Exporting Water

I am sure, with the title of article you would find me crazy. The front page article published in Mint on April 26th talking about how India is actually exporting humongous amounts of water, when drought is on everyone?s mind, absolutely stunned me. Really?, Was the first thought in my mind. Curious, I read the complete article, only to be left bewildered, impressed and amazed by the craft and intelligence of Roshan Kishan, a staff writer with the publication and his arguments.

The article makes us ponder over whether the export of agriculture crops is good for economy or actually a making a dent to world?s costliest commodity of future ?Water?? Writing about exports of sugarcane, rice and other crops but weighing them in the light of precious ?water? that is also being exported as a result was brilliant!

Some specific observations he made that caught my attention are as follows:

– As a global average, it takes 2,173 litres of water to produce a kg of husked rice. In India, 2,688 litres of water is used. The number is worse for several states, including some of the largest rice producers.

– In 2014-15, India exported 37.2 lakh tonnes of basmati. To export this rice, the country used around 10 trillion litres of water.

– According to the Water Footprint Network (WFN) database, India had the lowest virtual imports of water in the world. The WFN database gives data on water scarcity for more than 400 river basins in the world.

– Data for India shows that except for Brahmaputra and Mahanadi, all river basins with a population of more than 20 million experience water scarcity for a major part of the year.

He observes that India is a large virtual net exporter of water because of the quantum of agricultural products that it exports. In complete agreement with his observations, I strongly believe that water is definitely a commodity where we don?t want a trade surplus! Having brought this matter into discussion, I do not mean that we should discourage cultivation of food grains, not only because agriculture is backbone of our economy but also food is basic need of human kind. Moreover, we need to protect our farmers from exposure of their crops to erratic monsoon like they have experienced two consecutive year of drought.

All such issues compel me to think of the technology intervention in agriculture with seeds that need less water to grow and also deliver similar or even better produce. This is not any fiction or my own imagination of this kind of technology in Agriculture which can improve ?water use efficiency?, but such revolutionary technology already have been invented. However, the point is how strongly we encourage it?s dissemination from lab to land. India can certainly continue to export large amounts of agricultural produce, but it definitely needs to lessen the amount of virtual water exported!