Climate resilient irrigation systems make Bihar’s agriculture profitable

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Patna, 12 March, 2021 : Centre for Environment and Energy Development (CEED) organised a national conference ‘Water to Every Farm : Building Climate Resilient Agriculture in Bihar’ in Patna today with the objective to constructively deliberate on strengthening the flagship scheme of the Bihar Government “Har Khet ko Sinchai ka Pani” towards making agriculture climate risk-proof and sustainable, thereby playing bigger role in accelerating state’s economic growth. Bihar is one of the most climate vulnerable states in the country with 16 of its districts listed in top-20 most climate vulnerable districts of India. Similarly, 36 out of 38 districts of Bihar are either vulnerable or highly vulnerable to the impact of climate change. With agriculture as the mainstay of the economic lifeline of the state, and water, the most important resources for agriculture, addressing the impact of climate change to agriculture and water is critical to ensure economic security of the state.

Taking cognisance of agriculture woes, irrigation and water issues through the perspectives of climate risk, this conference constructively engaged with diverse stakeholders representing government departments and agencies, research think-tanks, industry & business organisations, farmers associations and civil society organisations, and brought forward pragmatic and innovative ideas and solutions ensuring climate resilient agriculture and efficient water management practices in the state of Bihar.

In his keynote address, Chief Guest of the conference, honourable Minister for Water Resources, Information & Public Relations, Government of Bihar, Shri Sanjay Kumar Jha said that, “Water to Every Farm is an ambitious program of the State Government under ‘Saat Nischay-2’ initiative and we are committed to provide various means of irrigations to all farmers through sustainable approach which will positively contribute in increasing farm income, bring prosperity in rural areas and ultimately strengthen the state economy. We understand that agriculture in Bihar is facing nature’s fury in the form of floods and drought every year which became more severe in the last few years due to the impact of climate change. Therefore, any suggestion to address the climate change impact on our agriculture, safeguard our farmers from disasters and ensure water reaches to every farm in a sustainable manner are welcome and will be incorporated in this flagship program for benefitting all.”

Known as ‘land floats on the water’, 21 districts of Bihar covering both North and the South; and around Gangetic bank are now facing a water stress situation with ground water level depleting to dangerous levels. Key factors contributing to water stress are accelerated climate risk the state is facing in the last decade or so as well as deprioritization of traditional surface water bodies like Ahaar, Pyne, Chourd, Inara, Pansokha for agriculture usage. The state has an overwhelming share of small and marginal farmers (92%), who heavily depend on monsoon rain for irrigating their Kharif and Rabi crops. This shows how susceptible Bihar’s agriculture is to changing climate. With rivers drying during lean phase, traditional water bodies mis-managed & encroached and ground water over-extracted with very little recharge have led to water as well as agriculture crisis which is further compounded by large dependence on water-intensive crops, lackadaisical behaviour of water users and ineffective regulatory mechanism of water management in the state. Since 77% of the state population depends on agriculture for their livelihood it places a greater need for firm climate responsive actions to address the water and agriculture crisis in the state.

While endorsing the overall idea of the conference and pledging support for the same, honourable Minister for Agriculture, Government of Bihar, Shri Amrendra Pratap Singh pointed out that, “The State government is successfully running the Jal Jeevan Hariyali Mission where we are constructing tug-wells, renovating ponds and rejuvenating ahar-pynes at massive scale through arrays of sustainable measures in order to ensure water available for farming and other domestic usage as well as help in recharging ground water. Historically, Bihar did not have very effective irrigation infrastructure and the majority of farming is rain-fed. Our Government is committed to increase the coverage of irrigated land and will subsequently provide irrigation services to every farmer for making agriculture climate-resilient as well as profitable for our farmers.”

Speaking on the occasion, Mr Ramapati Kumar, CEO of CEED said that, “Considering Bihar as one of the most climate vulnerable states in the country, we need to make our agriculture climate risk-free in order to be a profitable economic venture. In this direction, the Water to Every Farm scheme is a welcome step, however, it needs to be aligned with the objectives of Jal, Jeevan Hariyali Mission for climate-responsive sustainable water management ensuring water available economically for farming and other allied activities. Since climate change induced agriculture and water crisis affecting lives and livelihood of common Bihari, success of this scheme go beyond the Water Resources and Agriculture Departments and it should include other key departments to ensure a synergetic and integrated vision making Bihar a frontline state in adopting climate resilient water management practices.”

The conference was supported by the ASAR Social Impact and in its technical session of the conference eminent speakers including Prof (Dr) Prabhat P. Ghosh, Director, Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI), Patna; Shri Nand Kishor (IFS), Director-Horticulture, Govt. of Bihar; Shri Nand Kishor Jha, Chief Engineer, Planning & Monitoring, Water Resource Dept.; Shri Vivek Tejaswi, Deputy Director, ADRI; Gopal Krishna, Public Policy Analyst, Dr Anamika Priyadarshini, Women farmer, Shri Eklavya Prasad, Managing Trustee, Megh Pyne Abhiyan; Dheeraj Kumar, Manager, Jain Irrigation, Rahul Singh, Agro Expert, Pradan, and Shri Abhishek Pratap, Energy expert, ASAR spoke and deliberated to address the riddles of ‘Water, Agriculture and Energy’ nexus through the lens of climate risk mitigation, and reached to a consensus that the State must increasingly adopt climate resilient agriculture system and efficient water management for strengthening the entire agro value chain.

This conference presented several pathbreaking ideas and solutions. For instance, with perceptible abundance of ground water, Bihar along with other eastern states, are now considered as the next breadbasket of the country. This is a welcome idea but it also puts greater responsibility on Bihar to manage its water resources more sustainably. In order to do so, Bihar needs to prioritise, promote and well manage its traditional water bodies and ensure ground water rejuvenation through community involvement. Further, the state needs to carry out detailed water assessments of all agro-climatic zones to determine sufficiency / deficiency of available water resources, and therefore plan and implement water conservation and management systems accordingly. There is a greater need to discourage dry land farming in flood-prone regions and promote low water high return crops in water stressed areas. Finally, key departments of the Bihar Governments must work in convergence to implement Water for Every Farm scheme to secure a climate resilience for Bihar’s agriculture and water systems.

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