Sustaining Agriculture through Modernization of Irrigation Tanks: An Opportunity and Challenge for Tamilnadu, India

V. Anbumozhi, K. Matsumoto, E. Yamaji


The importance of controlled water supply is indispensable for the sustainability in low land
paddy production, which varies enormously from region to region and country to country. What
essential is the degree of importance given to the three elements of water management namely (i)
resource management within the watershed (ii) conveyance to the crop fields and (iii) management
within farm fields. While water losses in the paddy fields are to be discouraged, they need not
necessarily amount to the losses to the watershed as a whole, if they are converted into groundwater
and pumped back to the surface. In India, the second largest rice producing country of the world, 80%
of water is used for irrigation.. There are around 40,000 irrigation tanks in Tamilnadu, India, irrigating
about 0.63 million ha of paddy fields. Whatever, the shortcoming at their creation, existing irrigation
tanks remain as an asset to the sustainability of paddy agriculture in Tamilnadu, provided their live
storage is not reduced and the related irrigation facilities are not deteriorated to serve the purpose. Past
experiences show that availability of surface water resources are not always reliable, which has turned
the paddy farmers attention to the exploitation of ground water on a very much larger but manageable
scale. The objective of this paper is to bring out the challenges and opportunities of the development
strategies for the sustainability of paddy agriculture in the developing countries, (based on the
experiences in Tamilnadu, India), where natural resources are plenty but financial resources are scarce.
The performance of various types of small scale irrigation tanks in Tamilnadu are evaluated for their
role in lowland paddy rice production, which lead to the invention of development strategies. These
development strategies have both short term and long-term technical solutions. The short-term
opportunities include on farm development works through modernization of existing irrigation
facilities/structures and conjunctive use of surface and ground water resources. The long term
challenge consist of establishing water grids connecting these modernized tanks in a chain to mitigate
drought and flood at local level as well as encouraging the farmers participation in planning and
management of these irrigation facilities for sustaining the paddy agriculture. It was found that
evolving a comprehensive but integrated modernization strategies for the tanks is a complex task, due
to the dynamic interactions of water which is routed through catchment, tank and field levels as well
as because of other pertaining land based issues. Initial evaluations of such integrated modernization
approaches adopted through Pilot studies indicate better environmental and economic benefits,
contributing for sustainable development of paddy agriculture.

Full Text: