Water shortage could cut India’s food exports, minister warns

Reuters . New Delhi | Published at 12:00am on June 25, 2019

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A file photo shows a man walking through the dried-up Puzhal reservoir, on the outskirts in Chennai, India, June 20, 2019. — Reuters photo

A water shortage could cut food exports from India, which has emerged as a leading supplier of a number of food products to the world, the water resources minister warned on Monday.

From being a food-deficit country, India has achieved the distinction of being a top exporter of food but to retain that edge it needs to revive its reservoirs, lakes and other traditional water bodies, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat said in a statement.

‘Judicious use of water can save India from future calamities,’ Shekhawat said.

India, a leading producer of an array of food commodities, is sitting on large stockpiles of rice, wheat and sugar.

It emerged as the world’s biggest rice exporter in 2012, selling nearly 12 million tonnes of the staple annually on the world market, including 4 million tonnes of the aromatic basmati variety, exclusively grown in India and Pakistan. But rice is a water intensive crop.

Government research bodies and experts say Indian farmers need 4,500 to 5,000 litres of water to grow one kg of rice. Water is typically scarce in the summer months, but the situation has been particularly grim this year in western and southern states that received below average rainfall in the 2018 monsoon season.

This year, the monsoon has delivered 38 per cent lower-than normal, or average, rainfall since the start of the season on June 1, according to data compiled by the state-run India Meteorological Department.

After a weak start, monsoon rains, that water half of the country’s farmlands lacking irrigation, have covered nearly half of the country and conditions are favourable for further advances into the central and western parts this week, a weather department official told Reuters on Monday.

India’s water demand is projected to be double its supply by 2030, the National Institute for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog said in a report last year.