The work of Columbia Water Center in Gujarat, India

Impressions of groundwater depletion in Gujarat collected during a field visit on January 2010.

Gujarat, India

The groundwater situation in the Indian state of Gujarat is much worse than in Punjab. Each year more wells run dry, and farmers who cannot pump deeper wells are forced to abandon their land.

Continued depletion of groundwater in Gujarat at the current rate also runs the risk of causing an irreversible intrusion of saltwater into aquifers and a resulting collapse of agriculture in the state. In addition, the tapping of deeper groundwater in Gujarat contributes to an increased cases of fluorosis, or fluoride poisoning, from naturally occurring concentrations of fluoride in deep aquifers.

Outdated Policies

The overexploitation of groundwater in Guajrat is supported by outdated government policies, including electricity subsidies that make deep groundwater pumping virtually free for farmers. Use of such large amounts of energy for agriculture is not only a huge cost to the state, it contributes to the instability of the grid and electric service in the region.

Potentially appropriate energy- and water-efficient approaches and technologies do exist, but are mostly unused.

The Columbia Water Center in India is working with policy-makers in Gujarat to develop and test new approaches to support farmers to invest in and implement water and energy saving approaches to food production. The proposed CWC approach has three facets: awareness, technology and incentives.

* Awareness: The CWC is engaged in an awareness-raising campaign for farmers to alert them to the reality of the groundwater situation in Gujarat, and the risks to their livelihoods from irreversible changes such as saltwater intrusion. The campaign also promotes reduced and more efficient water use.
* Technology: A task force will undertake a thorough review of potential water-saving technologies, crop patterns and irrigation practices, with the goal of customizing these approaches for the particular agricultural circumstances in the region. The task force will then undertake an extension campaign to familiarize farmers with the costs and benefits of each technology. Water-efficient technologies the Columbia Water Center has studied include the replacing of unlined channel irrigation with PVC pipes, mulching, modified crop geometry (spacing) and better crop rotation among others.
* Incentives: Rather than charging farmers for energy use, the Columbia Team proposes an incentive structure that would reward them for conserving energy (and thus water). Incentives would be guaranteed for 5-10 years so that capital improvements could be made. The CWC team is currently working with policy-makers in Gujarat to implement a pilot incentive program, with the hope of building increasingly effective interventions going forward. The overall aim of the program is to make major water-saving interventions cost-effective, while providing farmers the tools and knowledge to quickly implement such interventions.


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