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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