State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

India’s “Revolution”

Last week, NPR ran a two part story on water status in Punjab state in northern India.  This is an area where the Columbia Water Center is doing a lot of work, and the article hit on several themes important to us, particularly the fact that current policies, while promoting food security, have had devastating impacts to the groundwater status, and by extension to the  livelihoods of many rural farmers.  On NPR’s website, several people criticized the reports for confusing the relationship between the green revolution with the current groundwater depletion.  Although the exact nature of this relationship is complicated, one point is clear: as a result of the green revolution (and other deliberate policy choices) rural farmers have been encouraged to engage in practices which are decimating the groundwater supply.

It was great to see the issue of water scarcity (and its connection to agriculture) getting attention in the national press.  Most media stories, and for that matter many NGO’s, typically pay attention to drinking water and sanitation issues.  While these are important, many researchers feel that the water/agriculture/food nexus is a much more pressing issue, and this is certainly one of our contentions at the Water Center.  Since so much water is used to grow food, (over 80% globally) it makes sense to pay attention to this issue.  Kudos to NPR for raising these important points.

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15 years ago

I agree with the NPR story. Unfortunately, most cropping plants are extremely inefficient in their water use for vegetative growth and grain production. For example, next to Punjab in Pakistan, cotton, rice, and sugar cane is grown mostly for export purposes. These crops are very water intensive and deprive the society the use of water for other beneficial uses. Water should be used for food, fabric and human and livestock consumption and not for earning the dollars.