Despite a government advisory issued in July, restricting sowing of water-intensive crops this year on account of deficient rainfall, farmers in Gujarat have sown over 35 lakh hectares of crops like paddy and cotton. The two crops that require a huge amount of water alone amount to 44 per cent of the total 79 lakh hectares of kharif crops sown across the state during a rain-deficient year.
Notably, 15.21 lakh hectares (or 43 per cent) of cotton and paddy fall in the 14 districts that have received less than 60 per cent of its long-period average (LPA) rainfall this monsoon, as on September 4, 2018.
“We can only issue advisories and tell farmers about the quota of water they will receive every year. We cannot impose or force farmers to change the cropping pattern. Most of them sow with maximum profitability in mind. If they can manage water from other sources then they might opt for other crops,” said a senior official of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL), an autonomous body of the Gujarat government that manages the Sardar Sarovar project and the distribution of Narmada water in the state.
Just ahead of the onset of the southwest monsoon, the SSNNL had issued the advisory in July, asking farmers not to go for water-intensive crops like paddy.
“The command area of Sardar Sarovar project is only 18 lakh hectares, whereas total command area of the entire state is 65 lakh hectares. The Sardar Sarovar project does not cover the entire state for irrigation. It covers only 17 districts and some of them partly,” the official said, adding that the command areas of rivers like Mahi and Tapi irrigate substantial portions of crops in the state.
Last week, the state government announced that it was releasing Narmada water in the canal system to help save the standing Kharif crops.
If only paddy — which needs over 3,000 litres of water to produce one kilogram of rice — is taken into consideration, then of the 8.01 lakh hectares of the crop sown in the state, 27 per cent have been planted in the rain-deficient districts. Ahmedabad, which has received less than 40 per cent of the LPA rainfall of 714 mm, has seen the maximum sowing of paddy by farmers in the state. Ahmedabad alone has sown 1,12,500 hectares of paddy — 14 per cent of the total paddy sown in the state this Kharif season.
In comparison, districts like Navsari and Valsad, which have received over 100 per cent of the LPA rainfall, have planted paddy in only 49,400 hectare and 73,500 hectares, respectively. Even Anand district in central Gujarat, which has received over 100 per cent of its seasonal rainfall, has planted paddy in 1,12,100 hectare.
“We have a tubewell, and therefore we have sown paddy in 10 bighas,” said Balvantsinh Solanki, a farmer in Bavla in Ahmedabad district. Balvantsinh is dependent on the Fatehwadi canal to irrigate his crop.
Earlier this year, the state government has stopped providing irrigation water to Fatehwadi canal network that is not part of the Narmada command area, but provides irrigation water to a command area of about 30,000 hectares spread across four major talukas of Ahmedabad district — Sanand, Bavla, Daskroi and Dholka.
Unlike Solanki, paucity of irrigation water has forced certain farmers in this Bhal region to till their land. “Last year, I had sown paddy. This year, there is no water in the canal and because I have no access to alternate sources of water, I have not sowed anything on my remaining eight bighas. I am currently working on the 20 bighas of land owned by my uncle nearby. He has a tubewell and so he has sown paddy and cotton,” said Hiren Jadav of Dholka taluka of Ahmedabad district.
Even a traditionally water-scarce district like Surendranagar has sown paddy in 4,100 hectares this year.
In the case of cotton, 55 per cent of the total 27.03 lakh hectares sown with the cash crop fall in the 14 rain-deficient districts. Even in Kutch, which has received only 26 per cent of the rainfall this year, farmers have sown 52,200 hectares of cotton. Similarly, districts like Mehsana, Gandhinagar, Ahmedabad and Surendranagar with less than 40 per cent rainfall have seen farmers sowing over 5.05 lakh hectares under cotton — 19 per cent of the total cotton sown in the state.
To produce one kilogram of cotton, 22,000 litres of water is needed on an average.
Dr K P Patel, Dean, Faculty of Agriculture, Anand Agricultural University (AAU) said that with both the crops — cotton and paddy — being financially rewarding, the farmers opted for the two crops despite the advisory against it. “Presence of irrigation is a major attraction for farmers to go for water-intensive crops like paddy and cotton. It is a well-known fact that Gujarat has a very good irrigation infrastructure. Secondly, both these crops are very remunerative. A crop like paddy can also tolerate a bit of salinity and so farmers like those in Surendranagar might have gone for it,” Patel said.
According to Vikramaditya Khichi, convener of State Level Bankers’ Committee (SLBC-Gujarat), over 12 lakh farmers have opted for crop insurance this year. “This is only a marginal growth as compared to last year. We have collected Rs 374 crore as premium for the Kharif season,” he added.
“The gap between agriculture irrigation potential created and the irrigation facilities utilised, is the smallest in Gujarat, when compared to other parts of the country. In other words, the irrigation potential is being utilised to the maximum in Gujarat,” he said.