Towards sustainable, productive and profitable agriculture: case of rice and sugarcane

Indian agriculture is estimated to be consuming about 78 percent of total fresh water resources available in the country. Yet, more than half of the gross cropped area is still dependent on rains. Extremely skewed allocation of scarce irrigation water amongst crops and inefficient use of the allocated water are major reasons behind this paradox. Water guzzler crops like rice and sugarcane, occupying about one-fourth of the gross cropped area, consume more than 60 per cent of irrigation water available in the country. Hence if sustainable agriculture water-use has to be ensured, economics (productivity and profitability) of at least these two crops needs to be studied thoroughly to see how best higher productivity and profitability can be achieved with lesser amounts of irrigation water. This is what is attempted in this paper. The study shows that regions like Punjab and Haryana, which have high land productivity of rice, fall way below in ranking of irrigation water productivity. Instead, eastern states like Bihar, eastern UP give better results, highlighting the need to shift rice cultivation from north-western states to eastern states. Similar results are obtained for sugarcane in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, which are high on land productivity but low on irrigation water productivity, suggesting that sugarcane cultivation needs to shift from tropical to sub-tropical states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.