A sugarcane crop is a water guzzler; over 2,000 litres of water is needed to produce a kilogram of sugar. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Cane is being cultivated in Karnataka at a time when the state government has said that there isn’t enough water in the state’s rivers to provide drinking water for the 27 drought-hit districts
At the policy level, the government is trying to revive growth in India’s farm sector. Finance minister Arun Jaitley underscored it in his Union budget and chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian explained how.
Taking a cue from the Economic Survey 2015-16, he said India needs to change its cropping pattern from input-intensive cereals to pulses and oilseeds that are less water-intensive crops.
At the ground level, however, farmers are not heeding to Subramanian’s policy fix, not at least in the drought-hit Bidar district in North Karnataka.
While the state government is struggling to provide drinking water twice a week in the region, Sumant Gramle, a farmer, is trying to grow a water-intensive crop sugarcane in his 12 acres of land. He has dug three borewells for irrigation and is planning to increase the area of under cultivation further this year.
A sugarcane crop is a water guzzler. Over 2,000 litres of water is needed to produce a kilogram of sugar. If the water consumption of sugar mills and water losses from the source to the farm is included, then it is even higher, according to water rights group South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People.
In the neighbouring Maharashtra, the country’s largest sugar producer, too, more farmers are opting for cane cultivation. The area under cultivation for the crop often goes up by 30-40% every year, according to state’s economic survey.
Growth in cane cultivation over the last decade has taken a toll on production of other crops. In Karnataka, the third largest sugar grower in the country, the crop has replaced paddy, ragi and jowar cultivation, according to a recent study commissioned by the state government’s Agriculture Price Commission. Mint has reviewed a copy of the study.