Mapping Water & Food: Global Challenge, Local Solutions

World food security is threatened by many factors, important among them being the diminishing freshwater supply for irrigated crops. Irrigated land devoted to food production is approximately one percent of total land-producing food, yet this area accounts for almost 1/3 of total world food supplies. Water drawn from aquifers accounts for the bulk of total irrigated water supply. Yet many of these aquifers around the world are being rapidly depleted, and the cost of water withdrawal, even in the presence of government subsidies, has reached a point in many cases where it is no longer profitable, if in fact feasible, to sustain historic levels of withdrawal to produce food. This project focused on the Punjab area of India where in the presence of electricity subsidies the withdrawal of water has exceeded recharge, resulting in a 10 m lowering of the water table since 1979 and an accelerating rate of depletion. Since both electricity and water are an economy-wide resource with country-wide implications to other sectors of the economy, a modern dynamic general equilibrium framework was employed to carry out the analysis. Unique to the study is the incorporation of a hydrological model of the aquifer that captures the main features of water withdrawal and water recharge into the general equilibrium model. The analysis suggests that the irrigated sector of the Punjab economy cannot be sustained at the current rate of water withdrawal and that further subsidies to cover the increased cost of water withdrawal will only exacerbate the longer-run problem of sustainability, causing a reduction in economy-wide food production, and the pushing of resources out of irrigated crop production in Punjab to other sectors of the Indian economy.

Year 1 Progress Report (January 2012)

Researchers on this team are developing scenarios to better understand the linkages between the regional Indian economy and the hydrologic system on which it depends. They have identified hydrologic trends and intensified variability in monsoonal rainfall in the agricultural regions of Telangana and Punjab and are using the contrasting hydrogeologies of these regions (shallow vs. deep aquifers) to study linkages among hydrologic change, agricultural practices and regional economics. During the summer of 2012, the team will be in India visiting the research sites, gathering additional data and meeting with Indian collaborators whose local knowledge is essential to the success of this project.

Final Report & Results

This grant was an opportunity to collaborate with colleagues at the University of Minnesota, Indian Institute of Technology in Hyberabad, and International Water Management Institute in Delhi. The project supported the research of one graduate student and one post-doctoral research associate. The work of this project contributes to understanding the pressing problem of groundwater exploitation in India and its relation to environmental sustainability, food supply, and overall economic growth in the region.

Project Lead