Measuring the impacts of irrigation investments in West Bengal

The growing influence of climate impact and the erratic nature of rainfall has resulted in severe crop failures and loss of livelihoods in West Bengal. The dry-subhumid regions of western West Bengal receive water only during the monsoon (Kharif season – June to Sept), limiting farmers to grow one crop per year under rainfed conditions.

The major irrigation projects in the region are quite old, with over 70 years since they were built. There is an urgent need to cater to the irrigation demands of small and marginal farmers in the rainfed, single-cropped areas of West Bengal currently not served by existing major irrigation schemes.

The West Bengal Accelerated Development of Minor Irrigation Project (WBADMIP) was implemented in 2012 to improve livelihoods and food production. Initially funded by the World Bank from 2012 to 2019, the project has continued with funds from the state of West Bengal. The small-scale irrigation projects include check dams, water detention structures, pump-dug wells, micro irrigation, lift irrigation, sprinklers, tube wells, and solar irrigation in the catchment areas of three river basins – Kangsabati, Roopnarayan, and Damodar.

Interaction with the members of the Keyatpur Water Users Association.

The new irrigation schemes have allowed farmers to grow high-value crops, even during dry seasons. While the investments show positive benefits, the information on how hydrologic, socio-economic and livelihood impacts  (including the increase in water use, food production and household income) vary with project type and management is not clearly understood. To gain a better understanding of the overall impacts of various irrigation investments in West Bengal ….,Australian Water Partnership funded a study titled, ‘Water Accounting in Practice – From Basin to field-level Applications and Training’. .

This study is implemented by AWP Partners, International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and Alluvium Group (Alluvium). A Monitoring and Evaluation framework has been consultatively established to understand the impact of irrigation investment at multiple scales. The framework primarily draws on two types of data: i) from across scales combining remote sensing, hydro-meteorological and on the ground data; and ii) a socio-economic survey and economic analysis to understand the social and financial impacts of the schemes. The results from this study will provide several new insights into how irrigation schemes are managed; how to maximize the benefits and minimize the negative impacts of investments in current and future irrigation projects.

In the water accounting and productivity analysis, the impact of irrigation schemes (major, medium, and micro) on water availability is assessed on a basin scale. The impact of medium and micro irrigations on water use efficiency and savings is analysed at the catchment level. The impact of minor irrigation schemes on water productivity, incomes, and livelihoods is examined at the field-to-irrigation scheme scale.

According to Telegraph India, the irrigation projects have, “increased farmers’ income and savings. The savings are reinvested in education and health while higher income has reduced migration. One of the major contributions of the programme has been women’s empowerment. Overall, the programme has developed community capacity to govern institutions and plunge into entrepreneurship.”

Minor irrigation scheme (check dam) filled with water during the dry season in western West Bengal, India.

In the socio-economic analysis, a rapid cost-benefit analysis (CBA) model is being developed to compare the net changes in economic value from moving from dryland to irrigated cropping. A socio-economic survey of the Water Users Associations and individual farmers will inform the CBA model. The survey is currently being prepared and will be carried out over the next few months. The results will be analysed and shared once available.

In May 2023, IWMI and Alluvium conducted the project inception and Monitoring and Evaluation framework development workshop with officials from WBADMIP, the irrigation department, and beneficiaries.

Feedback from the members of the Water Users Associations has been positive:  

“Before 2017, the situation was worse. We used to depend on rainfed agriculture and cultivated single crops that were too unpredictable. A 5 HP pump was set up under WBADMIP in 2017-18. Initially, a Water Users Association was formed with 30 members, and it has now grown to 86 members, out of which 29 are female. Villagers are willing to join because they found it profitable; they can cultivate rice two times a year and vegetables throughout the year. We can now irrigate in both Kharif and Rabi cultivation seasons,” said Mr Gopal Chandra Jana, president of Keyatpur Water Users Association.

Similarly, Mr Prabath Mishra, WBADMIP Project Director said, “by measuring the impacts of all these schemes, you can obtain valuable insights into their effectiveness and make informed decisions to improve overall productivity. This discussion and understanding of the methodology will undoubtedly contribute to more efficient and impactful water management strategies.”

Featured image: Micro irrigation scheme at Keyatpur, West Bengal.
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