The Power Of Each Drop Of Water
This article is devoted to the National Mission on Micro Irrigation (NMMI), an initiative launched last year (June 2010) by the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation to address the “last mile issues” on bringing water to the farmers’ fields in an efficient manner. For, while India is endowed with abundant rainfall and a fairly extensive network of natural water bodies, water is not “available on tap” for the farmers. Also, the Indian farmer is no longer willing to be completely and absolutely dependent on the weather gods—he wants to exercise his control over water, and NMMI is assisting him in this endeavour.
How is this mission different from other inititiatives that have been undertaken in the past? For the record, a centrally sponsored scheme has been in operation since 2006 to increase the area under improved methods of irrigation via drip and sprinklers, which not only optimises the use of water, but also makes it possible to introduce techniques like fertigation, which cuts down consumption of power, fertiliser and application of pesticides and insecticides.
First, the mission is different in terms of its scope and ambition. It acknowledged the fact that “baby steps” like the coverage of 2 million hectares over a five-year period will not make a significant dent in the “business as usual” approach, especially as the potential is pegged at 70 million hectares. Any delay in the introduction of these systems means sub-optimality in the use of water, and loss of agricultural production and productivity, which means less income for the farmers.
Second, the structure of the mission now integrates the state governments and the panchayats in the policy and implementation aspects.
Under the mission, each state government has to constitute a State-Level Micro Irrigation Committee under the Agriculture Production Commisioner, with representatives from all stakeholders, including equipment suppliers, technical experts, financial institutions, farmers’ organsiations, departments of rural development and irrigation, panchayats, state ground water board.
Third, a clear role has been defined for the Precision Farming Development Centres (PFDCs), which have been established under the auspices of the State Agriculture Universities, or in some cases under other engineering establishments (as IIT Kharagpur) in most of the states.
Fourth, the pattern of assistance has been structured in a manner that if the state governments want, they can enhance the subsidy or assistance to the farmers who are putting up these equipments. Thus several states such as Himachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana are giving a greater component of the state share, thereby reducing the costs to the farmers. For marginal and small farmers the expenditure is to be shared in the ratio of 50:10:40 among the centre, state and the farmer. In other words, the marginal farmer can get a sprinkler or drip by contributing only 40 per cent of the equipment cost and in some states it is only 20 per cent, in the case of general farmers.
Fifth, the NMMI envisages that all equipment suppliers are registered with the State Micro Irrigation Committtee (SMIC). This ensures that only those manufacturing companies which conform to Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) and which have a network of after-sales service in the state will get their registration, and in case of poor after-sales service, the registration can be forfeited. While each manufacturer can have its own pricing system, this will have to be stated upfront to the SMIC so that the rates can be circulated to all the districts, and potential buyers get all the information required for a considered decision. As and when there is any change in prices, these have to be notified to the SMIC.
Last but not the least is the issue of quality. It is obvious that if the quality of hardware is poor, it will have an adverse impact on the performance of the system. Substandard systems cannot only sub-optimise performance, but also reduce the durability and life of the components/system. Quality will be ensured by the PFDCs, the National Committee on Palsticulture Applications in Horticulture (NCPAH), the Irrigation Association of India and the Central Institute of Plastics Engineering and Technology (CIPET), BIS and Technical Support Group (TSG).
And finally a word about the NCPAH. This committee, which provides the technical support to micro irrigation, is housed in one of India’s leading corporate houses, the Reliance Group. Surprised? More so, when the entire funding for the mission is from the Government of India. The story is very interesting. Years ago, when Indian Premier Corporate League (IPCL) was a Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) under the Ministry of Petrochemicals, a committee had been established to link plastic manufactures with diversified end-users like those in horticulture. The committee did a great job in popularising polyhouses, nethouses and protected cultivation, and in the initial years, drips and sprinklers were used primarily in polyhouses. Meanwhile, on account of disinvestment, IPCL became a Reliance company, but the NCPAH continued to perform its mandate. The core staff of the NCPAH is borne on the strength of the IPCL, though they function with the Ministry of Agriculture, especially the National Horticulture Mission and the NMMI. Such innovations can happen only in India, though as the scale of operations has increased manifold, it is time to have an independent set-up within the Agriculture Ministry itself, as the budget for micro irrigation is expected to cross Rs 1200 crore this year, and will be in the range of Rs 13,000 crore to Rs 15,000 crore in the next five-year plan.
By Sanjeev Chopra
(The author is Joint Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India. The views expressed are personal)