Need to shift from rice to millet cultivation to deal with India’s water crisis – official

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Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant said there is a need to shift from rice to millet cultivation to reduce high water consumption.  

Millets are nutritious and rich in micro nutrients, particularly protein and calcium, and they must be used in safety net schemes for women and children to reduce high water consumption, he said in a tweet.

Kant was chairing a virtual meeting on National Consultation on Promotion of Millets. Representatives from states shared their experiences and deliberated on the possible pathways to include millets in schemes to promote nutritional security.

India’s 1.3 billion people have access to only about 4 per cent of the world’s water resources, and farmers consume almost 90 per cent of the groundwater water available.

As global temperatures rise and overuse of water depletes existing resources, the threat to lives and businesses in Asia’s third-largest economy is projected to grow.

Water shortages are already acute: nearly half the country’s population faces high-to-extreme water stress and about 200,000 die each year due to inadequate access to safe water.

Stoked by climate change, the water crisis has forced Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to try and turn around decades of established farming practices and convince the country’s most powerful voting bloc to change the crops they plant.

Water-guzzlers like rice and wheat are out, corn and pulses are in.

However, few farmers in the rice-growing districts, where the water table has been declining by 0.7 metre every year, are keen to experiment with new crops. In an ambitious plan to get farmers to shift from their staple cultivation, Haryana anticipates around 100,000 hectares to switch to alternate crops,  but that is only about 7 per cent of the land used for rice cultivation in the northern state.

Farmers love rice and wheat primarily because of stable prices and assured state purchases. These two staples, along with another thirsty crop, sugar cane, are grown in 40 per cent of the country’s gross farmed area but consume about 80 per cent of its irrigation water.

Corn and millets may use less water, but their price stability is unproven. In the long run, experts say water shortages will make crop diversification an inevitability.

Currently India is the world’s biggest extractor of groundwater — more than China and the U.S. combined — accounting for almost a quarter of the total extracted globally. Between 2000 and 2017 India’s groundwater depletion increased by as much as 23 per cent.

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