Efficient management of rainwater for increased crop productivity and groundwater recharge in Asia uri icon


  • Rainwater is the main source of water for agriculture but its current use efficiency for crop production ranges between only 30 and 45%. Annually, 300?800 mm of seasonal rainfall are not used productively, as the rainfall becomes surface runoff or deep drainage. The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT)?s long experience, in partnership with national agricultural research systems, in integrated watershed management has clearly demonstrated that areas with good soils in the semi-arid tropics (SAT) in Asia can support double-cropping, while surplus rainwater could recharge the groundwater. In the integrated watershed approach, the emphasis is on in situ conservation of rainwater at farm level, with the excess water being taken out of the fields safely through com-munity drainage channels and stored in suitable low-cost structures. The stored water is used as surface irrigation or for recharging groundwater. Following conservation of the rainwater, its efficient use is achieved through choosing appropriate crops, improved varieties, cropping systems and nutrient and pest-management options for increasing productivity and conserving natural resources. Longterm, on-station watershed experiments have demonstrated that Vertisols with a rainfall of 800 mmhave the capacity to feed 18 persons ha?1 (4.7 t of food grains ha?1) compared with their current productivity of 0.9 t ha?1 supporting four persons ha?1. This increased productivity can be achieved if theproductivity of rainwater is doubled (from 30% to 67%) and the soil loss is reduced by 75% comparedwith the loss under traditional methods of cultivation. By adopting such a holistic approach to themanagement of rainwater in partnership with the communities, crop productivity in the watersheds is substantially increased (up to 250%), groundwater levels improved and soil loss minimized. Results from such on-farm integrated watersheds are discussed. Conditions for success in the improved management of rainwater are: community participation, capacity building at local level through appropriate technical guidance and the use of new scientific tools to manage the watersheds efficiently. Tosustain agricultural productivity in the SAT, this holistic approach of watershed management needs tobe scaled up through appropriate policy and institutional support and its on-site and off-site impactsneed to be studied

publication date

  • 2003