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How crop-water budgeting can empower farmers in Andhra Pradesh

In Andhra Pradesh, farmers are plagued by recurrent drought year after year. They have been drilling deeper and deeper in search of water to support cultivation of thirsty, high-value crops promising greater returns but involving greater risks. Agriculture, which drives the region’s economy, has become increasingly water-intensive and expensive. 
 
Moreover, indiscriminate drilling for water — the number of wells in Andhra Pradesh increased — an increasing use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides are a potential threat to groundwater resources and reduce land fertility. According to a World Bank report, India draws more groundwater each year than the US and China combined; with 89% of groundwater extracted used in the irrigation sector. 
 
In 1950, India had 3,000-4,000 cubic metres of water per person. Today, this has fallen to around 1,000 cubic metres, largely due to population growth. On the other hand, China has twice the amount of water per person at about 2,000 cubic metres. The World Bank Report adds that India is among the most water-stressed countries in the world. At least 68.8% of Indians are dependent on agriculture but only 14% of them have the certainty of income through micro-irrigation. 
 
With rain the most significant source of groundwater recharge, any change in the rainfall pattern influences the groundwater level. Climate change over the years has worsened this India has been unprepared to deal with the unpredictable rainfall patterns. While India has a rough estimate of how much groundwater it has, unfortunately there is no micro-level data and this hampers groundwater management at a localised level.
 
Even as micro-irrigation, sprinkler and drop irrigation are covering water woes of farmers to an extent, there is no enough preparation or awareness among farmers to utilise water resources aptly and efficiently. The key to this problem would be to enable rural communities to understand the groundwater system so they can deliberate among themselves and make appropriate decisions leading to better investments and efficient management of their water resources.
 
Crop-water Budgeting
 

Crop-water budget exercises can be carried out every year by farmers themselves to reduce risks of crop failure and identify opportunities for sustainable production. Groundwater management committees (GMCs) within a hydrological unit come together and work out an appropriate cropping system given their estimate of the total groundwater resources available. Under this system, crop-water balance are prepared and farmers take action depending on the groundwater deficits.
 
The Food and Agriculture Organisation had pioneered this in 2006 in the state in using the farmer field school approach for water resource management to promote hands-on group learning. Under this pilot, farmers meet every 15 days to discuss topics such as hydrological measurements, water recharge, water availability and appropriate cropping systems, water use efficiency, organic farming methods, institutional linkages and gender issues in water management. 
 
Empowering Communities
 
“The project’s success has been in demystifying scientific technology and integrating it with social transformation, women’s economic empowerment and institutional change,” says P.S. Rao, FAO’s National Land and Water Programme Coordinator in India. “In critical areas, not only did they decide to ban any further drilling of wells and stop cultivating crops requiring intensive irrigation, like paddy and sugarcane, but they also took it upon themselves to improve the irrigation efficiency of less water-intensive crops,” says Rao. 
 
The result was farmers witnessed at least 33% water savings in some areas. “Putting water management in the hands of well-trained people who stand to benefit from the decisions being made can lead to impressive results,” says Rao. However, these efforts have not been continuous ever since. 
 
But, this project represents a new approach to governance – moving from a culture of top-down service provision to empowering people to understand, manage and develop their own resources. This will mark a paradigm shift in development projects from subsidies and input provision to developing knowledge banks at the grassroots level, if done right. 
 
So, efforts like crop-water budgeting and other such progressive initiatives not only empower farmers plagued by recurring droughts but also help them fight back by tapping into newly-acquired knowledge of their groundwater resources to cope with water scarcity in an increasingly challenging environment. 

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