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India’s deepening water crisis has sparked complaints from farms

RANSIH KALAN. India (AP) – Every year, Swarm Singh sows rice in its fields, knowing that a thirsty crop dries up the northern Indian Punjab from its groundwater. But Singh says he has no alternative, adding: “We prefer to plant crops that need less water.”

The 32-year-old farmer, a schoolteacher, lives in the village of Ranis Kalan in Moga Prefecture, where green fields surround its wide roads, big houses deny the fact that the region is India’s busiest, and its once prosperous agricultural system. is now broken.

India’s water crisis is being shaken by the agrarian crisis that has been brewing for decades. There is a puzzle at its base. The government subsidizes rice cultivation in northern India, but such aquatic crops have drastically reduced groundwater levels.

One in three Ransih Kalans, home to nearly 3,000 people in the community less than 100 miles from the Indian border with Pakistan, carry flags supporting thousands of farmers in New Delhi since November to protest three laws the prime minister says Narendra Modin. modernize agriculture.

Singh says his village farmers agree on the need for change, but fear the laws will only make matters worse, leaving them at the mercy of large corporations. The laws do not address the water crisis in the region. But Singh says that if guaranteed prices for all crops become legal, farmers will quit thirsty crops.

Habitat India, one-fifth of the world’s population, has only 4% of the world’s water. But the country is the largest producer of groundwater in the world, 90% of which is used for agriculture.

The shortage is nowhere more pronounced than in Punjab, where the Indian government encouraged the cultivation of wheat and rice in the 1960s and then bought basic commodities at fixed prices to protect national resources.

Whe was a traditional crop, along with mung bean or peanut, said Singh’s father, 62-year-old Bhupinder Singh. But experts say that one pound of rice requires up to 500 gallons (2,273 liters) of water, irrigation canals can not provide. enough as more farmers switched to grain.

Farmers turned to well water. In 1997, when the government began providing free electricity to run well pumps, the Punjab rice grower launched a rocket.

Groundwater levels plummeted as groundwater pumps increased to more than 1.2 million people by 2012. And the 2017 federal report warned that the state, with a population of 27 million, would consume its groundwater by 2039.

“It’s becoming a desert,” said Kirpal Singh Aulakh, an agricultural scientist and former vice chancellor of the Punjab Agricultural University.

The impending disaster is nothing new for Singhs. They had to spend $ 6,600 to install a pump for a 200-foot (60-meter) well. And the years of planting the same crop cleared the soil of their village with nutrients, forcing them to rely on expensive fertilizers.

Rising costs have forced the family into debt, and the government’s determination to sell their crops is their only means of subsistence. “The whole of Punjab is trapped,” said the son.

Protesting farmers fear the new laws signal that the government wants to reduce its role in agriculture, that guaranteed prices for their crops will run out.

The government approves the prices of other wheat and rice crops, including corn. But Aulakh says that these products are not bought for federal reserves, վաճառ sellers in the private market pay much lower prices for them, which makes farmers feel “cheated”.

Aulakh, who has participated in government commissions to discuss crop diversity in Punjab, says farmers will switch to more suitable crops if they know they are being compensated by the government. “We can not blame the farmers,” he said.

India’s Ministry of Agriculture and Water has not responded to e-mail requests for comment.

More than 86% of Indian farmers work on less than 2 hectares (4.9 hectares). Thus, the decline of the groundwater table means that these small farmers are spending more money to pump water for their crops, which further widens the inequality. This was stated by Balsher Singh Sidhu, a PhD student at Columbia University in the United Kingdom, who studied the effects of climate change on agriculture.

Sidhu compared the available groundwater to a bank account where withdrawals are much higher than deposits. “Everyone has water today, but we can not say the same about tomorrow,” he said.

Climate change has made monsoon rains unpredictable, a lifeline for half of India’s arable land, making farmers even more dependent on groundwater. Rice requires standing water in the fields. But warmer summers add to the amount lost due to evaporation.

Mahinder Singh, a 73-year-old rice farmer, said he once tried to plant corn, but private buyers paid him only part of the price set by the government. “We will starve to death,” he added.

India’s food stocks are overflowing, leading to waste, but malnutrition is on the rise, with experts fearing future water shortages could worsen.

“Richer people can afford to buy fruits and vegetables,” said Upmanu Lal, director of the Columbia Water Center at Columbia University.

Residents of Ranis Kalan have started taking steps to save water. The villagers have set up a sewage treatment plant, and the treated water is used for irrigation. They built plants to collect rainwater and divert it to a man-made lake. In the middle is a 10-foot (3-meter) statue of a dinosaur.

It is a reminder, says 30-year-old village head Pret Interpal Singh, that if people do not spare every drop of water, people will disappear like dinosaurs.


Associated Press video journalist Rishi Lehi contributed to this report.


Follow Anirudda Gosali on Twitter: @ aniruddhg1


The Associated Press Health Science Department is supported by the Science Education Department of Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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