As explained in a recent blog post, falling groundwater levels in the Northern regions of the state of Gujarat, India, are reaching dramatically dangerous proportions. Columbia Water Center (CWC), however, believes that there are numerous technologies and practices that could save significant amounts of water and energy. Farmers have shown interest in applying them, but they need support to do so. That support could come in the form of greater extension outreach and research on water-saving technologies, but will also require a new incentive scheme that rewards farmers for water conservation.
In an effort led by the Director of the CWC office in India, Kapil Narula, in collaboration with local partners and with financial support from the PepsiCo Foundation, CWC is designing and implementing just such a pilot program in Gujarat, to provide farmers with a financial incentive to conserve water and energy while supporting them to implement conservation technologies.
The program could be a long-term win-win opportunity for farmers and the power utility (and state budgets), through a reduction in water use that does not compromise farmers’ income. It has the potential to slow (stabilize or even reverse) the decline of the water table and preserve the vibrant agriculture of the region.
Through a groundbreaking partnership with the Government of Gujarat, CWC is carrying out an experiment in alternative subsidy structures. Over the next few weeks, the North Gujarat public electricity utility, Uttar Gujarat Vij Company Ltd (UGVCL), will be contacting farmers to solicit their participation in a program that provides an incentive to reduce energy and water use. Currently, farmers are paying a flat rate no matter how much energy they use to pump water for irrigation. The idea of the experiment is that whatever amount farmers reduce from their current usage will be reduced from their energy bill, providing a financial incentive to use less water and energy.
“It is a very innovative and novel thing that nobody has tried to do before in the field in India,” says Ram Fishman, a CWC researcher involved with the project. “A lot of people have advocated doing something broadly similar, but nobody has actually been doing it. The utility company told Kapil, you guys moved a mountain by getting this to actually happen.”
UGVCL will be entirely responsible for implementing this part of the project, after CWC helped the company design the plan. CWC will maintain a close consultancy with the utility to run and evaluate the experimental scheme.
The incentive test will involve 100 wells, with each well used by approximately 10 farmers, for a total of about 1,000 participants, who will be cultivating wheat, potato, cotton, mustard seed, castor, cumin, sorghum, and millets. The incentive test will run for 3 years, with an initial review after the first year.
For the incentive to be effective, however, farmers need to have access to techniques that help them reduce water use without harming their crop yields. The CWC project will provide them with both the incentive and the means to respond to the incentive.
Currently, CWC staff is doing a study to measure soil moisture in selected fields. A number of experiments with cropping and irrigation techniques are also under development.
To start with, a technique being successfully used by the CWC project in Punjab is being adapted to Gujarat. A few farmers are beginning to experiment with irrigating fields according to tensiometer readings to see if a resulting reduction in irrigation has any effect on yields. A different tensiometer design is being used in Gujarat than in Punjab, because soil moisture must be measured at a greater depth.
On a parallel track, CWC is maintaining a discussion process with leading stakeholders in the region. In January, a workshop was held in conjunction with NIRMA University in Ahmedabad, called Water-Energy-Agriculture-Livelihood connect: Strategies for increasing or stabilizing farmer income through integrated resource sustainability. The workshop was a high-level, interdisciplinary discussion of the concepts addressed by project, which included representatives from UGVCL, the World Bank, NGO’s, and agriculture experts. The participants’ recommendations will contribute to ongoing project design, and this groundwater/energy/agriculture nexus forum will meet periodically as the project progresses.
For more information about CWC’s water-saving projects in India, see our web site.