You can grow wheat, rice with 40% less water-research shows

Researchers from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the Borlaug Institute for South Asia (BISA), Punjab Agricultural University and Thapar University have demonstrated how farmers can grow rice and wheat “using 40 percent less water, through an innovative combination of existing irrigation and cropping techniques.”

The result of their research shows that farmers “can grow similar or better yields than conventional growing methods, and still make a profit.”

Although the study was conducted in India’s northwest region where rice and wheat are grown, it could set precedent for similar trials in countries like Nigeria where desert and climate change pose a huge threat to farmers and national food security.

CIMMYT has reported that “the researchers tested a range of existing solutions to determine the optimal mix of approaches that will help farmers save water and money. They found that rice and wheat grown using a “sub-surface drip fertigation system” combined with conservation agriculture approaches used at least 40 percent less water and needed 20 percent less Nitrogen-based fertilizer, for the same amount of yields under flood irrigation, and still be cost-effective for farmers.

Sub-surface drip fertigation systems involve belowground pipes that deliver precise doses of water and fertilizer directly to the plant’s root zone, avoiding evaporation from the soil. The proposed system can work for both rice and wheat crops without the need to adjust pipes between rotations, saving money and labour. But a transition to more efficient approaches will require new policies and incentives.”

The study, which was also reported in the Journal of Agricultural Water Management ( Volume 216, 1 May 2019, Pages 273-283) noted that “The future of South Asia’s rice-wheat (RW) production system is at stake due to continuously depleting aquifers and increasing pressure on underground water under projected climate change scenario.

Conventional management factors such as flood irrigation, intensive tillage and residue burning are threatening the sustainability of RW system. With the increasing adoption of conservation agriculture (CA), sub-surface drip fertigation (SSDF) provides an exceptional opportunity for complementing irrigation water saving benefits.

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