Punjab is promoting a low-cost,farmer-friendly instrument as the answer to its groundwater problems. It comes with markers that tells the farmer when his paddy fields have just the amount of water they need.
The tensiometer has been launched under a three-year project by Punjab Agriculture University in collaboration with University of Columbia and is being funded by International Development Research Centre,Canada.
Started with less than 100 farmers in just 10 villages of a single district a couple of years ago,the instrument is being used by around 2,000 farmers in half a dozen districts this paddy season,which started on June 1. It can save around 20 to 25 per cent irrigation water without any effect on crop yield. Installed at a depth of 15-20 cm in the field,it comes with yellow and green strips that serve as indicators. The farmer needs just to watch the water level inside its inner tube. Irrigation of paddy is necessary only when the level reaches yellow.
After 15 days of flood irrigation,paddy just needs moisture,but farmers psyche is such that they feel the crop will not survive without continuous flooding,says Dr R S Sidhu,dean of basic science and humanities at PAU,and principal project director of the programme. Punjab farmers normally inundate their already irrigated paddy fields,thinking power supply may not be there the next day. It causes a huge loss of underground water and electricity, says Sidhu.
It was initially difficult to motivate farmers to go for this water-saving instrument. We started with around 100 farmers,but now farmers have started understanding its benefits and this year there has been a demand from over 2,000 farmers.
Dr M S Gill,PAUs director for extension education,says Punjabs farmers tend to irrigate paddy 26-27 times when it can be kept at four or five times. Even if a farmer can save four-five watering sessions in a season in a single field,it would ultimately result in a huge saving in a state like Punjab,where over 26 lakh hectares is dedicated under paddy, says Dr Kamla Vatta,associate professor.
The instrument is very cheap at around Rs 300 to 350 and can be used on a large area. It can serve as an indicator for fields where it is not installed,if the timing of irrigation of that paddy field is the same as that for the field where the tensiometer is installed, says farmer Gurpreet Singh of village Bhaini Arora in Ludhiana,who has been using it on his 10-acre farm for the past couple of years.
I used to irrigate my fields around 27-28 times and had to run two tubewells for over eight hours continuously for a single irrigation. Now I have reduced it to 21 to 22 watering sessions. That too is without flooding after the 15-days period,but just to wet the field. It means saving lot of underground water,electricity and diesel, he says,adding there is no effect on the yield. I have been encouraging other farmers to use it.
Jagdev Singh Grewal,chairman of Punjab Agriculture and Development Bank at Raikot,has been helping PAU promote the instrument and around 150 farmers of his village,Andloo,have picked it up. Amandeep Singh,field officer with PAU,says they have been organising four to five camps daily.
This instrument not only saves water,but has huge economic and environmental implications, Sidhu says. For instance,if a farmer run his pumps fewer times,it means he is saving not only groundwater but also his expenditure on digging his borewell deeper every year and on installing heavy water pumps every second year.