Invisible export of water

by kaarthik shankar
Farmers, water conservation india punjab

Subsidy means a discount on any item sounds good. But the subsidy being given on DAP fertilizer for agriculture is harming the water and gross capital of the nation. For decades, the agriculture department and scientists have been telling the farmers not to use excessive nitrogen in the field. Due to this, the fertility of the soil decreases and more water has to be given to the crop.

Paddy, wheat, cotton and sugarcane are such crops, which absorb more water when the fertility of the soil is low. That is why farmers are asked to grow coarse grains, pulses, and oilseeds and apply NPK fertilizers. But the paradox of this point is that the Government of India heavily subsidizes fertilizers like urea-DAP (a fertilizer made of nitrogen and phosphorus). As a result, DAP is cheaper than compound NPK (nitrogen, phosphate and potash fertilizers). Ironically, the non-availability of subsidy on NPK makes this fertilizer expensive, which has almost led farmers to reject it. The government is giving subsidies to DAP so that it does not have to bear the political loss.

The government has given a direct subsidy of Rs 2 lakh crore on Urea-DAP in the current financial year. Due to this, the area under cultivation of paddy and wheat has increased this year. These crops are produced in large quantities and are mostly exported. Farmers are also shying away from doing multi-crop farming. Because of this, the country has to import pulses and oilseeds in large quantities. A large amount of foreign capital is also spent on their import. Not only this, the money spent on water management and electricity system to produce crops like wheat, and paddy, is also causing losses through indirect exports. But in the perspective of politics, this reality is neither disclosed nor does the opposition raise these issues in the Parliament.

This is an issue related to agriculture and agro-industrial products, due to which a large amount of water is being exported due to its neglect. This water can also be called ‘virtual water’. Actually, rice, sugar, clothes, footwear, fruits and vegetables are exported in large quantities from India. A large amount of water is spent in preparing them. Now even the multinational companies which have set up bottled water plants here are also exporting this water in large quantities to Arab countries. In this way, if the water being exported is not controlled in time, then the water crisis will increase further. While three-fourths of the country’s domestic jobs depend on water.

It is generally forgotten that pure water is far more valuable than minerals like oil and iron, as water contributes the most to the global economy at the rate of twenty thousand dollars per hectare for maintaining ecological balance. From this point of view, the indirect export of water through agriculture and agricultural products from India is becoming a major reason for the exploitation of both our surface and underground water reserves.

In fact, one ton of grain production requires one thousand tons of water. Rice, wheat, cotton and sugarcane use the most water. We export most of these. Most of the water is used to grow paddy. It takes 5,389 litres of water to produce one kg of paddy in Punjab, while about 2,713 litres of water is spent in West Bengal to produce the same amount of paddy. This huge difference in water consumption is because the temperature is higher in northern India than in eastern India. Farm soil and local climate are also important factors related to water consumption. Similarly, the production of sugarcane for sugar consumes a large amount of water. Even for a good crop of wheat, irrigation has to be done three to four times.

At most, seventy per cent of the water is used for irrigation. Twenty-two per cent of water is used in industries and eight per cent for drinking and other domestic purposes. But the water storage capacity of rivers and ponds is continuously decreasing and due to exploitation for irrigation and industries, the amount of water above and below the surface is continuously being eroded. In such a situation, the invisible export of water in the form of crops is making the problem worse. To prevent this, there is a need for a comprehensive change in the cropping system and the adoption of modern methods of irrigation.

It is estimated that there is 1.4 billion cubic km of water on the earth. But only two per cent of this water is suitable for drinking and irrigation. Through the export of the crops and fruits and vegetables produced from this, 25 per cent of the water is consumed in the international market. In this way, 1,050 billion square meters of water is traded indirectly. According to an estimate, about 10,000 crore cubic meters of water is exported annually from India in the form of crops in this global business. India is on top in the world in this indirect trade of water. This export is highest in the form of food items, industrial products and leather.

To avoid this export of water, many countries have started importing those agricultural and non-agricultural products, in which water is used the most. Israel, which has been recognized in the world for its advanced irrigation technology, has banned the export of oranges because the water was being indirectly exported through this fruit. Italy has banned the tanning of leather. Instead, it imports large quantities of tanned leather from India to make footwear. Along with the change in cropping pattern, there is a need to increase water use efficiency.

With the existing resources and techniques of irrigation, only about twenty-five to forty percent water is used in irrigation. Wick comes in handy, the rest is wasted. Irrigation is done by canals and tube wells in our traditional methods. But now in the changing scenario there is a need to adopt fountain, drop and sprinkler techniques. This saves 30 to 50 percent water. If they are expanded to one crore hectares of agricultural area, India can save a large amount of water used for irrigation.

India’s policies have been made flexible and confusing to promote the global economy under economic liberalism. As a result, these companies are engaged in ruthlessly squeezing natural water. In fact, India is probably the only country in the world where water is not at all a national priority, so whether water is being exported indirectly or directly, is not a matter of concern for the country’s leaders. On the contrary, subsidizing fertilizers like DAP are measures that are leading to over-exploitation of water and invisible exports.

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