ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Groundwater Irrigation and Agricultural Output Nexus

An Analysis of Indian Districts

While the impact of groundwater irrigation on the productivity of crops and other parameters has been well-documented in India, not many studies are available highlighting its role in the value of agricultural output using district-level data. This paper attempts to find out the impact of groundwater irrigation on VAO using cross-sectional data for 189 Indian districts covering three time points: 1990–93, 2003–06, and 2017–20. Both descriptive and regression analyses have been used in this paper. The descriptive analysis shows that VAO per hectare is significantly higher for those districts having a high level of groundwater coverage (>50%) than the districts having less (<30%) groundwater irrigation. The multivariate regression analysis carried out by using yield augmenting and infrastructure variables shows that the role of groundwater irrigation in impacting VAO has significantly and consistently increased over time.

The authors are thankful to an anonymous referee for making very constructive comments on the earlier version of the paper and the Alagappa University, Karaikudi for providing the fi nancial support for completing this paper from RUSA Phase 2.0 Scheme. However, the views expressed in this paper are the authors’ own.

The face of Indian irrigation has dramatically changed, particularly after the introduction of the green revolution during the 1960s. The areas irrigated by surface sources like canal and small waterbodies (tanks, ponds, etc) have stagnated or increased at a relatively lesser pace, whereas the groundwater area has increased significantly over time (Shankar et al 2011; Narayanamoorthy 2022). For instance, while the net canal irrigated area has increased from 12.84 million hectares (mha) in 1970–71 to 16.43 mha in 2018–19, the net groundwater irrigated area has increased massively from 11.89 mha to 45.75 mha. This is an increase of 285%. The share of groundwater irrigated area to the total net irrigated area has also increased significantly from 38% to 64% during this period.

The source of groundwater gives better-quality irrigation in terms of certainty, controllability and availability (Dhawan 2000; Kumar 2005; Narayanamoorthy 2010, 2022). Over time, farmers have hugely invested in groundwater irrigation structures with the support of subsidised institutional credit facilities (Dhawan 2009). Some estimates indicate that Indian farmers have invested to the tune of $12 billion in groundwater structures (Shah et al 2003, 2006). With the expansion of groundwater irrigation, the intensification of agriculture has also increased, especially in terms of multiple cropping around the year. Consequently, the gross contribution of groundwater to agriculture has substantially increased. Shah et al (2003) estimate that the ultimate contribution of groundwater to the Asian agricultural economy is about $25–$30 billion per year and the imputed value of groundwater used in India will be over $8.6 billion per year for the average period between 1987 and 1993. Therefore, one cannot imagine what will be the condition of Indian agriculture if some untoward happens to groundwater irrigation.

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Updated On : 4th May, 2023
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