Agriculture- the irrigated gets the largest share of water allocation. In some developing countries it is even up to 80%. In India, the agriculture demand is 443 billion cu.m and it is expected to go up from 53% to 86 % by 2050 at lowest and highest estimates respectively. This will have implications on not only other sectors but on dry lands, which are actually the watersheds that supply water to the rivers. Diverting more and more water for agriculture from rivers and underground with massive capital costs is not only a major economic burden but leads to ecological degradation, increasing the human foot print on planet earth.
The partnership between WWF-ICRISAT through the project “Producing more food grain with less water- Promoting farm based methods to improve the water productivity” works on two fronts: a) improving the water productivity in agriculture by making interventions at the farm level and b) developing policy frameworks to scale up such approaches to have an impact at national and river basin levels.
For the last four to five decades, agriculture development popularly known as green revolution primarily centered on seeds and chemical inputs. Certainly global food productions increased significantly but in the course of time the cost of inputs- seeds and chemical fertilizers have tremendously increased resulting in less margins for farmers and more degradation of the ecosystems. So we need to reverse this trend.
System of Rice Intensification, popularly known as SRI is a farm based approach which significantly increases the production of rice while reducing the inputs - water, seed and fertilizers. This approach, which India was familiar even in the 1900’s, provides options for farmers to use any seed but just one tenth of the conventional method, and with no standing water but produced at least 20% more. In India alone due to efforts of the WWF-ICRISAT project and many other national partners, it is estimated that about 600,000 farmers are growing rice with all or most of the recommended SRI crop management practices on about 1 million ha distributed across 300 districts of the country. This is probably the most rapid uptake of new agricultural practices seen in this country. It sets a great example of a partnership between farmers, civil society, government agencies and international organizations working together, learning from each other and pooling together the competitive strengths. SRI is not now permitted to rice alone, its core practices- single seedling, wide spacing, major reduction in water, inter-cultivation is applicable to other crops such as sugarcane. A detailed manual "Sustainable Sugarcane Initiative (SSI): Improving Sugarcane Cultivation in India” was released recently and demonstration sites are in progress in five states. The initial results are quite remarkable. Like SRI, SSI will have major implications the way sugarcane will be is cultivated in world.