Securing the Future of India’s Water Food and Energy

With over a billion people to serve (around 70% in rural areas), India faces an unprecedented water crisis in the next two decades. Inability to provide a reliable and regular water supply for domestic, industrial and energy needs and scarcity of water for irrigation are some of the prominent concerns. The national food security goals (intended toward arresting the food scarcity) have led to targeted regions for the procurement of rice and wheat, with minimum support prices, and a variety of subsidies for fertilizer, energy and seed. This has led to a significant change of the regional cropping patterns away from traditional crops that were adapted to the local climate and soils. Needless to say that it has also increased the demand for irrigation in the targeted procurement regions. Not surprisingly, aquifer depletion and inefficient water use are now endemic. Uncertain climate and needs of the growing population for food will likely determine the shape of the water crisis in the country.

In this context, the work I conducted recently attempts to (a) quantify the dimensions of the water scarcity problems in the country and (b) provide a clear, scientifically thorough, rational set of solutions that can be implemented to restore water and environmental sustainability. The work provides an initial, formal analysis for the re-design of the Indian food procurement system that considers climate driven variations in renewable water supply, the sustainability of groundwater pumping, varying regional productivity of crops and farm level economics. Assuming that the food security goals are to be met while keeping current procurement prices fixed for each crop, the scheme attempts to maximize net aggregate farm income from the procurement system. The results suggest that net farm revenue could be doubled while minimizing or eliminating the need for irrigation to meet the food requirements.

Details of the work can be found in the UNESCO’s Global Water Forum’s Discussion Paper. For the technical content and underlying methodologies, you can read my Water Resources Research Article. You can read my other articles on water sustainability and risk analysis here.

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