Photo Credit: Better Cotton/Vibhor Yadav Location: Kodinar, Gujarat, India. 2019. Description: Fresh groundwater pumps through a well.

This week, to celebrate World Water Week 2023, we have been placing the spotlight on Better Cotton’s work to promote water stewardship, speaking to the Alliance for Water Stewardship about their work on the revision of Better Cotton’s Principles and Criteria and resharing a piece from earlier this year dispelling misconceptions about cotton’s water consumption. To close out the week, we spoke with Saleena Pookunju, Senior Manager, Programme – India, to discuss the water challenges faced by cotton farmers in India, progress at field-level, and opportunities to collaborate.

Photo credit: Saleena Pookunju

What are some of the challenges with water that Better Cotton Farmers face in India?

Anyone who has ever attempted to have an open conversation with a farmer in India knows that within the first few minutes of the conversation, they are going to draw your attention to water – the lack of it, the untimely abundance of it, the poor quality of it!

Water is the most important yield-limiting factor for almost all our farmers. In India, of the 1.5 million hectares grown upon in 2022-23 cotton season, as part of the Better Cotton Programme, only 27% was under completely rainfed conditions. While the rest of the 73% farms have access to various sources of water, timeliness of availability and quality were two of the major concerns they faced. For example, total dissolved salt in ground water in some areas of Gujarat is as high as 10000mg/L and is unusable for irrigation without further treatment.

How can Better Cotton address some of the challenges with water that cotton producing communities face?

It’s extremely important that water challenges are understood and addressed holistically in the context of natural resource management and climate change, and in line with the limited resources at the disposal of farmers and their communities.

With the revision of the Better Cotton Principles & Criteria – announced in April – we have moved to further promote water stewardship. As such, in addition to supporting farmers to better manage water usage at the farm-level, focus has also been on identifying shared challenges and opportunities to collaborate.

Could you share some concrete examples of interventions in cotton communities to build their resilience to climate change and address challenges surrounding water?

Some of the water source strengthening work we have promoted and supported include desilting check dams, village and farm-level ponds, deepening ponds in order to increase water storage capacity, and constructing rainwater harvesting and water recharging structures, as well as storage wells.

To further improve the resilience of Better Cotton Farmers, our programme advocates for micro-irrigation systems such as drip and sprinklers where feasible. In addition, by promoting various soil moisture management practices such as mulching, intercropping, green manuring, our programme also encourages community-level watershed mapping and crop water budgeting so that farmers can make informed decisions on what to grow based on the level of water available for that season.

While water woes intensify due to the climate crisis, Better Cotton resolves to continue to bring more investment to the field and strengthen partnerships with stakeholders.

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