2014 GAP Report® - Water Use Efficiency and Management

Wasteful irrigation practices and poor water use management are major threats to meeting India’s growing agricultural, industrial and household water needs. Total demand for water is expected to grow by 63 percent from 2010 to 2050 (656 km3 to 1069 km3).143 Irrigation consumes 85 percent of India’s water resources.144

In the 1960s and 1970s, irrigation and improved technologies were instrumental in India’s agricultural productivity growth and achievement of food self-sufficiency. Now, over-extraction of groundwater and inefficient application practices are endangering both agricultural and economic growth. A third of the groundwater aquifers are already approaching or going beyond their sustainable yields, including in the irrigation- dependent northwestern states where cereal production is centered.145 There is less rain during the monsoon season than there used to be, thereby reducing a primary source of water for the 13 major river basins in India. Poorly planned extraction of water upstream reduces access to water and harms ecosystems downstream.

Multi-institutional coordination and private sector and local participation are essential to reversing this trend. Adopting precision irrigation methodologies, recharging groundwater, recycling wastewater and integrating weather forecasting with hydrology are some the technological approaches that can reduce loss and mitigate the impact of adverse weather conditions.


In December 2013, the central government’s Ministry of Water Resources issued guidelines for states to submit proposals requesting matching funds under the Command Area Development and Water Management (CAD&WM) Program, which provides incentives for better water management rather than building new major and medium irrigation projects. This signals a change in direction from past approaches that had focused on new construction or repair of poorly maintained structures.

The CAD&WM will support the establishment of policies and infrastructure that extend irrigation to more farmers, improve water use efficiency, increase agricultural productivity and production, and improve management and sustainability through local participatory processes. Preference is given to projects with micro-irrigation, water audit and volumetric water distribution.146


Large scale irrigation schemes introduced during the Green Revolution to increase productivity and staple food production were concentrated in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. Dams and canals were built to channel water from rivers and catchments to farmers’ fields. Many of those systems are now in disrepair or do not reach the small-scale producers that predominate in Indian agriculture, resulting in declining use of surface water irrigation and increased reliance on groundwater extraction (Figure 20).147

Figure 20: Surface Water and Groundwater Irrigation Use Growth, 1951–2007

Surface Water and Groundwater Irrigation Use Growth in India, 1951–2007

Tube well technology is easily used by small-scale producers to extract groundwater. A pointed steel tube with perforations near the end is driven into the ground until water is reached and then a suction pump is applied, which is powered by either electrical or diesel energy, and the pumped water is distributed through PVC or rubber tubing. Millions of privately owned wells and tube wells have emerged as mainstays of smallholder agriculture.148 While this basic technology has revolutionized access to irrigation and improved productivity, particularly in the non-monsoon seasons and in areas with less rain overall, it also has led to uncontrolled water use by farmers.

Water and energy policies vary significantly from state to state, but most do not install meters to measure the electricity used by each farm operation to pump groundwater, so tracking and controlling water use is difficult. Instead, flat tariffs are typically applied so farmers who pump a great deal of water pay the same amount as farmers who pump less.

For example, in Gujarat, a state with many drought- prone areas, farmer-owned wells are used to water 82 percent of irrigated agricultural land. From 1971 to 2001, as rural electrification spread, the Gujarat Electricity Board (GEB) applied a flat tariff rate based on the horsepower of groundwater pumps, rather than charging by the amount of electricity (and, indirectly, water) used.149 During that period, the use of electrical pumps increased by 585 percent.150 With water available around the clock and no extra charge for pumping more often, Gujarati farmers extracted more water than they actually needed, which left the GEB nearly bankrupt and in some areas, groundwater fell to unsustainable levels.151

Metering the electricity used by tube well pumps might have solved this problem, but it was strongly opposed by farmers. The International Water Management Institute suggested a “second best” policy of separating electrical feeders that provided power to tube wells as a way of controlling the amount of energy consumed. In 2003, the Gujarat government adopted this approach.152

Called the Jyotigram (“lighted village”) Scheme, the GEB supplies power 24 hours a day to rural villages for domestic, school, hospital and other commercial uses. For agricultural uses, power is supplied eight hours a day, according to a pre-announced schedule. This system provides equitable distribution of electricity for household, commercial and agricultural uses.

The Gujarat government reported that gross irrigated area increased by 16.9 percent between 2000 and 2007 (from 3.7 to 4.4 million hectares), which was used mainly to expand wheat, cotton, fruit and vegetable production.153 The success of the Jyotigram Scheme demonstrates that integrated management of electricity and groundwater for agriculture can curtail inefficient irrigation practices, freeing water to produce more crops or raise livestock and supplying continuous electrical service to rural households and for local commercial activity.


India’s urban areas generate 42 billion liters of wastewater a day,154 but sewage treatment facilities can handle less than one-third of the wastewater and only 55 percent of them are operational.155 Since freshwater is scarce, farmers in nearby areas use wastewater to water their crops, endangering consumer health. Heavy metal contaminants found in wastewater are now seen in food consumed by the poor.156

If urban wastewater could be made safe for agricultural use, it would irrigate 1.5 million hectares or 4 percent of agricultural land.157 The Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) developed an innovative, ecofriendly technology that could do just that: it cleans contaminants and makes wastewater safe for agricultural use.

To demonstrate how it works, IARI constructed a wetland at its Delhi campus, covering 1.42 hectares, which holds and treats sewage from the Krishi Kunj Colony adjoining IARI’s campus. Emergent wetland plants (s.a. Typha latifolia) and native microorganisms present in the wastewater remove contaminants from 2.2 million liters of sewage water per day, which can irrigate 132 hectares (330 acres) of IARI farmlands.

Testing over the past year and a half shows consistent, exemplary results — a wide range of pollutants are removed or reduced to safe levels, including nitrates, phosphate, lead, iron, nickel, zinc and sulphate. The quality of the treated water is similar to local groundwater samples, which are safe for agricultural use. Moreover, the system is energy efficient, using one percent of the energy required for traditional wastewater treatment, and it produces no chemicals or sludge.

In addition, a Cash from Trash business model is integrated into the system, which is expected to generate nearly $30,000 in the second year of operation. The plants in each of the three treatment cells are harvested once every two months, yielding 12 tons of dry biomass per year per cell, which can be transformed into particle board or sold to particle board manufacturers.

IARI’s eco-friendly wastewater treatment plant has promise for use in other localities, creating another way to save fresh water, reduce energy use and cut costs while increasing agricultural productivity.


Located in the foothills of the Himalayan Range, 92 percent of Uttarakhand is hilly and only nine percent of the land in the valleys and surrounding hills is cropped. Nearly 80 percent of the 8.5 million inhabitants rely on agriculture for sustenance and to make a living, producing 1.2 to 1.4 tons of cereals per hectare, less than half the yields found in the plains. Although annual rainfall is high, more than 90 percent occurs during the July to September monsoon months, resulting in severe soil erosion, sedimentation of tributaries and runoff loss of rainwater. Poor families with small landholdings cannot make a living from the degraded lands.158

In response to these challenges, the Uttarakhand Decentralized Watershed Development Project, known locally as Gramya I, was designed to increase incomes of 255,000 rural residents in 20 watersheds through socially inclusive and institutionally and environmentally sustainable approaches.159 Implemented from 2004 to 2012, the project was jointly funded by a loan from The World Bank’s (WB) International Development Association (IDA), a grant from the WB Global Environment Facility (GEF), a grant from the State of Uttarakhand and in-kind contributions from farmers. The project had enormous positive impact, improving local government decision- making and resource management practices, preserving soil and water, and resulting in enhanced economic opportunities and income growth for farmers.

Academic institutions and specialized government agencies provided training to local officials on the watershed concept, participatory planning and implementation and financial management, and trained community members to serve as accountants, monitors and educators. All 468 local governments (known as Gram Panchayats) in the targeted watersheds prepared Watershed Development Plans, which led to extensive civil works projects incorporating conservation measures such as the construction of retaining walls and check dams to slow the velocity of water runoff, trap sediment and push water underground, as well as village ponds and other measures to recharge springs and harvest rainfall. Terracing hillsides and planting vegetables, orchards and fruit plantations retained water and stopped erosion, while also creating new income-generating businesses for farmers.

With these and other measures, availability of water for domestic use in the region increased by 12 percent and availability of water for agricultural use increased by 16 percent. This, in turn, led to new agricultural value chain opportunities. Nearly 700 Farmer Interest Groups (FIGs) were formed to train farmers in improved technologies for producing high-value crops and off-season vegetables. Their aggregated crops were marketed through 27 registered Farmer Federations. The project also created nineteen processing centers that collected fresh produce from 414 FIGS and produced juices, chutneys, purees, pickles, spices, flours, cereals, and a variety of graded and packaged products. The Farmer Federations sold these crops locally and in urban centers, earning $9.7 million.

A follow-on project has been developed to expand the participatory watershed management planning and civil works activities, and scale up the agribusiness development work of the Farmer Federations.160



The Global Agricultural Imperative

India at a Crossroads

Producing More with Less

The Global Agricultural Productivity (GAP) IndexTM

Measuring Agricultural Productivity Growth in India

Policies that Promote Sustainable Food & Agricultural Systems

India’s Agricultural Value Chain

Cultivating Prosperity through Stronger Agricultural Value Chains

Tailoring Technologies for All Farmers

Public-Private Partnerships Make Farming Profitable for Low-Income Communities

Expanding the Roles, Options and Incomes of Women in Agriculture

Research and Collaboration Improve Productivity and Economic Growth

The Poultry Revolution Picks up Pace

The New White Revolution

Aquaculture — The Blue Revolution

Boosting Micronutrient Intake

Water Use Efficiency and Management

From Field to Fork: Strengthening Value Chains to Boost Productivity and Reduce Food Loss

Agricultural Financial Services