Rice in water scarcity? Yes, why not

Switching to climate smart agriculture is gaining momentum and people are talking about it.

Tavseef Mairaj
Srinagar, Publish Date: Apr 2 2018 10:33PM | Updated Date: Apr 2 2018 10:33PM
Rice in water scarcity? Yes, why notFile Photo

It is the March 29 and it is snowing here in Hamburg, Germany, again. While as, back home, in Kashmir, there is an impending drought. Winters in Kashmir have become drier over the past decade or so. This year was no exception. As a result, rivers and streams are running almost dry. I was shocked to see the state of a local stream, a tributary of Jhelum, in a video uploaded by a friend online. The water flow in the stream has been reduced to the size of an open sewage drain in the Srinagar downtown. Call it whatever you may, a divine punishment manifest in the form of changing weather patterns or anthropogenic climate change or call it millennial variations in the global climate, the fact of the matter is that extreme weather events are staring us in the face. Droughts and floods are increasing in frequency worldwide and Kashmir cannot be an exception to that. The oft-repeated age-old argument that Kashmir is rich in water resources and hence does not need to worry about water scarcity is increasingly looking like a joke that is on us.

 

Recently, local newspapers in Kashmir reported that farmers in a couple of districts in Kashmir have been advised by the district authorities not to grow rice, owing to scarcity of water as a result of a drastic decrease in winter precipitation. This is not something unique to Kashmir. Water resources are decreasing globally not just in per capita terms but also in absolute terms. Agriculture, flooded rice paddy cultivation in particular, being the major consumer of global freshwater withdrawals, could possibly be the worst hit sector due to changing global weather patterns. To illustrate this, as an example, to produce 1 kilogram of rice with the currently dominant flooded rice cultivation, on an average, 3,000 litres of water are consumed. And we are talking about the crop that is the major staple food around the world. Considering that agriculture is the major (and only!) source of food, directly and indirectly, for all humans, the catastrophic levels of destruction that a future scenario could throw up are not something we would want to look forward to.

 

The good thing however is that people in different parts of the world are adapting to the new realities. Switching to climate smart agriculture is gaining momentum and people are talking about it. The ‘green revolution’ thinking of increasing inputs for getting increased outputs is fast becoming obsolete, and rightly so. The enormous costs on ecology that the ‘green revolution’ has had, in terms of and due to deteriorating soil and water quality, increasing water (and soil!) scarcity, increased dependence of farmers on external inputs, loss of traditional seed varieties, increased use of agrochemicals has made the continuation of its practices highly questionable. The United Nations in a 2010 report on the right to food advocated a fundamental shift toward agro-ecological practices in order for the agriculture to adapt to the changing climate and to be able to feed the increasing world population without any further ecological costs.

 

I am not arguing in favour of drought resistant rice varieties here, for genetic modifications are not sustainable in the long run, take away the originality of the crops, and make farmers dependent on the external seed sources. I am talking about adoption of better management strategies of our limited resources. These include water management practices like Alternate Wetting and Drying (AWD) or an even more integrated approach to soil, water and plant management, the System of Rice Intensification (SRI). AWD in rice systems has been described by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) as among the ‘10 best bet innovations for adaptation in agriculture’ that has the potential to make farming resilient to the vagaries of climate change and the scarcity in vital resources like water. As recently as in December 2017, the Nature magazine in an editorial titled ‘Strategies for survival’ described SRI as an unique agricultural strategy where much can be achieved, with up to 50 percent less water use, with better management of plants, water and soil, without any change in the plant varieties that we use. SRI has been described as one of the strategies that could contribute towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) like increasing agricultural productivity, ensuring sustainable food production, and implementing resilient agricultural practices. SRI is already in successful practice with over 10 million farmers in Asia, Africa, and South America employing the same. The question that I am asking here is, the need for it notwithstanding, is Kashmir ready for the same?

 

Tavseef Mairaj, a PhD student at the Hamburg University of Technology, is studying agroecology and the system of rice intensification

 

tavseef.mairaj.shah@tuhh.de

 

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