The agricultural output of India over the next 3 decades could be severely curtailed if water shortages are not addressed. The populist measure of giving Indian farmers free power has resulted in rapid depletion of groundwater supplies for agriculture. I saved Andy Mukherjee’s Bloomberg columns from 2 years go where he wrote about problems created from lack of wastewater treatment/underpricing of piped water and from a switch to biofuels.
The recent monsoon which has been below normal in India (June precipitation was the lowest in 80 years), have not only caused heartburn in agricultural circles, but also have led to fights breaking out in urban areas over access to reduced water supplies.
Going forward, India faces 2 serious challenges with water supplies for agriculture, both beyond its control:
1) Climate change is causing rapid melt in the Himalayan glaciers “suggesting that the Ganga, Indus, Brahmaputra and other rivers that criss-cross the northern Indian plain may become seasonal rivers in the near future as a consequence of climate change with important ramifications for poverty and the economies in the region.” At least 400 million farmer livelihoods are at risk.
2) Plans to divert water from the Brahmaputa by the Chinese government to feed its parched western/northwestern regions. Even though this is denied in official circles, there is little doubt that this will not be carried out knowing the CCP’s penchant for grandiose-projects like Three Gorges and preventing rain from falling during the Olympic opening ceremony. Moreover, Tibet – China’s Water Tower
is also the source for the Ganges river’s 2 major tributaries – the Kosi and the Gandaki. Attempts to “bottle those rivers” by official apparatchiks cannot be ruled out. The consequences for Indian agriculture are too staggering to contemplate.
Bottomline: Lower riparian states like India, and Iraq as mentioned in a recent NYTimes article, besides various countries in the Middle East and Africa, are almost guaranteed losers in the coming wars over water.
And the, Winners: Fresh Water paradises like Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay – perfect candidates for being India’s Agricultural Outsourcing providers. South american rivers like Amazon, Orinoco, Sao Francisco, Parana, Paraguay and Magdalena rivers contain more than 30 percent of the earth’s surface water. Add to that the Guarani Aquifer – the world’s single biggest groundwater source.
It is worthwhile for executives in India’s food and agriculture sector to keep these considerations in mind as they make plans for future growth and business contingencies.
A couple of images below, courtesy of WorldMapper, to make the comparison clear. Notice how South America, when compared with India and Africa, has a disproportionate share of water resources with no risk of rapid depletion from demographic pressures, drought or climate change.