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Blog at Jains - Improving the water and energy efficiency for food production through drip irrigation in India

India is the largest freshwater user in the world, and the country’s total water use is greater than any other continent. The agricultural sector is the biggest user of water, followed by the domestic sector and the industrial sector. As water demand from cities and industries is increasing rapidly, pressure is also mounting on agriculture to enhance water efficiency. Traditional irrigation methods are no longer viable. Drip irrigation is a solution that reduces conveyance and distribution losses and allows higher water use efficiency.


Agriculture and water management in India is a multi-dimentional issue and hence requires multi-pronged approach. Jain Irrigation Systems Limited (JISL) shows a successful case of integrated agriculture management through stakeholders’ participation. It involved experimenting on their own, pulling knowledge from academia and research institutes, demonstrating benefits of micro-irrigation technologies to farmers and farmers’ associations, bringing financial institutions with finance and advocating with government for the right policy framework. JISL also join hands with the corporate sector for sustainable supply chain management. JISL have two on-site R&D farms in Jalgaon, Maharashtra and Udumalpeth, Tamil Nadu, India. This is a case of astute work to spread the drip irrigation technology even to small holding farmer in India.

Key stakeholders are :

  • Farmers – small to large
  • Cooperatives and private sugar factories
  • International institutes like ICRISAT, IRRI
  • Agricultural universities, India and abroad
  • Banks and financial institutes
  • Governments (central and states in India)
  • Corporate sectors (e.g. Unilever, Coca-Cola)


India is the largest freshwater user in the world, and the country’s total water use is greater than any other continent. The agricultural sector is the biggest user of water, followed by the domestic sector and the industrial sector. Groundwater contributes to around 65% of the country’s total water demand, and plays an important role in shaping the nation’s economic and social development.

On the other hand, feeding country’s own population, which is 17% of the world with just 4% of world’s water resources at hand, is a big challenge. Balancing water demand among all sectors with finite and fragile water resources will be crucial for future economic growth and development.

As water demand from cities and industries is increasing rapidly, pressure is also mounting on agriculture to enhance water efficiency. Traditional irrigation methods are no longer viable and a paradigm shift is required to increase irrigation efficiency. With around two third of Indians depend upon agrarian economy, water is becoming a bottleneck for country’s socio-economic balance and growth.

As water demand management measure in agriculture, recently micro-irrigation technologies, which mainly includes drip and sprinkler irrigation methods have been introduced. Unlike conventional flood irrigation, water in this method is supplied at a required interval and quantity using piped network, emitters and nozzles. Thus, the conveyance and distribution losses are reduced which results into higher water use efficiency. Minimising water use also reduces energy use for pumping groundwater. Thus, micro-irrigation technologies co-optimise both energy and water use.

Reasons for Action, Objectives and Targets

Conventional irrigation methods are employed for more than 80 per cent of the world’s irrigated lands yet their field level application efficiency is only 40-50 per cent. In contrast, drip irrigation has field level application efficiencies of 70- 90 per cent as surface runoff and deep percolation losses are minimized. All agricultural operations require energy in the form of electricity, the magnitude of which varies as per different agro-climatic zones and even from farmer to farmer.

The largest share of energy is utilized for pumping of irrigation water. Various research studies have shown that water saving, electricity saving, irrigation efficiencies and yield of crops using drip irrigation are substantially higher than crops irrigated by the conventional flood irrigation method.

The modern irrigation systems, drip and sprinkler can act as a mitigation measure over this problem. Eventually with little water available in Indian subcontinent, crop can survive and we can virtually come out the over dependency on monsoon. Because, whatever rain is available in arid regions can be will be stored and water applied to root zone with drip, will bring this region out ‘rain feed’ clutches with increased productivity.

  • Drip irrigation saves water up to 30% to 70% for various crops
  • Saving of water saves electricity which is used for pumping ground water.
  • Drip irrigation also improves the yield of the 30% to 200% for various crops.
  • This assures good technology transfer and knowledge tool in the hands of illiterate farmers.

The water savings due to widely spaced crop is 300 mm/year and closely spaced crop is 500 mm/year (National Mission on Micro Irrigation, 2003). This water savings is directly proportional to energy savings (Narayanmurty, 2007).

Link to the Energy, Food and Water Nexus

Around the year 2000, Indian farmers lifted some 150 km3 of groundwater using electric pumpsets and around 80 km3, using diesel pumpsets10. It is estimated that the carbon emission from only groundwater irrigation is about 16 million metric ton, roughly 4% of India’s total carbon emissions.

In addition, due to climate change, it is predicted that there will be prolongation in dry spells and increase in the intensity of rainfall with torrential runoff. This will affect the soil moisture status and crops may undergo physical stress. Increase in temperature will reduce soil moisture during non monsoon seasons due to increase in potential evapo-transpiration (Mall et al., Current Science, 90: 2006). It is predicted that there will be decrease in winter precipitation by 10 to 20% over central India. (Lal. M., Current Science 81: 2001). There will be increase in dry spells in central and western part of India by 2050 (Rupakumar et al., 2003).There will be over all increase in the rainfall approx. by 20% but the melting of glaciers of Himalaya will be cause of concern for northern plains (Mall et al., Current Science,90: 2006). There will be increase in the precipitation in the Mahanadi, Ganga, Godavari and Cauvery valleys but there will no change in total volume, due to increase in ET on account of increased temperature (Gosain and Rao,2003). Drop of 1m in groundwater table after water withdrawal will increase India’s CO2 emission by 1%. (Mall et al., Current Science, 90 2006).

In India about 52% of its total electricity is generated using fossil fuel (coal). Indian agriculture consumes about 30% of its total electricity. According to BERI (2007), India is among top 10 fastest growing economies in the world. Due to this its fossil fuel share is expected to rise to 74 per cent of total energy by 2010, the corresponding increase in CO2 emissions being 1,646 Million tons. The use of fossil fuels increases the Greenhouse gases (GHGs) emission. Thus, energy efficiency and increased water productivity in agriculture has huge impact on water and energy policy in India.

Process, Summary of Action taken

The cost of drip irrigation per acre of farm is different and depends upon many factors, such as spacing, crop geometry, topography and soil type, water source, crop type. Other problems associated with drip irrigation are the acceptability or penetration of technology is very slow, despite of, lot of efforts made, even the subsidy factors plays important role. The maintenance of the system requires technical know how. To overcome these problems Jain Irrigation provides training to staff and after sales service to farmers.

At the JISL, farmers and other stakeholder are trained with in-house training facility of sprawling 1800 acres Jain R&D farms in Jalgaon Maharashtra and Jain R&D farm at Udumalpeth, Tamil Nadu, and India. They are undertaking research trials and demonstration jointly with Agriculture Universities and Innovative Farmers along with their own farms. Till date more than hundred thousand peoples have visited and got trained at R&D and demonstration centre at Jain Hills, Jalgaon India facility from last 15 years. This had a spiralling effect on the thought process of even the policy makers and farmers at last, “seeing is believing”.

Planning and Budget

JISL is more concerned about penetration of the technology horizontally (acres’ covered) and vertically (number of irrigated crops by drip irrigation system). It is very important to have a versatile strategy for various crops and under different agro-climatic zones. For that matter we need to work with the famers, agricultural universities, state and central government to cover that particular crop under government subsidy scheme. Thus we utilise the present infrastructure of our extension workers. But this is not sufficient, now we are planning expand our networks by employing the local person with minimal critical training to work as village level extension worker, and this will be the network of 1000 foot soldiers working closely with the famers. We have plan and already selected over 200 such associates to join the team.

Future Commitments

Future plans are to cover maximum crops under drip irrigation, in addition to continuous refinement and improvement of our existing practices. JISL would also like to develop viable technologies for rain-fed agriculture to increase the productivity of land and water resources. This will be done through integrated approach of rainwater harvesting, storage and better irrigation management methods. Use of solar energy for drip irrigation is high on our agenda. This technology can be very effective in arid regions of India. The use of biotechnology for pomegranate and sweet lime for different geographical areas will also be implemented soon.

Results to date

With continuous R&D efforts and engagement with farmers, JISL has encompassed almost all crops, under microirrigation technologies (e.g. drip irrigation, sprinklers). Experimental results are also quite encouraging for water intensive crops such as rice.

The adoption rate of micro-irrigation technologies is increasing and today nearly 5% of area out of irrigated land is under micro-irrigation. Market share of JISL in drip irrigation technologies is over 60% in India. Total area covered under dripirrigation by JISL is shown in the below figure. Also, it is worth mentioning that JISL has launched the new technology for arid area with solar pump and drip irrigation. To break the perfect nexus of water-energy-food, this will be great boon, if drop by drop water is provide to the root zone without wastage of water, with great efficiency, saving electricity (or providing electricity where there is no electricity by solar pump technology) and producing more from less area or producing good crops where it was only rain fed crop.

Our ultimately objective is to,

  • Increase the productivity of the famers per unit are and per unit of water available.
  • Penetration of adoption of technology to a large number of farmers.
  • Increase the area under drip irrigation in India.
  • Expand to other crops, which are not currently under drip irrigation through research and development.

Lessons Learnt

Having based in Maharashtra, we have expanded to other parts of India. There cannot be a one-size-fits-all solution in the country, as there is a great diversity in cropping patter, agro-climatic, hydro-geological and cultural conditions. We go to new places with an open mind and try to innovate new solutions to suit local needs. We bring in new crops into the scope of drip irrigation by incorporating necessary changes. For instance, drip irrigation for cotton (considered as dry land crop), pulses and oilseeds (trials are successful but still there is struggle to expand horizontally in acres covered under drip) and recent rice (successful trials which shows the reduction in water, energy and methane emission). Use of drip irrigation for water intensive crops such as banana and sugarcane is a history now. We would like to share our experience with other developing countries having similar agro-climatic conditions. The key factors of success are the assiduous tasks JISL’S associates are handling and walking on the path shown by the vision of the founders “to leave this world better than we found” and lead in the world, in the any business venture we operate into.