World Water Day: the cost of cotton in water-challenged India

http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/mar/20/cost-cotton-water-challenged-india-world-water-day

Severe water scarcity in India is exacerbated by the cotton industry. Concerns are high, but are businesses, consumers and government doing enough?

Women and children gather water from pumps in India
More than 100 million people in India do not have access to safe water. Photograph: Jack Laurenson /Alamy

The water consumed to grow India’s cotton exports in 2013 would be enough to supply 85% of the country’s 1.24 billion people with 100 litres of water every day for a year. Meanwhile, more than 100 million people in India do not have access to safe water.

Virtual water

Cotton is by no means India’s largest export commodity – petroleum products followed by gems and jewellery follow closely behind. All of these exports require water to produce, and the quantities needed are staggering. Not only does it take water to grow anything, it also takes water to make anything: cars, furniture, books, electronics, buildings, jewellery, toys and even electricity. This water that goes largely unseen is called virtual water.

By exporting more than 7.5m bales of cotton in 2013, India also exported about 38bn cubic metres of virtual water. Those 38bn cubic metres consumed in production of all that cotton weren’t used for anything else. Yet, this amount of water would more than meet the daily needs of 85% of India’s vast population for a year.

Doing things differently

Cotton doesn’t usually consume this much water. The global average water footprint for 1kg of cotton is 10,000 litres. Even with irrigation, US cotton uses just 8,000 litres per kg. The far higher water footprint for India’s cotton is due to inefficient water use and high rates of water pollution — about 50% of all pesticides used (pdf) in the country are in cotton production.

Most of India’s cotton is grown in drier regions and the government subsidises the costs of farmers’ electric pumps, placing no limits on the volumes of groundwater extracted at little or no cost. This has created a widespread pattern of unsustainable water use and strained electrical grids.

“India’s water problems are well-known in the country and pollution is everywhere. Disagreement lies in the solutions,” says Arjen Hoekstra, professor in water management at the University of Twente in the Netherlands.

The new Indian government’s solution to the spectre of growing severe water scarcity is the $168bn (£113bn) National River Linking Project, which will link 30 rivers with 15,000km of canals. This will transfer 137bn cubic metres of water annually from wetter regions to drier ones. However, the country exports far more water than that, in the form of virtual water, in cotton, sugar, cereals, motor vehicles and its many other exports.

Faltering forward

All of these exports could be produced using far less water, says Hoekstra, who pioneered the water footprint concept. “It’s not just improving water efficiency that could dramatically reduce India’s water consumption, it’s growing and producing things in the right place,” he said.

Most of India’s water-rich crops such as cereals and cotton are grown in the dry states of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, which have very high evaporation rates, unlike wet states such as Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa. This perverse situation greatly exacerbates India’s water problems and is largely the result of government policies, Hoekstra’s 2009 study (pdf) states.

“There’s a lot of concern about water scarcity, but little interest in changing consumption patterns,” Hoekstra said.

Rather than matching production of goods to the sustainable use of existing water resources, India, like governments around the world, hopes to use engineering to increase the amount of water, said Hoekstra. Instead, India could grow cotton in less arid regions with more efficient irrigation and fewer pesticides to greatly reduce the crop’s impact on water resources.

  • World Water Day on Sunday 22 March 2015 coincides this year with the final year of the International Decade for Action “Water for Life” 2005-2015. The main official UN event is being celebrated in New Delhi, India.

Combine Harvester vs Manual Harvesting in Paddy

https://www.facebook.com/nandish.churchigundi
Combine Harvester
Is a machine that harvests grains crops, combining three separate operations like reaping, threshing & winnowing into a single process. The straw left behind on the field can be used as a mulch or bailed for feed and bedding for live stock.

Tractor mounted on the top of the machine having a wide cutter bar moving on tractor tyres are called as wheel type / tractor driven / tractor mounted combine harvesters. Standard weight of the machine will be 3,850 kgs + tractor engine weight 3,000 kgs + grain weight 700 kgs, total weight around 8,000 kgs ( 8 tons ). It is much more than a weight of huge African elephant. It can be operated only on dry fields, can harvest one acre of paddy field in 30-90 mins, charges are 1,400 rupees per hour and the machine cost around 16 lakhs. All its weight falls on its 16 inches tyres, soil gets compacted and hardened like our tar roads when we moved on our fields. It is so close to road rollers moving while making the roads.

Track type combine harvesters have a inbuilt engine, uniform weight distribution of 3,500 kgs to 5,500 kgs (depending on the companies) on 6 feet length x 1 1/2 width rubber tracks made easy to move even on wet paddy fields. They take 40-180 mins to harvest one acre of paddy field, 2,400 rupees per hour and machine costs around 20-25 lakhs.

Combine harvester companies says these are the most economically important labor saving invention, cheap, easy & time saving.

But, the problem is we need to collect the straw from the field, grains are to be taken to drying yard to remove excess moisture in the sunlight to store, need to wait for more than 8 months to dry further in the gunny bags for milling process to get raw rice. Again we have to dry one more time to get below 10% moisture of paddy before milling process. These are all the indirect disadvantages that we need to look for.

Due to abrupt stoppage of seasoning the grains with these combines, we will loose 5% of yield from unmature grains + 10% of waste on the ground in this operation. Finally we have to compromise with keeping, cooking, texture, taste, aroma & yield of rice.

In 1999 am the first person to introduce these combines in our area, after realizing the fact, this year we harvested manually in 6 acres i.e. 1/3 of my paddy growing area. Next year am planning to harvest manually and say goodbye to combines.

Tractor driven combine harvester

Kubota track type harvester – Japanese technology weighs around 3,350 kgs with grain full tank
Reel & cutter bar in action, Track type combine harvester
Grains storing at tank
Unloading to the tractor, it can rotate 360 degrees