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Updated: November 25, 2010 20:16 IST

Indian farmers give Harvard lecture

Narayan Lakshman
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File photo shows drip irrigation being adopted at a farm in Hyderabad. Photo P V Sivakumar
THE HINDU File photo shows drip irrigation being adopted at a farm in Hyderabad. Photo P V Sivakumar

While high-level agricultural cooperation between India and the United States has focused on bringing advanced technologies to India, the flow of knowledge is sometimes reversed at the grassroots level and in academic circles.

This week two Indian farmers from Jalgaon district in the state of Maharashtra travelled to Boston, where they told a rapt audience at Harvard University’s prestigious Business School about how they had used drip irrigation to dramatically increase their farm yields.

Speaking to The Hindu, Hemchandra Patil (40) and Rajendra Patil (50) said that at the invitation of Harvard Business School they had travelled to the U.S. to explain how, over ten years, a unique system of drip irrigation farming techniques had helped them expand their farm holdings from between two and 12 acres to nearly 40 acres.

A partner to the Patils in this success story was one of the early pioneers of drip irrigation in India – a company called Jain Irrigation Systems. Dilip Kulkarni, President of the agro foods division at Jain Irrigation, said to The Hindu that while drip irrigation had been relatively rare in India prior to 1985, the company’s founder, Bhavarlal Jain, played a key role in adapting drip irrigation techniques used in large-scale farms in the U.S. to the small farming conditions found commonly in India.

The key technology adaptations involved entailed modification of the drip irrigation system to suit the low-water-pressure conditions in India and also recalibration of the equipment to distribute water across smaller farm holdings.

Mr. Hemchandra Patil said that the efficient use of water that drip irrigation implied had helped him increase his earnings per acre, for example for onion cultivation, from around 10,000 rupees to 40,000 rupees or more.

He added that Jain Irrigation Systems had been instrumental in this process, not only by giving him access to the drip irrigation equipment but also by holding regular technical seminars, usually conducted by an agronomist, on appropriate cultivation methods. The Jain Hi-Tech Agricultural Institute at Jalgaon was the forum for these training seminars, he said.

In response to a question on why drip irrigation was not more popular and the less efficient technique of flood irrigation was widespread, for example, in states like Tamil Nadu, Mr. Kulkarni said that there were several reasons for this.

First, he explained, many farmers held the “wrong idea [that] more water means more paddy.” This was especially prevalent in South Indian states where rice, a crop that is relatively intensive in its use of water, is widely cultivated.

Further, Mr. Kulkarni noted, the cost of drip irrigation could sometimes be prohibitive, especially for small farmers, as it averaged about 25,000 rupees per acre.

However combined with a 50 per cent subsidy from the state government, Jain Irrigation had also evolved a system of providing the drip irrigation system upfront to the farmer and helping the farmer obtain a bank loan for the remainder through a tripartite agreement involving the farmer, the bank and Jain Irrigation itself.

The success of the system, which has also focussed on contract farming and market-access solutions, has not gone unnoticed.

Even before the farmers’ Harvard presentation the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation recognised the transformative potential of the system in giving it the IFC’s Inclusive Business Leadership Award, a rare honour.

It is good to know that these farmers are using drip irrigation. Jain Irrigation systems is doing a good job in this. Government has to mandate the use of drip irrigation to reduce water consumption as not only the yield increases but also saves upto 40 percent water. This also reduces power consumption too. This will save govt millions of rupees each year. These farmers should talk to Indian farmers first.

from:  Nyaya
Posted on: Dec 19, 2010 at 14:55 IST

It is a great tribute by Harvard to have appreciated the importance of water and it is a great recognition to Indian farmers. In fact, history tells the decline of Roman empire through the disappearance of Mayan Civilisation to the American liberty struggle have all the underlying fact of drought. Climate change is historical and we should be very serious. Farmers' in India have great contribution to horticulture. Infact, over 98% of the varieties have been evolved over centuries by Indian farmers. Talk of all these and we need to get GI for all and protect all these biodiversity.

from:  V.A.Parthasarathy
Posted on: Nov 26, 2010 at 17:56 IST

The efforts of everyone involved in saving agricultural water (and possibly the run-offs as a result), are indeed praise worthy, and I convey my congratulations to them all. The reporting would have been more complete with a mention of the possible increase in the use of pumping energy by the drip irrigation. In addition, increase in the energy use-based subsidy as a result, may also be worth mentioning/investigating. Agricultural water use technologies and energy efficiency are deeply connected with each other and are at the very heart of farmers and researcher here in California. Do these farmers and the manufacturers have to enroll in a payback scheme with the government for the subsidy-based profit that they receive? Thanks again for sharing this development with us.

from:  Kiran R. Magiawala Ph.D.
Posted on: Nov 25, 2010 at 05:56 IST

It is heartening to read about the success of the drip irrigation system. KUDOS to Patils and Mr. Kulkarni. It will be nice if this irrigation system could be adapted for the cultivation of paddy in Tamil Nadu.

from:  T. P. Srinivasan
Posted on: Nov 25, 2010 at 04:42 IST

As we are likely to face growing water shortages and increasing demands for expanded agricultural production to satisfy the needs of a burgeoning middle class, we have to adopt better methods of using water including rainharvesting and drip irrigation. For a comparatively dry state like Tamilnadu, this is an imperative.

from:  mohansingh
Posted on: Nov 24, 2010 at 22:28 IST
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