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As India's "Granary" Exhausts Groundwater, Farmers Eye New Crops

10:05 EDT 19 Oct 2016 | Meridian Institute

The northwestern state of Punjab, India, is facing a dramatic decline in agricultural output unless it halts the rapid depletion of its groundwater. Groundwater levels in the region have dropped by 40 to 50 centimeters per year, leaving farmers struggling as their irrigation wells go dry. Rajan Aggarwal, the head of the soil and water engineering department at Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), said groundwater has been overexploited in 110 of the state’s 138 administrative blocks. "This is alarming given that more than 73 percent of irrigation is taken care of by groundwater," he said. Punjab is hailed as India’s granary; it’s the region that led the country’s green Revolution in the 1970s. But experts say dealing with the problem will require a rapid shift away from crops that require large amounts of water, like rice and wheat, and toward crops like pulses, maize and vegetables. Today, rice and wheat make up 81 percent of the region’s irrigated crops, contributing 35 percent of the country’s rice production and 60 percent of its wheat. Sunil Jain, the regional director of the Central Ground Water Board for northwest India, said "There has been a substantial rise in groundwater utilisation, which has mainly happened because of the fact that Punjab gets less rainfall. Since paddy (rice) requires a lot of water, the farmers resort to heavy usage of groundwater for irrigating the paddy fields.” According to Jain, Punjab’s agricultural success may not be sustainable. And Amitabh Kant, the chief executive officer of the government's National Institution for Transforming India, said, "the present rate of withdrawal will lead to complete exhaustion of groundwater within a decade" in the region.

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