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
Advantage of drip irrigation over
conventional flood irrigation
||High, between 40 and 100 %
||Less. High rates of evaporation, surface run
off and percolation
||High seepages and leakages
||80 90 %
||30 - 50 %
||Less spent on labour, fertilisers,
pesticides and tilling
||Almost nil High
||Even saline water can be used
||Only normal water can be used
|Diseases and pests
|Efficiency of fertiliser use
||Very high since supply is regulated
||Heavy losses due to leaching
||About 8.5 million ha in India
||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
||Rs 15,000 to 40, 000 depending
on crop spacing
||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 Indias 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 Indias
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
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.
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.
Reduced labour costs: Due to the precise and measured application of water, fertilisers and
herbicides, labour and operational costs are greatly reduced.
|Increased yields and
||% increase in yield (Drip
over saving surface irrigation)
||% water saving
Progress Report 2001, National Committee on Plasticulture Applications in Horticulture,
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.
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
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.
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 states 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, Maharashtras
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,
Indias 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 Indias 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)
|Water utilisation efficiency:
|50 - 60%
||90 - 95%
|60 - 65%
||90 - 95%
Drip irrigation facilities have almost doubled the yield of
cotton, saving up to 70 per cent of water.
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.