India’s water shortage for agriculture

by Dave

I visited Punjab and talked to some farmers there in Feb ’2010, and they told me within 10 years groundwater in most places will be below a 100 feet, and pumps will stop working. Within 20 years, they are looking at a desert like situation in India’s bread basket.

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via Fortune

As the water table drops dangerously low, [Punjabi] farmers are investing heavily – and often going into debt – to bore deeper wells and install more powerful pumps. A prayer might just be the best chance for survival.

Punjab has only 1.5 percent of India’s land, but its output of rice and wheat accounts for 50 percent of the grain the government purchases to feed more than 400 million poor Indians. Experts say the 375-foot-deep tube well and 7.5-horsepower pump Kumar is installing for a farmer are at the eye of a storm that threatens India’s food security, environmental health, and economic progress. “We have depleted the ground water to such an extent that it is devastating the country,” says Gurdev Hira, an expert on soil and water at Punjab Agriculture University in Ludhiana. Hira estimates that the energy used to subsidize rice production in the region costs $381 million a year. He and other experts warn that, if left unchecked, future drilling will bleed state budgets, parch aquifers, and run farmers out of business.

The problem is not only that farmers are mining aquifers faster than they can be replenished. As water levels drop, pumps are also sapping an already fragile and overtaxed electricity grid. And because farmers in Punjab pay nothing for electricity, they run their pumps with abandon, which further depletes the water table.
India’s power sector loses as much as $9 billion a year subsidizing farmers’ use of electric pumps. That’s half of what the country spends on health and twice what it spends on education. Says Shreekant Gupta, a professor of economics at Delhi University: “It’s a classic example of bad economic policies having serious environmental consequences.”