Eliminating hunger and malnutrition has been a pertinent challenge for India since Independence. Despite the tremendous growth and phenomenal industrial and economic performance, India is still home to 190.7 million under nourished people (FAO and UN, 2014, The State of Food Insecurity in the World), a quarter of all undernourished population in the world. Moreover, projections of India’s population reaching 1.6 billion by 2050 (UN, Department of Economics and Social Affairs, June 2013, World Population Prospect) shall entail much higher food requirements than today. It is of highest priority for India to ensure secure access to food by every one of its citizens, now and for the future. Climate change, resource constraints, distribution and storage are some concerns that threaten India’s food security.
Agriculture, the soul of food security, is a highly intensive resource sector. Agriculture accounts for 70 percent of total global freshwater withdrawals, making it the largest user of water. At the same time, the food production and supply chain consumes about 30 percent of total energy consumed globally (FAO 2011, Issue Paper: Energy-smart Food for People and Climate). Food security is related to the nexus between water and energy, and while water and energy are required for irrigation, energy is vital for water access, and water is critical for energy production. While water scarcity in the region increases, food price hikes and food access become grave concerns for many. A balance is crucial for the nexus approach. Agriculture is undeniably a resource intensive sector and this fact comes along with a need for efficient and effective management of finite resources, in order to ensure long term sustainability of agriculture and thus food security for all.
India is poised to lose its entire available water supply within 500 years if its current food export policy continues, a new method of calculating “virtual water” flow through trade has shown. India, in contrast, is a net exporter of water through agricultural products and the new analysis claims: “This can lead to a slow but irreversible loss of water sustainability”. India’s main exports are cereals, tea, coffee, cashew nuts and sugar, which all require vast amounts of water. The analysis concludes that the net virtual water export alone can severely impact on a nation’s long-term water sustainability.
Water shortage in India is not merely because of bad monsoon. Water is now a policy challenge. Several countries have started analysing water demand and supply in the context of agricultural, trade and industrial policies. India and China are the world's biggest countries (in terms of population) and their water policies are the subject of global studies. Studies of Stockholm Water Institute and International Water Institute (available on the internet) show that China is managing its water resources better. Rainfall in India is 50 per cent higher than that in China, but India's water resources are 67 per cent of those of China's and per capita water availability is declining faster than that in China.
Looking at the exploitation of groundwater, river water and other water resources, India needs a comprehensive policy change on its water usage. This is essential because India hosts a massive virtual water trade at the domestic level, which involves the cultivation of crops like cotton, sugarcane and paddy in low rainfall areas of north-west and their supply to eastern states.
Through this debate, we would like to address the following questions:
- What policy interventions (trade, investment, natural capital, climate) are needed to build co-ordination among water, energy and food sectors to address the issue of resource conflicts?
- What are the technology solutions in agriculture that can support in attaining optimum efficiency and utilisation of resources along with the balance in the nexus? Are there market mechanisms required to mainstream such technologies?
- What are the strategies needed to prevent incoherence of macro policies with local problems of resource availability and usage?
- How can farmer ensure efficient use of resource keeping the Water-Energy-Food nexus in perspective?