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Drip irrigation, wherever it has been implemented, has dramatically increased crop yield while utilising verylittle water


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All about Drip Irrigation (Download pdf)

Presently, conventional irrigation methods entail large-scale mismanagement of water resources. This has led to water logging and salinity – tell-tale signs of over irrigation – in some areas, and soil erosion, water scarcity, and dipping water tables due to over-extraction of groundwater in others.

Advantage of drip irrigation over conventional flood irrigation

  Drip method Flood method
Water saving High, between 40 and 100 % Less. High rates of evaporation, surface run off and percolation
Transportation loss Negligible High seepages and leakages
Irrigation efficiency 80 – 90 % 30 - 50 %
Input cost Less spent on labour, fertilisers, pesticides and tilling Comparatively higher
Weed problem Almost nil High  
Suitable water Even saline water can be used Only normal water can be used
Diseases and pests Relatively less High
Efficiency of fertiliser use Very high since supply is regulated Heavy losses due to leaching
Water logging Nil About 8.5 million ha in India
Water control Can be regulated easily Not much control
Cost benefit ratio (additional amount in rupees  for every rupee invested) Excluding water savings: 1.3 - 13.3, Including water savings: 2.8 - 30.0 Between 1.8 and 3.9
Capital cost/ha Rs 15,000 to 40, 000 depending ––
on crop spacing
Yield increase 20 - 100 % higher than flood method Less compared to drip
Source: Prof Narayanamoorthy (1996) Gokhale Institute, Pune

Unwieldy and costly irrigation schemes have resulted in inefficient and unsustainable water use. While some farmers have more than what they need, others have little or hardly any access to it at all. Huge losses, both in terms of water and money, are incurred under the major and medium irrigation schemes. According to India’s Eighth Five Year Plan document, the expenditure for one hectare (ha) of irrigation has increased from Rs 1,526 in the First Plan to over Rs 150,000 in the Ninth Plan! Millions are spent on creating irrigation facilities, but they often result in unequal distribution and careless use of water. Most farmers at the very tail-end of the canal systems are often not even able to access any
irrigation water at all.

Making it stretch
Efficient use of water is the answer to many of these problems. Much of India’s cultivable area is fed on rainwater, which leaves farmers vulnerable to drought. Drip irrigation can effectively enable farmers in drought-prone areas to stretch their meagre supplies of water. It can also be used successfully in hilly and undulating terrains, which can never be brought under "command areas" of conventional irrigation projects as much of the water would simply flow off.

According to Professor A Narayanamoorthy of the Gokhale Insitute of Politics and Economics, Pune, 58 million ha of land in India is fallow and barren. At least half of this can be brought under drip irrigation projects and handed over to poor and landless labourers. This would contribute to poverty reduction and augment the productivity of agricultural commodities with less investment.

What are the benefits?

Higher crop yields: A regulated water supply leads to greater productivity as it optimises water requirement. Studies have indicated that the drip irrigation method also contributes to early maturity and improved quality of crops.

Efficient use of available water: Precise water application through the drip method makes irrigation more efficient, which is especially important in areas where water is scarce or expensive. It also reduces water loss through evaporation and runoff or deep percolation, making it possible to manage difficult soils such as the crusting or porous and sandy varieties.

Increased yields and water saved

Crop Location % increase in yield (Drip over saving surface irrigation) % water saving
Banana Navsari 30 – 40 9 – 60
Bottle gourd Pantnagar 20 45
Brinjal Pantnagar 18 44
Cabbage Navsari 34 46
Cauliflower Navsari 44 20
Chilli Pantnagar 10 68
Cotton Navsari 40 – 47 5 – 33
Okra Pantnagar 27 15
Pomegranate Hyderabad 21 51
Potato Pantnagar 20 49
Rose Navsari 20 40
Sapota Navsari 20 – 40 17
Sugarcane Delhi 50 35
Tomato Delhi 25 40

Source: Progress Report 2001, National Committee on Plasticulture Applications in Horticulture, MOA, India

Reduced labour costs: Due to the precise and measured application of water, fertilisers and herbicides, labour and operational costs are greatly reduced.

Lesser cost for fertiliser and other chemicals: Using the drip system, a farmer can apply nutrients and pesticides more precisely to his crops, thereby reducing fertiliser costs and nitrate losses.

Soil health and groundwater health: Since fertiliser application is regulated, there is little wastage and pollution due to leaching. In the long run, drip irrigation is sustainable and provides greater food security and social progress. Not only because conventional irrigation is vulnerable to drought, but also because excessive irrigation (the over-use of water) is bad for the soil.

Clearly, drip irrigation has a tremendous potential in India. Over 80 crops, including well-known water guzzlers like sugarcane and banana, can be brought under drip irrigation.

In terms of crop-wise distribution, about half the area under drip irrigation comprises orchards while another significant portion comes under plantation crops.

The technology is most popular among citrus orchards and grapes in Maharashtra, coconut in Tamil Nadu, and mulberry in Karnataka.





Development model
p64_map.jpg (1572 bytes)Maharashtra has utilised drip irrigation to great effect, with 172,297 ha of land covered under it. This state has taken a lead on the drip front for various reasons. Crops such as grapes, bananas and cotton, ideally suited to this type of irrigation, account for a substantial portion of the state’s cultivated land. These are grown on relatively large plots, fitting into the size that the government-promoted systems are optimised for. Also, these are cash crops that ensure returns that enable the farmers to invest more. Most importantly, Maharashtra’s erratic rainfall pattern has made it a vital option.

The government has actively been promoting drip irrigation projects. As a result, a large number of manufacturers of the drip system have set base in this state. It is the home of Jain Irrigation Systems, India’s leading manufacturer. Availabilty of the system and awareness about its benefits are far more widespread here than in any other of India. Thousands of farmers regularly make a pilgrimage to Israel to learn more about advanced agriculture and water management practises. The main crops that utilise drip in Maharashtra are banana, sugarcane, grapes and cotton.

There is scope for more. Over 50 per cent of India’s dams are in this state, yet, only about 24 per cent of its total arable land receives irrigation water. Allegedly, more than 60 per cent of this goes to only about three per cent of the area of the state where sugarcane is cultivated. This wasteful use can be checked through effective application of drip.

Sweet smell of success
Sugarcane yield has more than doubled from an average of 27 tonnes/ acre to between 40 and 82 tonnes/ acre following the installation of drip irrigation systems in Maharashtra, with a corresponding decrease in water and power usage.

About 235 farmers of the Sri Vasant Dada Irrigation Society in Sangli got together and spent Rs 5400,000 to install drip irrigation facilities in 179.28 ha of land for sugarcane crop. The sugar companies extended Rs 2,000,000 as credit to farmers, who were able to repay this loan in just one year, as opposed to the usual payback period of five years. This was possible because of a yield increase of 20 – 25 tonnes per acre due to the installation of the drip system.

Counting the difference
Before and after installation of drip (sugarcane)
Power consumed:
1.25 HP/acre
After .95 HP/acre
Water utilisation efficiency:
50 - 60%
After 90 - 95%
Seed germination:
60 - 65%
After 90 - 95%

Clothed in wealth
Drip irrigation facilities have almost doubled the yield of cotton, saving up to 70 per cent of water.

Grapes to riches
Over the years, continuous usage of groundwater for grape plantations had led to its depletion in the Nasik area. The situation improved considerably following the implemantation of drip irrigation projects. In 1989, only 20 per cent of grape plantation areas were under drip irrigation. This had risen to 60 per cent by 2001. Yield has increased from 15 – 25 tonnes/ha to 25 - 40 tonnes/ha, and water saving has risen by up to 70 per cent.

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