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Thursday, 28 July 2016 15:55

Nation That Suffered Worst Drought in Decades Is Water Exporter

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Jaiveer Arya wipes sweat
from his brow as he squats in the
shade and watches workers weigh
his wheat crop at a grain market in
India’s northern Haryana state.
He’s hoping for a good price from
exporters.
Unseen in Arya’s 850 kilograms
of wheat is about 128 kilograms
of water that’s embedded
within the food. Arya and millions
of farmers like him in India account
for about 2.5 percent of
global agriculture exports, meaning
that a large amount of water embedded
in produce is shipped overseas
and lost for good by a nation
still emerging from one of its worst
droughts in decades.
"We export agriculture
products without any thought,"
said Prashant Goswami, director
and climate scientist at CSIR-National
Institute of Science, Technology
and Development Studies
in New Delhi. "When water is embedded
in a product that’s exported,
it’s lost forever. That’s a
bigger danger for our water."
Goswami estimates India
could exhaust available water supplies
in less than 1,000 years because
of net exports of food such
as rice and wheat. He argues officials
must change farming policies
to turn the deficit in trade in embedded
water into a surplus. Growing
demand from industry and the
nation’s 1.3 billion people is also
adding pressure for better management
of the resource.
Rice Sales
India -- the world’s top rice
exporter -- shipped agricultural
commodities worth more than 2.6
trillion rupees ($39 billion) overseas
in 2013-2014, government
data show. The nation exported
about 25 cubic kilometers of water
embedded in its agricultural exports
in 2010. That’s enough water
to meet the needs of nearly 13 million
people.
Hundreds of millions of
people in India grappled this year
with one of the country’s worst
droughts in decades, following two
years of poor rainfall and the onset
of intense summer heat. The June-
September monsoon is bringing
some relief, but a longer-term challenge
looms from competition for
supplies.
Arya, 44, grows both rice
and wheat in his 10-acre smallholding
near the border of Haryana
and Uttar Pradesh states. Another
common crop in the region is
water-intensive sugar cane.
Speaking at the market in
May, Arya said he draws water
from a 170-foot well for irrigation,
five times deeper than when his father
tilled the farm. He added that
he’s had to bore deeper three times
in the last five years.
Unseen Depletion
Policies that effectively
provide farmers with free water as
well as free electricity to run
pumps are stoking over-exploitation,
according to Ashok Gulati, an
agriculture economist and former
chief of India’s Commission for
Agricultural Costs and Prices.
"Who has seen the future?"
he asked. "Farmers can’t see how
much water’s being depleted underground."
India is one of the world’s
biggest users of groundwater, and
the World Resources Institute estimates
more than half of the nation
faces high water stress. A 2009
study by the University of California,
Irvine, and the National Aeronautics
and Space Administration
showed groundwater depletion in
northwestern India from 2002 to
2008 was equivalent to a net loss
triple the capacity of Lake Mead,
the largest man-made reservoir in
the U.S.
Import Flood?
One possible policy step for
Asia’s No. 3 economy is to curb
sugar cane subsidies and abolish
levies on imports of the sweetener,
to encourage farmers to grow crops
that need less water, Gulati said.
“Let imports flood the market,” he
said.
India could learn from
China, according to Goswami,
who’s published his work on embedded
water in the journal Nature
along with co-author Shiv Narayan
Nishad, a mathematician at the
M.S. Ramaiah University of Applied
Sciences in Bengaluru.
China imports more waterintensive
produce while exporting
food that uses less water, their research
shows.
“Policy makers need to sit
down and ensure that we import
food in such a way that we bring in
more water,” Goswami said. “The
world is no longer innocent of this
virtual water trade."
Archana Chaudhary
and Pratik Parija
Bloomberg

Read 1389 times Last modified on Thursday, 28 July 2016 16:27

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