The impact of intensive farming systems on groundwater availability in dryland environments : A watershed level study from Telangana, India

Kuchimanchi, Bhavana Rao; Ripoll-Bosch, Raimon; Steenstra, Fokje A.; Thomas, Renie; Oosting, Simon J.


Intensification of agriculture in India has increased food self-sufficiency. However, it has also led to unwanted environmental impacts, particularly the increased pressure on groundwater resources. These impacts are most severe in the dryland regions of the country. Therefore, this paper aims to understand the impact of intensified forms of agriculture on the availability of water resources in a dryland watershed in Telangana, India. To achieve this, we first assessed the water use of three main farming systems in the study region. We then calculated the water balance at the watershed level to understand the agricultural impact on groundwater availability within the watershed. The three farming systems studied were the crop without livestock system (CWL; 48% of households), the crop-dairy system (CD; 38% of households), and the crop with small ruminants system (CSR; 6% of households). The results indicated that the CD system used the highest quantity of water (19,668 m3/household/y), followed by the CSR (8645 m3/household/y) and CWL (4403 m3/household/y). CWL and CD systems comprise 86% of the households, making these systems the largest water users. Finally, the water balance of the whole watershed showed a deficit of – 13.9 Mm3/y. Cultivation of water-demanding non-dryland crops, increased specialization of farming systems, and management practices in current farming systems are the factors causing over-utilization of water and subsequent groundwater depletion. We also realize that the current policy environment and other drivers such as decreasing landholdings and market forces, also induce increased water use in production. We, therefore, conclude that there is a need to promote agro-ecologically suitable farming strategies, improve the existing technological options and introduce new policies that reduce the over-use of water resources for sustainable agricultural production in dryland regions.