How to improve agricultural productivity -Bjorn lomborg & Saleema Razvi
Investments in irrigation, combined with better-quality seeds, can dramatically improve returns to farming
Global attention has been devoted to water scarcity and its effect on Indian farmers. However, new analysis from Indian researchers suggests that far more good could come if irrigation were combined with seed improvement.
Tata Trusts and Copenhagen Consensus have commissioned new research by noted experts from India and around the world, looking at measures that would help Indian states respond to major challenges and improve their competitiveness, economic performance, and the well-being and prosperity of citizens. The new research focuses on establishing how much different policies would cost, and what they would achieve overall in economic, environmental and societal benefits.
Now, two new research papers add to the volume of evidence on how to boost agricultural performance. The first of these is by Dinesh Kumar, executive director of the Institute for Resource Analysis and Policy (Irap), Hyderabad. It examines policies that would reduce the effects of water scarcity in Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh.
In Andhra Pradesh, the Rayalaseema region is hot and dry, with frequent droughts. Only about one-third of the crops are irrigated, and the rest are dependent on rain-fed cultivation, which is susceptible to the vagaries of the weather. Tanks are an important source of water for the rural economy, but—as in other areas—an explosion of well-irrigation has reduced the surface run-off into these tanks. The biggest victims are poor, small, marginal farmers, who depend on tanks for supplementary irrigation for their kharif crop.
There are major water transfer projects being implemented in Andhra Pradesh. This approach—moving surplus water into the tanks, so that they are full—ensures farmers can continue crop production when the tanks do not receive inflows. According to one estimate, the additional storage space available during a drought year is about 1,700 million cubic metres.
The annualized cost of the infrastructure and drainage required to fill the tanks is estimated to be about Rs. 4,500 per hectare, as well as another Rs. 2,000 for the annual operation and maintenance of the system. Assuming that the additional water will be used to irrigate around 65,000 hectares of paddy cultivated during winter, the overall annualized cost would be Rs. 43.2 crore.
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