Turning to India for insights on water use
Is drip irrigation an effective tool to increase crop production while conserving water?
Pursuing that question will take IonE Global Water Initiative lead scientist Kate Brauman halfway around the world this month as she travels to Tamil Nadu state in India with funding from an IonE Mini Grant to explore opportunities to study irrigation water use by smallholder farmers. The question is an important one because 80 percent of the world’s crops are grown by small “family” farms, estimated at 500 million by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and efficient water use will become increasingly important in years to come as demand for food increases.
In India, Brauman will visit with MyRain, a business that was nurtured by IonE’s Acara program that disseminates drip irrigation technology and knowledge in southern India.
“Of all the small farms in the world, a quarter of them are in India, so learning from MyRain’s customers would make a good research case,” says Brauman. “So little is known about their water use and the constraints to irrigation. This field trip will help me understand what I don’t know and which questions to ask, and decide the feasibility of a research project there.”
GWI seeks to understand the pressure points of water use and availability around the world and help inform water management decisions. MyRain was the winner of the 2010 Acara Challenge, a student competition that supports viable start-up businesses that aim to solve social or environmental problems. Brauman will take advantage of the relationships MyRain has established with smallholder farmers to find out why they chose to purchase drip irrigation tools, how the choice is affecting their water consumption and crop productivity, and what constraints to irrigation they face.
Brauman says the project is a testimonial to the value of IonE’s efforts to connect people across disciplines and areas of expertise. “I would never have made the connection between my work analyzing trends in water use and a local business in India if it wasn’t for taking a coffee break with someone from Acara,” she says. “IonE is a great place for cross-pollinating ideas.”
IonE Mini Grants are small grants of up to $3,000 to help spur collaboration across disciplines, units and campuses at the University of Minnesota. Read about other ambitious (and cool) Mini Grant projects >here.
Photo by Sarath Kuchi (Flickr/Creative Commons)