Groundwater Decline and Prolonged Drought Could Reduce Vigour, Enhance Vulnerability to Diseases and Pests and Kill Perennial Horticultural Crops: Needs Urgent Policy Intervention
Perennial horticulture in India has undergone a change from rainfed system to drip fertigation systems and from isolated hedge and bund trees to high intensity orchard systems with enhanced number of trees per unit area. In several parts, particularly in the Deccan plateau, the system has now become completely dependent on water pumped from tube wells. Severe competition for water from tube wells makes farmers to devote more water for cash rich annual crops and even sell water for city dwellers nearby. As a consequence, the groundwater level in the past three decades has fallen from few feet to above thousand feet. At several places it has crossed the “peak water”. Frequent and prolonged exposure of fruit trees and nuts to drought coupled with ground water depletion has led to soil profile drying leading to reduced vigour and enhanced vulnerability to diseases and pests. This has led to withering of fruit and nut trees. Perennial crops are likely to become increasingly maladapted to their environment, particularly in the earlier period of climate change they are more likely to be attacked by diseases and insects. Coconuts, areca nuts and mango trees have died in several places and the government constituted committees have recommended compensation to the farmers. As a country, we have dramatically increased our reliance on groundwater. 175 million Indians are now fed with food produced with the unsustainable use of groundwater. This increase has dried up rivers and lakes, because there is a hydrologic connection between groundwater and surface water. Yet the legal rules governing water use usually ignore the link between law and science. The issue needs thorough examination and needs policy interventions to come out of this vicious circle.
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