, it has struck the right chord with the villagers as it has given rise to 51 Water Users’ Associations due to which 15,000 farmers have been benefitted.

Sensors have been attached to the irrigation system and subsequently, the use of fertilisers has been reduced while the stretch of land that is irrigated has doubled. The project has a holistic approach; memoranda of understandings (MoUs) have been signed with firms related to food processing in order to provide farmers a market reach.

It’s time low yielding farming activities undergo a transformation with improved water flow, increased water storage capacity and recharged ground water. Many irrigation projects are ongoing, while others are nearing completion or are already completed.

On a broad scale, food production gets adversely affected by the temporal and spatial distribution of rainfall. So, putting more arable land into food production is a good sign. Water availability for irrigation becomes crucial because agriculture is among the main occupations in the state and water is essential for food security, industrial growth and is also the lifeline of the people as it is a means of livelihood promotion.

To think of it, irrigation and agriculture have enough potential to re-engage youth through new avenues of earnings.

Soil fertility measures will not only boost farm productivity but also create job opportunities. With new farm ponds, dug wells and compost pits farmers can reap benefit and use it for organic manure. Scaling up farming conditions will boost the rural economy. Better irrigation options point to the fact that pulses production can be improved upon. With improved productivity, cultivators can hope to increase their income. At the other end, consumers can hope to see some sort of stability in the prices of pulses and crops.

If a demand-supply situation is created within the fertiliser and farm equipment segment, it can create home-based micro entrepreneurs who cater to the domestic market. Allied services also included.

With so much emphasis given to irrigation, it’s imperative to use tech solutions to achieve scale and reach. For instance, data on agriculture can be stored on the cloud. Then, technology can be used for executing scientific research and information.

If all works favourably well, agriculture backed by a good irrigation system can hopefully result in a reverse exodus, which means urban-to-rural migration. Well, let’s hope so.

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