Following criticism over sugarcane crop guzzling potable water, particularly in drought-prone Marathwada, the state government is set to introduce a policy for shifting 50% of sugarcane farming on drip irrigation in the next two years.
Statistics revealed that sugarcane fields cover 10 lakh hectares across the state. But only 2.5 lakh hectares have been shifted on drip irrigation do far, while the rest of the crop on 7.25 lakh hectares is watered using the traditional flood irrigation. Experts said flood irrigation consumes three times the water required for drip irrigation. They also criticised the uneven distribution of water in drought-prone Marathwada, which witnessed severe water scarcity between 2011 and 2016.
A report on sugar price policy for 2015-16 by union agriculture ministry had highlighted that Maharashtra’s sugarcane cultivation, which is less than 4% of the total cropped area, consumes 70% of water needed for irrigation. It also stated that 2,100 litres of water is used to produce of a kilogram of sugar against 822 litres in Bihar.
Taking cognisance of the matter, the state drafted a policy to encourage sugarcane farmers to shift to drip irrigation and would be introducing a low interest loan scheme for making the switch.
“The average cost of drip irrigation set for a hectare is Rs85,000 , for which we chalked out a plan to disburse loans at 2% interest. The government and sugar factories will bear the remaining share of interest at 4% and 1.25% respectively. The farmers will have to clear the loan in five years. With the Centre’s help, the state intends to allocate Rs1,3000 for the project,” said Bijay Kumar, principal secretary, agriculture department.
Currently, the state gives capital subsidy of up to 30% on the total expenditure to encourage drip irrigation. However, delay in release of funds and inadequate assistance has kept farmers away from drip irrigation.
“The new policy will help farmers secure loans at just 2% interest. We are expecting a good response and have aimed to shift 50% cultivation under drip irrigation in the next two years. The state will have to bear the burden of Rs180 crore towards its share of 4% interest on loans for the next two years,” said another official from agriculture department.
The official added that draft policy will be tabled before the cabinet for approval in the next couple of weeks.
The policy, however, has failed to impress experts.
“It is true that the shifting of cane crop to drip irrigation helps save water. However, the saved water is likely to be used for additional cultivation of the same crop which defeats the purpose of saving drinking water. Secondly, we do not have proper mechanism to ensure that the farmers get well-designed drip irrigation set ups, their adequate production and assured maintenance,” said Pradeep Puranadare, an irrigation expert.
Sanjeev Babar, managing director of State Cooperative Sugar Factories Federation Ltd, said it would be difficult for sugar factories to bear the burden of the loan interest.
“Of the 168 private and cooperative sugar factories, 62 are reeling under heavy losses and it will difficult for them to bear this burden. The policy looks impressive on paper, but the government should ensure that farmers get adequate loans as the maintenance costs of drip irrigation system it high,” he said.
Benefits of drip irrigation
Drip irrigation saves water and fertilisers by allowing water to drip slowly to the roots through a network of valves, pipes, tubing, and emitters
It increases production by at least 15% and helps to bring more area under cultivation
Maharashtra government has made drip irrigation mandatory for sugarcane farmers in the catchment areas of five major dams