Dryland agriculture

Dry land agriculture is defined differently by different
researchers and experts.

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According to the Fourth five year plan of India, dry lands
are defined as areas which receive rainfall ranging from 375 mm to 1125 mm and
with very limited irrigation facilities. 14

Reddy and Reddy have defined dryland agriculture as
cultivating crops in entirely rainfed conditions. They have further grouped the
dryland agriculture in three categories depending on the rainfall received, the
three categories being dry agriculture, dryland agriculture, and rainfed
agriculture. 6

Kerr et al have analysed criteria used by different
researchers to arrive upon the definition of rainfed area 10.  They have considered district as unit of
analysis on the rationale that it is the smallest administrative unit where the
data necessary to arrive upon the definition of rainfed are available. The
analysis shows that many researchers have used the amount of rainfall and level
of irrigation as the main criteria to arrive upon the definition of rainfed

For practical purposes, we can consider dryland agriculture
as the agriculture practices practiced in limited rainfall areas and the areas
with limited access to irrigation facilities.

Importance of dryland

Dryland farming is immensely important for India. In the
early years of independence, Indian planners were focused on development of
large irrigation projects. The green revolution, which insured food safety of
the country, took place on foundations of large scale irrigation projects.
System of intensive agriculture was developed on the pillars of irrigation, use
of chemical fertilizers, insecticides, and improved variety of seeds. However,
this model of crop intensification could only create islands of development
where irrigation facilities could be made available. There are certainly limits
to growth of irrigated agriculture.

India ranks first among the countries that practice rain-fed
agriculture in terms of both extent and value of production. Out of an
estimated 140.3 m ha net cultivated area, 79.44 m ha (57%) is rainfed,
contributing 44% of the total food grain production. 5

It is estimated that even after achieving the full irrigation
potential, nearly 50% of the net cultivated area will remain dependent on
rainfall. 5

Government statistics for the years from 2008-09 to 2013-14
shows that even after all the efforts taken towards increasing irrigation
facilities, in practice, only about 9% of total agricultural land was irrigated
through canals, about 22% of agricultural land was irrigated by GW. Adding all
the other sources such as tanks to canals and groundwater, merely 35% of total
agricultural land was irrigated. It is thus evident that about 65% of
agricultural land is still dependent entirely on rain. GoI, Statistical year book 2017 

Importance of
groundwater in dryland agriculture

Characteristics and challenges of rainfed areas are well
documented. – water stress, low productivity / crop yields, loss of organic
matter and physical degradation of soil, nutrient depletion and chemical
degradation of soil, soil erosion and sedimentation, water scarcity and pollution  2,3

Number of strategies are recommended and practiced to
address various challenges faced by the dryland and rainfed areas.

Much of the research done in rainfed agriculture in India
relates to conservation of soil and rain water and drought proofing which is an
ideal strategy for adaptation to climate change (Venkateswarlu et al.,
2009). 11

Thus the rainfall and groundwater holds immense importance
in dryland areas. Effective utilization of water obtained from rainfall and its
conservation for further use holds the key in improvements in dryland
agriculture. In most of the areas due to high evaporation rates, it is not
feasible to create more surface storages. Enriching soil moisture and
recharging the groundwater hold key in such situations. This fact is underlined
by several experts, researchers and practitioners. Integrated watershed
development is most effective way to achieve this.

Challenges in
sustaining the benefits

For years, government agencies and several non governmental
organizations have taken efforts in dryland areas towards watershed management.
Since early 70s several programs have been run under different names to achieve
soil and water conservation. These programs were instrumental in reducing soil
erosion, increasing the water availability, and increase in green cover in
respective areas. However, it was also observed that in most of the places the
benefits of these programs didn’t last long. The major reasons being,

With increased water availability people started
cultivating water intensive crops such as sugarcane, banana. This resulted in
worsening the condition of groundwater in respective area

Lack of operation and maintenance of the soil
and water conservation structures considerably reduced to capacity of water
conservation over the years. Reduced water availability coupled with increased
water use resulted in disastrous effects in terms of overall situation of water
in respective area.   

It was thus evident that effective management of available
water is as much important as conservation of the water. Government and NGOs
have taken efforts to increase peoples’ participation undertaking these
programs. However, there are couple of factors still pose challenges in
collective water managements. These factors are

Traditionally ownership of groundwater is
associated with the ownership of land. Through easement Act, the land owner
gets rights to extract groundwater under the respective piece of land.

Bore well drilling technology has made access to
even deeper aquifers very easy.

These two factors form a strong combination. Traditionally
many individuals have fetched huge benefits from exploitation of groundwater. If
a soil – water conservation program is implemented, and if there is increased
availability of groundwater, above two factors make people to individually
exploit the groundwater resources. Often there is no adequate motivation to
collectively manage the available water, to equitably share the benefits of soil
– water conservation programs. This often results in negligence towards
maintenance of the structures created during the soil – water conservation

Above discussion highlights two distinct but related

For villages – it is unequitable distribution of
benefits resulting in low level of willingness or motivation for collective
water governance. This often results in inefficiencies in the soil-water
conservation treatments and same old groundwater exploited condition where few
benefit at expense of many.

For the agencies that run the projects – it is
unsustainable projects with short lived benefits resulting in ineffective
utilization of funds and non-accrual of benefits desired

In short, villages need some kind of incentive for
collective water management and resource agencies need assurance of sustainable
utilization of funds.

Water governance
standard – bridging the gap between rural communities and resource agencies

Water governance standard and certification system can be a
tool, which on one hand will present an opportunity to the communities to
demonstrate their capacities to govern locally and on the other hand, it will
provide the resource agencies with the decision handles about allocation

A standard is
a document that provides requirements, specifications, guidelines or
characteristics that can be used consistently to ensure that materials,
products, processes and services are fit for their purpose. ISO: https://www.iso.org/standards.html

A standard can be defined as a set of technical definitions
and guidelines, “how to” instructions for designers, manufacturers, and users.
Standards promote safety, reliability, productivity, and efficiency in almost
every industry that relies on engineering components or equipment. ASME:

Standard is a framework for major water users to understand their water use and impacts, and to
work collaboratively and transparently for sustainable water management within a catchment
context. AWS

Applying above definitions to water governance, in simple
words, water governance standard is a set of predefined criteria putting
forward good governance practices, relevant for local water governance in
agrarian communities. Certification system shall further provide assurance of
adherence to the standard and hence can be useful in providing important
decision support to resource agencies in important investment decisions in
developmental projects in rural areas.

Objectives of the water governance standard and certification system

Ultimate aim of the water governance standard and
certification system is to provide a system that incentivizes the local communities
to adopt democratic and sustainable water governance practices at local level
for assured drinking water and enhanced livelihood opportunities

Two distinct but related sub-objectives emerge from the
abovementioned aim of the water governance standard. These specific objectives

To provide the agrarian community with approaches
and methods those promote a defined standard and incentivize best practices in
local water governance

To provide a decision facilitating framework for
government agencies and other resource agencies to decide upon and fund water
infrastructure and incentivize water stewardship and sustainable governance
programs for agrarian communities


The water governance standard and certification system is
applicable to the agrarian communities practicing dry land agriculture. Dryland
agriculture is defined in different ways in previous paragraphs. Strictly speaking,
dryland agriculture is the agriculture dependent on rainfall and where
irrigation is not available. Practically, in India, it is not very common to
find villages are entirely irrigated or entirely rain fed. There is always some
mix of rainfed as well as irrigated land in different proportions in majority
of the villages. Water governance standard is a tool which will be applied on
village level. It can be practically applicable to any village. However, it
will be more relevant for the villages with following characteristics

The village is entirely or largely dependent on
rainwater to fulfill all kind of water requirements

The local water sources including wells, bore
wells, tanks, weirs, ponds, which are the main source of irrigation and
drinking water are entirely dependent on the rainfall on respective catchment

In other words the water governance standard and
certification system is more relevant to the villages which do not receive
water from external sources such as rivers, large dams, canals, lift irrigation
schemes, but are entirely dependent of the water received from rainfall in
their own watershed.

Normative consideration in the standard

For any village, adopting the water governance standard and
certification system means to plan the water resource according to the local
conditions and to execute the plan. While planning and executing the same,
there are several conditions put by the standard that the village needs to
fulfill. The conditions put by the standard mainly consider sustainability, equity,
and TAP considerations.

Sustainability: this includes sustainability of the water
sources, sustainability of the process of water governance, environmental
sustainability. Although the standard doesn’t directly talk about the
environmental sustainability, as the objective states, the standard mainly
looks for ensuring water for drinking and enhanced livelihoods. This assurance
is not limited for the current generation but should also be given to the next
generations. It is in these regards that the standard looks for the sustainability
of the water sources, indirectly addressing the environmental sustainability.

Equity: water is a natural resource necessary to sustain life
and livelihoods. Model bill by central government recognizes the groundwater as
common pool resource. The water governance standard also recognizes water as
common pool resource. The standard recognizes need of equity measures in local
groundwater governance. Various layers of the term equity including social
equity, gender equity, equity in access to natural resources are addressed
accordingly in the standard.

Transparency – Accountability – Participation: observing
transparency, motivating participation in the governance process and the
related activities enhances accountability of the system. The standard cautiously
draws transparency and participation considerations as per the relevance.  



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