As the world turns its attention to the environmental challenges laid out in the UN’s “Interconnected Disaster Risks” report, the rice farmers of Punjab, India, are living through a water crisis that threatens their livelihoods. Punjab, often referred to as the breadbasket of India, is witnessing a rapid depletion of groundwater, which is not being replenished at a sustainable rate.
Amandeep Singh, a local farmer, notes that a decade ago, groundwater was accessible at depths of 9 to 12 meters, but now it has receded to 18 to 21 meters. The scarcity of water is not a distant worry but a current struggle, with the cost of reaching groundwater becoming prohibitively expensive. Singh warns that without water, the future of farming and landownership is at stake.
Harjeet Singh, another farmer, echoes this sentiment. He has seen the level at which groundwater can be reached drop from 4.5 meters to 21 meters within seven to eight years. The falling water levels directly impact his income, and the cost of installing a borewell is beyond his means. He stresses the importance of collective action and the urgent need to save rainwater before the groundwater is completely exhausted.
Vishvajeet Singh Jyani combines traditional farming wisdom with modern technology to address these challenges. Observing erratic rainfall and unreliable water sources, his family farm has implemented an integrated water management system. This system stores canal water, supplements it with groundwater when necessary, and conserves excess rainfall. Jyani is optimistic about the measures taken to aid groundwater recharge and is satisfied with the current accessibility of water on his farm.
The state and central governments have begun to recognize the severity of the situation, offering incentives for farmers to cultivate less water-intensive crops. Jyani believes that providing farmers with tangible benefits for crop diversification is key to preserving groundwater and ensuring the sustainability of agriculture in Punjab.
The stories of these farmers underscore the urgent need for comprehensive water management strategies to secure the future of agriculture in regions like Punjab, where water scarcity poses a grave threat to the community and the nation’s food security.