text size: smaller reset larger

 

 

Increasing milk production to conserve groundwater in India

The study concluded that intensifying dairy farming would reduce groundwater consumption (© ILRI/Stevie Mann)
The study concluded that intensifying dairy farming would reduce groundwater consumption
© ILRI/Stevie Mann

During the green revolution, irrigation was a major catalyst that significantly increased the production of rice, wheat and fodder in Moga District, in India's Punjab State. Almost the entire cultivable area of the State of Punjab is now irrigated from canals and groundwater; as a result crop productivity in the State is one of the highest in the country. But current levels of groundwater exploitation are unsustainable, and increasing demand for water has become a limiting factor for maintaining agricultural growth.

With concerns over current water management practices in Moga, the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), in collaboration with Nestlé, conducted a study on the water footprint of milk, rice and wheat production. The study concluded that intensifying dairy farming would reduce groundwater consumption and generate higher profits per hectare for smallscale farmers.

Sustaining agricultural growth

A substantial proportion of the milk produced in Moga is consumed locally, while the surplus is procured by local vendors, milk contractors and dairy companies, including Nestlé. "Groundwater exploitation is a serious concern for sustainable agricultural production," explains Carlo Galli, Nestlé's Strategic and Technical Adviser for Water Resources and Chair of the Water Group at the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) Platform*. "Nestlé initiated this study with IWMI because of our concern about water management and the sustainability of the supply of fresh milk for our factories. We knew we couldn't simply focus on doing well in our core dairy business and hope that water scarcity would not hit us."

Annual groundwater consumption from irrigation far exceeds a sustainable level (© IWMI)
Annual groundwater consumption from irrigation far exceeds a sustainable level
© IWMI

Rice-wheat-milk is the dominant production system of over 80 per cent of farmers in Moga. On average, about 90 per cent of irrigated land is under rice in the Kharif (summer) season, 90 per cent of wheat in the Rabi (winter) season and about ten per cent is under year-round green fodder production. The study revealed that annual groundwater consumption from irrigation far exceeds a sustainable level, causing water tables to drop by 7-20 metres in the last decade. However, further analysis revealed that the groundwater irrigation consumptive water use (or water footprint) of milk (565 cubic metres per tonne) is much lower than rice (984 cubic metres per tonne), leading the study to conclude that intensifying milk production, which requires more land for green fodder production, would significantly reduce groundwater withdrawals.

Maintaining a balance

The IWMI study also highlights that dairy farming in Moga District not only contributes to reduction of water footprints but also generates similar or higher gross production value per unit of land and water used. But despite this conclusion, the study does not call on farmers to abandon rice farming, which would have large food security implications outside the region. "Rice production contributes to the food security of a large population outside Moga, therefore the intensification of dairy production, with a calculated reduction in rice to compensate for increasing green fodder requirements, can bring the groundwater depletion to sustainable limits, while retaining a rice surplus for exports," explains Upali Amarasinghe of IWMI's Hyderabad office.

Rice production contributes to the food security of a large population outside Moga (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
Rice production contributes to the food security of a large population outside Moga
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

The study concludes that for an average farmer with six hectares, the ideal farming system would be to reduce the area of irrigated rice from 90 to 62 per cent and increase green fodder from 10 to 20 per cent in the Kharif season, allocate 90 and 10 per cent respectively for wheat and green fodder in the Rabi season, and double the number of dairy animals from four to eight per six hectares of land. "Thus a smaller area of rice and larger milk production system, with adequate wheat and green fodder will reduce groundwater depletion," Amarasinghe states. "This is the most expedient way of achieving sustainable agricultural production in Moga."

Spreading the impact

The study also shows that farmers' practise of delayed transplanting, which has been shown to reduce evaporation losses by nine per cent and groundwater extraction by 140 million cubic metres in Punjab State, further reduces the amount of groundwater consumption during rice cultivation. Other water conservation methods include laser-assisted land levelling which can reduce pumping by one-third, and raising field bund heights by 22cm, which helps to capture and retain more than 95 per cent of monsoon rain.

Since the publication of the study, Nestlé, which sources 1 million litres of fresh milk per day from over 100,000 farmers in Moga, has been using the findings to encourage local authorities to strengthen their support of dairy farming with appropriate measures. The multi-national company has also begun to raise awareness of alternative ways to grow rice with less water through farmer networks, in addition to providing technical support and assistance to local dairy farmers though a dedicated organisation of sourcing managers and veterinarians. "We understand that dairy farming is a valuable alternative farming system," Galli adds. "Not only because it's economically viable, but also environmentally sustainable, from a water perspective."

Nestlé provides technical support and assistance to dairy farmers though a dedicated organisation of sourcing managers and vets (© WRENmedia)
Nestlé provides technical support and assistance to dairy farmers though a dedicated organisation of sourcing managers and vets
© WRENmedia

"While the findings from Moga may not necessarily fit other regions, Nestlé has adopted a number of tailored water management initiatives in other areas of the world," Galli reveals. In Mossel Bay, South Africa, for example, Nestlé is supporting farmers to improve the way they manage their irrigation, while in Venezuela, the company is supporting reforestation and landscape management with dairy farmers to preserve the local environment and conserve water. Under the leadership of Nestlé, the set of activities and tools used in the study has also been shared and developed within the SAI Platform. "The results from this study are applicable to all SAI Platform members who use water in their processes when making food products," Galli states.

"Changing global food consumption patterns show an increasing demand for milk, while increasing variability of rainfall associated with climate change often impacts crop production," Amarasinghe concludes. "Dairy production will therefore most likely feature even more prominently in rural livelihoods in the future. This will require a better understanding of the water use pattern of fodder and milk production."

* The Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) Platform is an independent association and the only global reference centre for sustainable agriculture for the food sector. The SAI Platform was launched in 2002 by Danone, Nestlé and Unilever to promote sustainable agriculture. Since then 37 additional companies and organisation have joined the Platform.

Date published: July 2012

 

Have your say

 

The New Agriculturist is a WRENmedia production.

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.
Accept
Read more