Increasing water availability and security for Indian smallholder farmers

The Australian Water Partnership (AWP) and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) are supporting a group of Australian experts to collaborate with counterparts in India to increase the availability and security of water for India’s smallholder farmers.

Smallholders operating in rainfed agricultural systems in India are highly vulnerable to rainfall variability, with water a critical limiting factor in these regions. The activity aims to improve the livelihoods of 1.4 million farmers in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Karnataka by introducing improved water management and efficiency.

The project commenced in November 2020 and enables Australian partners—led by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) with Western Sydney University and the South Australian Research and Development Institute—to work with the National Rainfed Area Authority in India over a three-year period.

The partnership will support five large developmental projects related to rainfed agriculture: the Andhra Pradesh Drought Mitigation Project; Andhra Pradesh Zero Budget Natural Farming; Watershed projects in Karnataka supported by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development; Integrated Farming Systems project in Odisha; and Odisha Millets Mission.

Project site locations in three Indian states Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Odisha (credit: Google Maps, July 2021)
Project site locations in three Indian states Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Odisha (credit: Google Maps, July 2021)

Partners delivered a series of online learning workshops for government and NGOs between December 2020 and January 2021. Workshop content was framed around the four key elements of climate risk management, soil biology, strategic irrigation and groundwater, with discussions on how these aspects can be integrated to achieve better outcomes for farmers.

The workshops helped to build and strengthen collaboration, promote practical experimentation and adaptive management, and support equitable access to relevant knowledge and tools. Restrictions with international travel due to COVID-19 resulted in the workshop being delivered online, however, this presented an opportunity to develop and test new approaches to capacity building, learning and engagement. Future workshops will build on learnings to foster increased interaction through improved technology and workshop structure.

Technology solutions being utilised in the project include monitoring tools developed by the Virtual Irrigation Academy, such as the Wetting Front Detector (WFD) and the Chameleon Wi-Fi System. The WFD measures the depth of water and the level of salt and nitrate in the root zone. The Chameleon uploads water data to the cloud-based VIA platform to monitor and analyse water productivity on farms.

Farmers from Mallasandra village in Karnataka learning how the Wetting Front Detector works (credit: WASSAN)
Farmers from Vanipenta village in Andhra Pradesh after installing a Chameleon Wi-Fi System (credit: WASSAN)

Speaking at the project’s inaugural meeting, Joint Secretary Shri Umakant from the Department of Land Resources within the Government of India’s Ministry of Rural Development said, “Given the complexity of managing scarce water resources, the knowledge and expertise from academic institutions, civil society and the farming community could play a great role in addressing these challenges and finding suitable solutions.”

The project is one of many AWP-funded initiatives under the Australia-India Memorandum of Understanding on Water Resource Management—a bilateral agreement to facilitate cooperation through sharing of policy and technical experiences between the two countries.

Project Enquiries:

Dr Uday Nidumolu
Principal Research Scientist, Climate Smart Agriculture/Agriculture Systems Modelling
Agriculture & Food, CSIRO
E: contact online
T: +61 8 8303 8746

Feature photo: Bullocks resting under a Neem tree (credit: Uday Nidumolu, CSIRO)
Skip to content