Brief Project

In a predominantly Agricultural State like Tamilnadu, there is need for intensifying efforts to improve productivity, and sustainable farm income. Long-term growth in agriculture depends in large part on increasing the efficiency and productivity of use of water. A concomitant need in this area is the strengthening and integrating of institutional structures which can help small and marginal farmers access responsive irrigation management and improved agriculture practices.

Faster growth in agriculture is central to sustainable development and poverty reduction in Tamilnadu. Although agriculture accounts for only 15.7 percent of total GSDP, farm income accounts for about half of household income for 35 million people (56 percent of the state’s population) who live in rural areas. Much of this rural population is poor, with estimates ranging from 20.6% to 31% of rural population. For the poorest rural quintile (approximately 1.5 million households, or 7.5 million people), more than three-quarters of income is derived from agriculture, with agricultural wage labour alone accounting for half of household income. Given the importance of agriculture in the incomes of the poor in Tamilnadu, growth in labour-intensive agriculture could further reduce rural poverty through higher yields to agricultural producers, higher real wages to agricultural labourers, and increased income and employment opportunities with forward and backward links to the rural non-farm sector.

Tamilnadu is one of the driest states in India, averaging only 925 millimeters of rainfall a year. Per capita availability of water resources in Tamilnadu (population about 62 million) is only 900 cubic meters a year, compared with 2,200 cubic meters for all of India. The state’s dry season lasts five months (January through May) even in good years, and severe droughts occur in 3 of 10 years, severely limiting cultivation of crops between June and September. A recent series of droughts and water shortages has highlighted the importance of good water resources and irrigation management. Tamilnadu’s geographic area can be grouped into 17 river basins (127 Sub Basins) a majority of which are water-stressed. There are 61 major reservoirs, about 40,000 tanks (traditional water harvesting structures) and about 3 million wells, that heavily utilize the available surface water (24.2 BCM) and groundwater (22.4 BCM). Agriculture is the single largest consumer of water in the state, using 75% of the state’s water. Irrigation through a combination of canals, wells, and tanks increases the reliability and availability of water for farming and is essential for cultivating crops in much of state. Approximately 30% of the net irrigated area of 30 lakh hectares is watered by canals and 21% by tanks, while 49% is fed by wells. The remaining area is irrigated by other sources such as streams and springs.

The Tamil Nadu Government has been engaged with this critical challenge and has being evolving various responses over time.

An Expert Committee on “Development and Management of Water Resources” constituted as per G.O. Ms. No. 332PW(R1) Dept. dated 6.7.2000 observed that bringing additional area into cultivation is remote but the challenge is how best to bridge the gap in cultivation by reducing demand, by effective water management and by adoption of modern agricultural techniques (Micro Irrigation etc.). The Committee recommended Integrated Water Resources Management & converging various Departments for development and management of water resources in Tamilnadu as the desired option.

With Agriculture sector facing major constraints due to dilapidated irrigation infrastructure, coupled with water scarcity (both quantity and quality) and growing demands from industry and domestic users, long term growth in agriculture and rural income depends in large part on increasing efficiency and effectiveness in the use of water. Increased agricultural diversification and private investments in higher value processing are likely to generate new rural non-farm employment opportunities and raise rural incomes. Increased availability of water and greater efficiency of water use through widespread adoption of drip and sprinkler irrigation could enable cultivation of crops over larger area, year round, providing employment in agricultural production and processing, benefiting the rural poor.

It is important to ensure that the ultimate outcome of irrigated agriculture is food security and improved farm incomes.


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