‘Farmers exploiting groundwater ignoring long-term consequences’

The Arkavathy river is a tributary of the Cauvery river.   | Photo Credit: Bhagya Prakash K

Despite water crisis, farmers in villages around the Arkavathy sub-basin have been growing water intensive crops, according to a study by Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) published in the journal Irrigation and Drainage.

The study, 'Adapting or Chasing Water? Crop Choice and Farmers; Responses to Water Stress in peri‐urban Bangalore’, was a part of an extensive socio-hydrological research and uses cross-sectional data from a random sample of 333 farmers from 15 villages in the basin.

It found that farmers in these villages were unconcerned about falling groundwater levels. In fact, they had switched to high water consuming crops, such as eucalyptus plantations, in the northern part of the sub-basin, away from the city. In the areas closer to the city, farmers prefer growing vegetables which are in high demand, but again highly water consuming, the study found.

Highlighting the trend where urbanisation has driven up demand for water-intensive vegetable and fruit crops, the study stated that the practice is likely to continue as long as there is availability of groundwater.

The study also found that an increasing number of farmers were investing in borewell drilling in both the upstream part of the basin and villages closer to the city. However, borewell ownership was skewed in favour of wealthy farmers, the study said.

According to the study, only 15% of the 333 farmers owned borewells. Farmers, especially the marginal ones, who could not afford borewells were forced to supplement agricultural income with non-farm income or quit agriculture altogether.

The study also found that adoption of water conservation technologies, such as drip irrigation, was low among these farmers. Despite water scarcity and significant government subsidies, according to the study, only about 37% of the irrigated farmers have adopted drip irrigation. Those who have adopted drip appeared to be motivated by water scarcity as well as labour scarcity.

Bejoy Thomas, fellow, ATREE, who led the study, said, “Resource sustainability may not be a prime concern for the farmers in the short run, especially when opportunities exist outside of agriculture to earn additional or better incomes.”

However, the study warns about the long-term consequences of groundwater exploitation. “When there is neither regulation of groundwater exploitation nor other mechanisms to provide feedback to farmers as to the cumulative hydrological effects of individual crop choices, the long-term impacts are inequity among the farming population and unsustainability, both of water resources and farm-based livelihoods,” the study said.

The other authors of the study are Vikram Patil, Sharachchandra Lele, Meghana Eswar and Veena Srinivasan.

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Printable version | Oct 20, 2021 12:55:46 AM |

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