Water Crisis Role In Standoff Between Indian Farmers And Government

8 Feb 2021 by The Water Diplomat

While Indian farmers protest against threats to their subsistence livelihoods from three new laws impacting the way produce is priced and sold, the existing state-controlled pricing system continues to be associated with strain on the nation's water resources.

Continuing protests against changes to India’s farming laws, reported as the world’s largest peaceful civic process until violence erupted this week, are gaining traction in global media.

Environmentalists, meantime, argue that underlying issues at the heart of India’s agricultural crisis, including hugely inefficient water usage and the effects of climate change on the large proportion of poor farmers dependent upon rainfall to irrigate their crops, are given insufficient attention.

The Indian government acknowledges the impact of climate change on the country’s agriculture, noting in 2019: “Climate change can have negative effects on irrigated crop yields … both due to temperature rise and changes in water availability. Rainfed agriculture will be primarily impacted due to rainfall variability and reduction in number of rainy days.”

Figures indicate that more than half of India’s agriculture sector has no access to irrigation and is therefore dependent upon rainfall. Recent patterns of drought and flood resulting from climate change are leading to increasing insecurity.

Critics of the existing state-subsidised system point to the incentivisation of crops inappropriate to certain regions and types of land as exacerbating an already precarious water situation. (AFP)

According to government figures, more than 80 Percent of Indian farmers have less than two hectares of land, with large farmers working more than ten hectares making up just one Percent. Agriculture employs 70 Percent of India’s population, giving the farmers a powerful voice. Those farmers are worried that the introduction of free-market mechanisms will drive down the guaranteed incomes they receive for their crops and make smallholders vulnerable to exploitation by larger corporate interests.