IWMI in India

IWMI has carried out research on water and agriculture in India for over two decades. With offices in Delhi and Anand, where we are hosted by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Department of Agricultural Research and Education (DARE), we work closely with ICAR, the government, research institutions, business and corporate social responsibility initiatives to help enhance the impacts of their water interventions. The IWMI-Tata Water Policy Research Program (ITP), launched in 2000, brings together IWMI and the Tata Trusts, a major philanthropic organization, to translate research findings into practical policy recommendations. IWMI’s strategy is centered around three strategic programs – Water, Food and Ecosystems; Water, Climate Change and Resilience; and Water, Growth and Inclusion – each supported by high-quality science and digital innovations. Our aim in India is to align IWMI’s broad strategic goals with the priorities of national and funding partners.Dr. Alok Sikka, Country Representative, IWMI, India

  • pumps and pipes pull water from the canal for farms
    pumps and pipes pull water from the canal for farms
  • a farm using drip irrigation
    a farm using drip irrigation
  • salt infected farm land in Gulf of Khombat
    salt infected farm land in Gulf of Khombat
  • a pump in an empty crop field
    a pump in an empty crop field
  • Use of drip irrigation in India
    Use of drip irrigation in India
  • woman helps to install drip irrigation pipes in a farm
    woman helps to install drip irrigation pipes in a farm
  • women working in the field
    women working in the field
  • Canal in Anand
    Canal in Anand
  • two women getting water from a pump
    two women getting water from a pump
  • Dried up land
    Dried up land
BackgroundWater, Food and EcosystemsWater, Climate Change and ResilienceWater, Growth and Inclusion
Despite being one of the fastest growing economies in the world, India faces a number of challenges due to a rapidly increasing population, changing dietary habits and degradation of natural resources. India is one of the most water-scarce countries in the world, a condition that is aggravated as climate change increases the frequency and severity of extreme weather events such as floods and droughts. It is expected that about half of the country’s water demand will not be met by 2030.

Agriculture employs about 50% of India’s workforce and most farmers are smallholders. Irrigation facilities are often poorly maintained, and only about half of the country’s cultivated area is irrigated. Cultivation of the remaining area is dependent on rainfall during the monsoon season, which is highly vulnerable to climate variability. India is increasingly reliant on groundwater, which supports over 60% of the irrigated area and much of the country’s drinking water needs. In parts of the country, overpumping of groundwater for agricultural use is resulting in a decline in the water table.

IWMI aims to improve the use of water in agriculture through innovative land and water management strategies that expand access to irrigation, maximize water productivity, enhance farmer incomes and support ecosystem services.

A prime example is a joint project between IWMI and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) in the Sina Medium Irrigation System in Maharashtra, which focuses on improving the conjunctive use of surface water and groundwater, and enhancing water productivity. The project has proposed a new framework for assessing the performance of irrigation systems within the context of the water influence zone’.

Our work on solar irrigation is another example of IWMI’s significant policy impact. India has adopted ambitious renewable energy targets to meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement. Promoting solar energy, including solar-powered irrigation, is at the heart of the national strategy for meeting these targets. With abundant sunshine hours, solar pumps can offer highquality power to farmers at zero marginal cost. One risk, however, is that this might further aggravate the overpumping of groundwater. In response, IWMI developed a model of grid-connected solar irrigation systems where, in addition to using solar power for irrigation, farmers can also sell the surplus energy generated back to the utility at attractive prices. This creates an incentive for smallholders to use energy and water judiciously. This concept – known as Solar Power as a Remunerative Crop (SPaRC)was piloted by IWMI in Dhundi village in central Gujarat. The project influenced the Government of Gujarat to announce a new solar irrigation policy, Suryashakti Kisan Yojana (SKY), and has also inspired the ambitious national program for promoting solar pumps (Pradhan Mantri Kisan Urja Suraksha evam Utthan Mahabhiyan [PM-KUSUM]). IWMI is working closely with state and central governments to support field implementation and scaling of the SPaRC concept.

In the flood-prone Rampur district of Uttar Pradesh, a project supported by the CGIAR Research Programs on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) is using floodwater to recharge depleted aquifers, enabling the co-management of floods and groundwater depletion. This allows farmers to mitigate the impact of flooding in the rainy season while gaining access to more groundwater in the dry season. A proven success, the approach, referred to as ‘Underground Transfer of Floods for Irrigation’ (UTFI), has been formally recognized by the state and central governments, and included in the Rampur District Irrigation Plan under the Prime Minister’s National Irrigation Program (Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana [PMKSY]). It has also been cited as an adaptation option in a UN-Water Policy Brief on Climate Change and Water published in 2019.

Building resilience to climate change impacts to ensure water security is a high priority for India. IWMI helps farmers adapt to climate change and quickly recover from disasters using a range of complementary approaches. We produce drought severity maps from satellite data, using vegetation, soil moisture, temperature and rainfall parameters (South Asia Drought Monitoring System). These maps are shared with government departments to help with their contingency planning. Another project offers farmers a bundle of solutions, including drought and flood insurance, drought and flood-tolerant seed varieties, weather forecasting services and climate-smart farming practices. A pilot activity is using high resolution satellite images and other data to predetermine flood thresholds that could trigger speedy compensatory insurance payouts. Combining these technologies and services greatly increases their overall effectiveness. Provision of accurate and timely climate information can help farmers to make good management decisions, and climate-smart farming practices enable them to meet the challenges of increasing productivity, and adapting to and mitigating the impacts of climate change. IWMI places a high importance on inclusivity: 50% of the target beneficiaries of these activities are women, young people and disadvantaged farmers.
The Government of India has made a major commitment to water conservation and management, including the delivery of water to every farm (‘har khet ko pani’). In support of this major initiative, the IWMI-Tata Water Policy Research Program undertook to identify 112 irrigation-deprived districts with excellent potential for groundwater and small-scale irrigation development. Based on these findings, the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation created a special groundwater irrigation development program, Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana – Groundwater (PMKSY-GW), which aims to add a new irrigated area of 2.1 million hectares in 96 of the most irrigation-deprived districts.

In India, IWMI has been a pioneer in advancing the concept of the water-energyfood nexus, which integrates management and governance across sectors and scales. Our research on opportunities for co-managing irrigation and energy inspired the highly acclaimed Jyotigram Yojana program in Gujarat, which incorporates intelligent rationing of farm power supply while delivering round-the-clock rural power for domestic and industrial uses. In 2014, in recognition of its groundbreaking work to link energy use, food production and water availability in Indian agriculture, the IWMI-Tata Water Policy Research Program was awarded the prestigious UN-Water ‘Water for Life’ Best Practices Award. In West Bengal, IWMI research helped to improve groundwater access by influencing policy reform to make it easier for farmers to purchase electric pumps for irrigation. A recent IWMI report highlights that our recommendations led the West Bengal government to establish around 200,000 new electricity connections for pumping groundwater for irrigation.

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The Chakhaji Model in Bihar, India - Catalyzing ‘Buyer-Friendly’ Solar Irrigation Service Markets
In Chakhaji village of Samastipur district in Bihar, IWMI, CCAFS and AKRSP-I (Aga Khan Rural Support Program, India) have supported seven solar irrigation entrepreneurs to install 5 kWp solar pumps...
Digital defenses: Can high tech insurance flood-proof Indian farmers? | IWMI
Index-based flood insurance (IBFI) is an innovative approach to develop effective payout schemes for low-income, flood-prone communities. The IBFI project in Bihar aimed at integrating hi-tech modelling and satellite imagery...

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Economics and equity

At IWMI, researching underlying economic and social trends helps us understand why people migrate. They also explain the impact of remittances and loss of agricultural labor, as well as consequences of migration on gender roles and food and water security. For instance, communities with higher levels of income inequality, or relative deprivation, may experience greater levels of out-migration compared to consistently low-income communities. In addition, migration changes intra-household gender-labor composition, which can change the access of smallholders to water resources, affecting the functioning of community-based institutions and consequently household and local food security. IWMI also focuses on circular economy, a strategy to recover and reuse waste, to boost food security and understand how interventions can encourage refugee and host communities to retain scarce resources.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion

Urban & rural transformation

As agricultural opportunities fluctuate in rural areas, migration, particularly to urban areas, is an adaptation technique to secure incomes and alternative livelihoods. Income generated by migrants is often sent back to family as remittances to support communities at home. At IWMI, we assess linkages between rural and urban areas, as well as the role of agricultural knowledge systems and food and water security. We recognize there are complex push and pull factors such as individual aspirations, economic opportunity, social norms, climate variability and government policies which drive migration and affect rural communities, particularly youth. Our work follows a ‘positive migration’ philosophy, framing migration as an adaptation technique and socio-economic choice (in many cases) rather than a problem to be solved, and focuses on establishing safer, more regular migration by supporting changes to migration governance in sending regions.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion Climate adaptation and mitigation

Covid-19 disruption & adaptation

Covid-19 has caused a rupture in migration logistics and exposed inequities in the migration system, yet drivers of movement remain. Government lockdowns and closed borders due to the pandemic curtailed movement for migrants, posing complex problems for migrant hosting and origin countries. There have been significant economic shocks, with a sharp decline in unemployment for migrants and an inability to send money home through remittances to support family. Some migrants face social stigma for returning home without an income, particularly if families relied on loans to support their journeys. Consequences have been severe for informal migrants who lack government protection in their host countries. Migrants, particularly those living in crowded, lower-income neighborhoods, have been experiencing stigmatization related to the spread of Covid-19. We look at the impacts of Covid-19 on migration governance and rural areas across seven countries, development planning in Ghana, migration challenges in Southeast Asia, and community-based disaster management and resilience building in South Africa.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion

Water, climate change and agrarian stress

Migration, water and climate stress are inextricably linked to rural development. Water stress and climate variability can act as a driver of fragility, intensifying pre-existing political, social, economic and environmental challenges. Initiatives designed to address migration-related challenges must tackle inequalities and the exclusion of women, youth and marginalized groups; governance opportunities to better manage water and natural resources and technology and innovations to help communities escape socio-ecological precarity and thrive despite climate challenges. IWMI intends to build climate resilience by implementing projects which tackle gender-power inequalities in the face of dynamic, economic-social-ecological challenges. Our work brings together affected communities, institutional stakeholders and social actors to manage water in response to climate variability and agrarian stress, striving to address complex physical and social variables.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion Climate adaptation and mitigation

Gender, intersectionality and social inclusion

It is critical to center gender and intersectional identities when unpacking migration phenomena. Gender as a social construct guides social norms and relations, including the decision-making processes and mechanisms leading to migration. We recognize that the intersections between race, age, class, sex, caste and region shape the migrant experience.

IWMI strives to offer transformative approaches and solutions for women, youth and marginalized groups, regarding them as equal partners in our work rather than passive end-users.  For example, within communities that experience male out migration, socio-political systems are restructured to make women, youth and other groups active agents in their own agri-food transformation. Migration patterns contribute to the feminization of agriculture, and women may experience a greater burden of responsibility coupled with an increased ability to access and control resources and policies to build sustainable livelihoods. Acknowledging social complexities helps researchers and communities understand migration trends and address structural power imbalances to build a more equitable world.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion

Innovation bundles

Farmer-led irrigation development is about much more than installing a pump in a field. It requires access to financing, labor, energy, and input and output markets, so that investments in irrigation translate into sustainable returns. IWMI uses a systemic approach to understand the farming system as well as the factors in the enabling environment that prevent women, men and youth from engaging in and benefitting equitably from farmer-led irrigation. We partner with farmers and the public and private sectors to test contextually relevant innovation bundles that combine irrigation technology such as solar pumps with financing mechanisms like pay-as-you-own or pay-as-you-go, agricultural inputs and agronomic techniques. We also look at ways to improve on-farm water management and nutrient use efficiency and reduce evapotranspiration through digital advances and agricultural extension. We integrate the scaling of innovation bundles into agricultural value chains to enhance the impacts on farmers’ irrigation investments, incomes and livelihoods.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion Environmental health and biodiversity Climate adaptation and mitigation

Gender and social inclusion

The barriers facing women and men in accessing irrigation technologies are not the same. Neither are the benefits. Social, cultural and religious norms influence inter- and intra-household power relations. These, in turn, affect access to resources such as land, credit, information and training. IWMI carries out cross-dimensional analysis of gender and social inclusion in policy, financing, livelihood assets and access, institutional approaches and interventions as well as gender-based technology preferences. For example, we work with farmers, financial institutions and the private sector to address gender-based constraints in credit scoring and enhance women’s purchasing power. But benefitting from farmer-led irrigation does not stop at accessing and adopting technologies; enabling women and resource-poor farmers to participate in input and output markets is equally important to ensure that investments in irrigation result in improved nutrition and economic empowerment. Other ways we enhance gender and social inclusion include tackling agency issues around financial management and literacy, livelihood diversity and social capital as well as access to infrastructure, extension services and market linkages.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion

Environmental sustainability

Population pressure and increasing water competition in a changing climate require us to take stock of the availability and use of water across scales. Water availability not only influences farmers’ commercial prospects but also irrigation-related enterprises and agri-businesses. Greater water scarcity could jeopardize irrigation and agricultural markets while excessive water use can lead to declining ecosystems, water quality and soil health. IWMI advises development partners and the public and private sectors on all aspects of water resource availability and use through a variety of advanced modeling and remote-sensing products and tools, including Water Accounting+solar irrigation mapping and internet of things. These are complemented by multi-criteria analysis to evaluate the potential of irrigation expansion, taking into consideration environmental flows. With our private sector partners, we are leveraging converging technologies, such as sensors on solar pumps that capture usage data, to encourage better resource management and governance.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Environmental health and biodiversity Climate adaptation and mitigation

Adaptive scaling and partnerships

The ability of farmers to engage in or expand irrigation depends on the prevailing socioeconomic, ecological and political contexts, which are often complex, non-linear and changeable. Overcoming systemic barriers to farmer-led irrigation development while taking advantage of existing opportunities requires scaling processes to be adaptive. This means diverse actors feed off, adapt to, support, cooperate, compete and interact with each other, forming different multi-actor networks and engaging in collective action to undertake various functions in the scaling ecosystem. IWMI works with farmers and public and private sector partners to co-design and pilot contextually relevant innovation bundles and their scaling pathways or strategies, influence policies and accelerate the transition to scale of innovations with demonstrated early impact.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion Environmental health and biodiversity Climate adaptation and mitigation

Financing ecosystem

A lack of affordable credit, particularly for women and resource-poor farmers, is one of the main barriers to expanding farmer-led irrigation in low- and middle-income countries. But credit alone is not enough. Financing for irrigation equipment must be embedded in a wider financing ecosystem that bundles credit with inputs and services, market information and access, and technology such as digital payment. In several countries, irrigation equipment suppliers are stepping in to provide financing directly to farmers. In doing so, they increase their own risk. To address this issue, IWMI works with farmers, private companies, finance institutions and development partners such as the World Bank Group to analyze whether credit-scoring tools are inclusive. We also help to identify gaps in the financing ecosystem and de-risk the private sector from testing innovative end-user financing mechanisms that take into account farming system typologies, financial and social capital and crop seasonality.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion

Human capacity development and knowledge exchange

Scaling farmer-led irrigation requires strengthening human capacity and knowledge exchange among all actors and stakeholders involved. IWMI takes an action research approach, working with national and international research institutions, governments, extension agents and public and private organizations to co-develop the scaling ecosystem and strengthen capacity to drive scaling networks and collective action. We support the development of or reinforce national multi-stakeholder dialogues with the aim of sharing scaling experiences and realizing win-win collaboration, interactive learning and capacity development. Other modalities for capacity development include hackathons, innovation research grants for bachelor’s and master’s students, private sector scaling grants and innovation internships with private companies. These all serve to stimulate local and contextually relevant innovation, close the research-private sector divide and enhance job readiness among young professionals.

This focus area contributes to the following One CGIAR impact areas:

Nutrition, health and food security Poverty reduction, livelihoods and jobs Gender equality, youth and inclusion Environmental health and biodiversity Climate adaptation and mitigation

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