Excessive focus on cereal production and the resulting pressure on groundwater in some States is no news. But this, a UK-based researcher contends, means that some States are actually ‘exporting’ their scarce groundwater when they market the cereals.
A study by a group of researchers from academic and research institutes from the UK, Germany and India has suggested a shift to maize, millet and sorghum will help the country reduce its scarce groundwater consumption.
They gathered data of production and water-use for five cereal crops (rice, wheat, maize, millet and sorghum), from publicly available sources from 2005 to 2014, to understand the phenomenon.
“The States that are producing and exporting (to other parts of the country) dominant cereals such as paddy and wheat are, in fact, technically ‘exporting’ their scarce groundwater to other States,” Francesca Harris, a researcher with Epidemiology and Population Health of London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told BusinessLine .
She said Punjab and Haryana are among the top States that overexploited groundwater to produce cereals.
Francesca Harris was here to address the Annual Agriculture, Nutrition, and Health (ANH) Academy Week.
The group published a report ‘More crop per drop - Exploring India’s cereal water use since 2005’. India’s cereal production went up by 26.4 per cent to 238 million tonnes from 188 mt during the period without additional water or land use, thanks to higher yields for most crops.
Wheat and rice consumed a lion’s share, 80.6 per cent of total water used. While Uttar Pradesh accounted for 20 per cent of the country’s total water consumption, Punjab and Rajasthan consumed 8.4 per cent each.
The researchers found that the cereal area is being shifted to rabi season. The increase in cereal production was marked by increase in rice production in kharif and wheat in rabi.
The study found that there is a drop in cereal water footprint, thanks to improved yields. In the north, yields went up in sorghum and millets and in rice, maize and wheat in the central part.
Increase in irrigated area and use of fertilisers and pesticides might also have contributed for higher yields during the period.
The study observed that increased focus on maize, sorghum and millets would help ease pressure on ground water. “Increase in maize production will help to sustain cereal production, while minimising water use,” it said.
“On the other hand, sorghum and millets can help reduce the dependency on freshwater. However, it calls for investments to improve yields to maintain production levels,” it said.