Study finds relation between loss of access to groundwater and decline in agricultural income

In what is purportedly one of the first evidences of the medium- to long-term impact of large-scale, permanent environmental deterioration on rural populations in developing countries, a study has found a “dramatic decline” in agricultural income following the loss of access to groundwater owing to the drying up, or failure of the first borewell.

The paper, ‘Way Down in the Hole: Adaptation to Long-Term Water Loss in Rural India’, was published in the American Economic Review this month.

The authors of the paper are David Blakeslee [New York University, Abu Dhabi]; Ram Fishman [Tel Aviv University, Israel], and Veena Srinivasan [ATREE, Bengaluru].

Studying the effects of increasing water scarcity in India, their analysis is based on villages in Karnataka where groundwater is a vital source of irrigation but has been depleted by a combination of a prolonged, multi-year drought, and intensive extraction.

“Our study covered 102 villages that were randomly selected from the 31 sub-districts along Karnataka’s eastern border that are not served by surface irrigation. Thus, each of the district on the eastern boundary of the State was included, from Kolar to Bidar,” Mr. Fishman told The Hindu, via email.

Data for the March 2019 paper was collected between 2015 and 2017. The paper points out that Karnataka’s groundwater is stored in small, scattered pockets located within a hardrock sub-surface, which leads to substantial spatial variation in the volume of available groundwater at even very small distances.

“Importantly, this feature of the local aquifer has only become relevant with the recent drop in water levels, making continued access to groundwater subject to a high level of chance. The loss of groundwater causes a sharp and persistent decline in farm income, driven by abandonment of high-value horticulture and dry-season cultivation, and leads to a substantial loss of wealth,” it says.


Though the researchers said Karnataka is “advanced in its ability to monitor drought conditions [through KSNDMC] and provides support to drought=affected areas”, they added that the issue is a complex one given that groundwater resources in the area are very limited.

“To some extent, the rate of water depletion could perhaps be slowed down by incentivising water conservation [through pricing of water and power for pumping] and the adoption of highly water-efficient irrigation technologies through a bold extension and training programme. There may also be room for recharge of groundwater, or for the creation or rehabilitation of surface water sources, such as tanks. Ultimately, groundwater resources in the area will remain very limited. It is therefore also important to offer farmers ways to exit farming before fully exhausting their water resources and their money on drilling wells that are bound to fail, and then having to cope with this shock in undesirable ways,” Prof. Fishman added.

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Printable version | Apr 11, 2021 7:46:31 PM |

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