Despite being heavily dependent on groundwater, India has no sound policy governing its extraction and use. Agriculture has no accountability in terms of the amount and patterns of water use, leading to wasteful and inefficient agriculture and irrigation practices. Industry, despite being regulated and bound by compliance norms, is not assured of the long term sustainable availability of the resource.
SABMiller India recognises that brewing more beer using less water is crucial for the long-term development of their business and the health of surrounding communities. For this reason, the company is working with local partners in Rajasthan to protect the water supply for the Rochees brewery and local farmers. The brewery is based in Neemrana, District Alwar, Rajasthan, an industrial town located between Delhi and Jaipur. There is looming water scarcity in the region, which threatens the livelihoods of small and medium farm holders. There is also a potential reputational risk to businesses such as SABMiller India through the perception that industry, and specifically brewers in the region, are water guzzlers.
Most of the area around Neemrana is dependent on agriculture and the region survives mainly on groundwater resources, which are recharged only through traditional rainwater tanks. Losses through evaporation and run off are very high, and the shallow groundwater aquifers, as well as some of the deeper layers of groundwater, have dried up. To make matters worse, there is little evidence of water conservation, harvesting and recharge. Traditional water storage structures used by the community for domestic and cattle uses are poorly maintained and some even destroyed, and the groundwater management plan for the region does not set out concrete solutions to the problem. A combination of recharge and high water use efficiency in agriculture can enable water resource sustainability in the region. Thus the region is in dire need of non-conventional and innovative technical solutions for recharge and concerted efforts to enhance water use efficiency in all uses but particularly in agriculture.
Ground water management Pilot
In response to these issues, SABMiller India has taken the lead to develop a participatory ground water management pilot project on a target area of about 27,000 hectares. The initiative showcases recharge technologies, irrigation techniques and benefits of IWRM practices.
The programme is being implemented by partners who are credible, have the relevant technical expertise along with the outreach capabilities to mobilise the communities and longstanding on ground experience. These are the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) – Country’s apex Industry body also with strong links to farmers programmes and Humana People to People an organisation with expertise in capacity building.
The efficacy of all three project activities has been demonstrated successfully. Two sets of structures have been built; three in ridge areas with combined storage volume of over 50,000 KL, and two in plain areas with combined storage volume of about 6,500 KL. The former facilitates deep recharge. And the latter soil moisture enhancement with part of the water getting deep recharged through nearby bore-wells. In a normal rainfall year, given the rainfall pattern, the structures get refilled about 6 times, thereby creating deep recharge and infiltration potential of about 300,000 KL and 39,000 KL respectively, which is more than the maximum annual requirement of the local SABMiller Unit. In 2010, following an above normal rainfall, a net rise of approximately 56 feet (18m) in local deep groundwater levels near three structures built in the ridge area was recorded. As for the structures built in plain areas, farmers have reported a water level rise of about 14-15 ft following a normal monsoon. This is apart from facilitating a winter crop on the basis of soil moisture without any applied irrigation.
Apart from the above five structures, one more structure (gabion technology) has been constructed to arrest siltation in the 2 structures built in plain areas. A 6th structure, using an innovative technology being termed as “modified gabion” structure, along with a recharge shaft for enabling deep recharge in plain areas is being constructed. The modified gabion structure will bring down the cost of water harvesting structures substantially.
Water saving in agriculture is 80,340 KL on 193 ha area covered under crop demonstration trials. Crop productivity has been enhanced by over 20%.
- Focus on increasing water use efficiency in agriculture. Demonstration of economical, suitable for local hydrogeological conditions and easy replicable ground water recharge technologies.
- Strengthening existing partnership with the Central Ground Water Board ( CGWB ) and forging new ones with the stakeholders such as development organisations, donors to help scale up the programme.
- Establishing a Water Resource Centre (underway at the brewery premises) which will function as natural resource data management system for making available information for planning and implementation of water augmentation projects and decision support system for decisions on water entitlements and annual allocations to different uses.
- Creation of village level learning centres as knowledge centres for enhancement of land and water use productivities for enabling water conservation and sustainable livelihood on small farms.
- Creation of various support services for agriculture such as inputs and marketing linkages, farm mechanisation, financial services, weather insurance, etc