Khariff has began and farmers in Telangana likely to go for cotton crop this Khariff season. Farmers may not realize the fact that Telangana exports enormous amounts of water when it exports raw materials such as Cotton.
Fact: 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 liters of water every day for a year. Meanwhile, more than 100 million people in India do not have access to safe water.
Almost 15 Lakh Hectares of land will go for Cotton crop this season just in Telangana.
According to Guardian, Cotton is by no means India’s largest export commodity – petroleum products followed by gems and jewelry 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, jewelry, toys and even electricity. This water that goes largely unseen is called virtual water
What’s easy to forget is that virtual water is as real as the water you drink. Producing 1kg of cotton in India consumes 22,500 liters of water, on average, according to research done by the Water Footprint Network. In other words, this 22,500 liters of water cannot be used for anything else because it has either evaporated or is too contaminated for reuse.
By exporting more than 7.5m bales of cotton in 2013, India also exported about 38bn cubic meters of virtual water. Those 38bn cubic meters 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.
What Kisaan Cell Can Do?
Cotton doesn’t usually consume this much water. The global average water footprint for 1kg of cotton is 10,000 liters. Even with irrigation, US cotton uses just 8,000 liters 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 like Telangana and the government subsidizes the costs of farmers’ electric pumps, placing no limits on the volumes of groundwater extracted at little or no cost. Congress party Kisaan Cell should educate farmers on this. Congress Party Manifesto for 2019 should reflect this. This has created a widespread pattern of unsustainable water use and strained electrical grids.
Recent reports show that India’s water consumption is far too high. In 54% of the country 40 to 80% of annually available surface water is used. To be sustainable, consumption should be no more than 20% in humid zones and 5% in dry areas, to maintain the ecological function of rivers and wetlands, experts say (pdf).
Telangana’s extensive groundwater resources are also rapidly being depleted, experiencing declining water levels. By 2030 demand will outstrip supply by 50%, according to the World Resources Institute.
“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 spectra 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 meters 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.