World’s largest drip irrigation project brings sustainable agriculture to India
October 16, 2018
By Andrew Livingstone
With World Food Day 2018, the UN’s message is that our actions now define our future. Mexichem, through its Netafim-brand, is helping solve world hunger by allowing smallholders worldwide to produce more with less.
India’s Karnataka state is one of the subcontinent’s most arid regions, with irregular rainfall and a long dry season making farming difficult for the millions who rely on agriculture for a living.
In an effort to address the challenges of reducing hunger, growing the local economy, and stopping the exodus of people from the country to cities, the state government has invested heavily in sustainable irrigation that will ensure more and better crops. But in a region with scarce water resources, every drop is precious and needs to be used carefully and equitably.
Farmers don’t have access to water – or indeed the finances – to install their own irrigation systems in low-income areas of India. But a large-scale project that aims to equitably distribute water, while ensuring it is used in the most productive way possible, can benefit thousands.
That’s why the Karnataka government, together with Megha Engineering & Infrastructures, one of India’s largest infrastructure firms, went with Netafim expertise to install what is now Asia’s largest drip-irrigation project.
Netafim underground drip irrigation is used to water more than 11,000 hectares of land used by 7,000 farmers from 22 villages.
The Ramthal project in northern Karnataka brings water from a reservoir sourced from dams on the Krishna river through more than 2,000 kilometers of pipeline to communities that haven’t previously been able to rely on the river for irrigation.
From there, Netafim underground drip irrigation is used to water more than 11,000 hectares of land used by 7,000 farmers from 22 villages. It has helped balance water use – in the past communities closer to rivers enjoyed wide access to water for irrigation, while those further away had none.
But not only does the drip irrigation system irrigate more farmland with less water, it also delivers optimal amounts of fertilizer straight to the plants’ roots. Officials from the Karnataka Water Department preferred this system as it also reduced the amount – and cost – of fertilizers used on the land.
Underground drip irrigation takes the risk out of farming for villagers. In the past, farmers who relied on rainfall, and when it was scarce, they were forced to sell their land to pay loans they took out to buy seeds and fertilizer. Now, they can rely on two steady harvests per year, knowing that plants are receiving the optimal amount of water and nutrients.
However, installing a precision irrigation system for thousands of farmers isn’t the full solution. As part of the project agreement, Netafim experts are providing five years of agronomical support by forming irrigation communities made up of village leaders, farmers and other stakeholders. These communities work together to decide how to best manage the land, crops and irrigation to ensure the solution works for decades to come. Netafim is also providing guidance in maintenance, agronomy training and support for marketing and selling produce.
And village leaders are seeing the difference, with many young people returning from cities to the villages, attracted by the assurance of a guaranteed crop, and with it, a steady income greater than they can earn by leaving home.
Many young people are returning from cities to the villages, attracted by the assurance of a guaranteed crop, and with it, a steady income.
This community irrigation model, in which local government help can bring large scale precision irrigation to large numbers of small hold farmers, is one other regions of India are studying and looking to recreate, as they also struggle with the challenge of slowing urbanization by assuring that farming can pay a living wage in a growing country.
Mexichem’s commitment to sustainable development focuses on five of the UN Sustainable Development Goals – among them No. 2: achieving zero hunger. Mexichem does this through producing the best precision agriculture solutions under the Netafim brand, helping farmers to grow more and better crops using less water and fertilizer.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization, sponsor of World Food Day, supports this approach. According to the FAO, “With a growing population expected to reach 9 billion in 2050, farmers should find new, more productive ways to farm food and diversify their crops. Using an integrated farming approach will not only help farmers increase their crops’ yield, and thus their profits, but can also improve the quality of their farmland.”
With Netafim precision agriculture solutions, whole communities in India are being transformed, preserving traditional village life while reducing the risk and labor in farming, and gaining more time for education and family.