Sugarcane, A thirsty agriculture crop depleting the groundwater: Efficient water management systems required

Reduce dependency on groundwater: solutions reducing water use & encouraging sustainable use of water in sugarcane prod
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Sugarcane, A thirsty agriculture crop depleting the groundwater: Efficient water management systems required

The sugarcane farmers in Karnataka, India rely on groundwater for irrigation. But, unsustainable use of this resource will increasing make it scarce in the long run. Additionally, extensive drilling and pumping of groundwater owing to the increasing demand from the sugar mills has put pressure on the natural ecosystem, soil and water. 

About the organisation and why you are working on sustainability 

Solidaridad is an international network which works with partners around the world to make global trade sustainable and climate resilient. The sugarcane programme of Solidaridad Asia in India is operational in 4 states which aims to build sustainable supply chains. This is done by working across stakeholders such as farmers, mill owners, sugarcane societies and the end consumers. Solidaridad works with 13 mills and 1,60,000 sugarcane farmers in India to help farmers to adopt better production practices, help private companies to apply sustainable practices in sourcing and production and help consumers to be aware of the sustainable sugar supply chains. 



Sugarcane is a water intensive crop that remains in the soil for longer duration (9-18 months). This crop requires 1500-3000 litres of water to produce a kilogram of sugar. Around 1500-2500 mm of rainfall is required by the crop to complete its growth cycle. Cane sugar production in the cluster has increased over the years, thus, increasing dependence on reliable water supply. Around 90 percent of the farmers of the region depend on groundwater as a source of irrigation. 


Description of the challenge  

Sugarcane is a thirsty crop that requires excess irrigation. This results in excessive withdrawal of water from the aquifers. The sugar industry in Karnataka ranks third in terms of contribution of sugar in the total production in the country and the production in these clusters have shown an increasing trend with increase in mill’s crushing capacities. This has significant negative impact on the freshwater ecosystem of the region. 

Additionally, farmers use diesel pumps to extract water which is inefficient, expensive and has high operating costs. This also has negative impact on the natural resources, human health, climate change and affects the overall ecosystem quality. 


Key sustainability issues 

  • Unsustainable extraction of groundwater 
  • Use of Diesel-powered pumps, since incomplete combustion of diesel from less efficient pumps results in emission of Black Carbon (BC), CO2, CO and other array of pollutants. 

For who and how it works 

It works for farmers and organisations like Solidaridad which work on building sustainable supply chains.


Possible Matches (Not limited to these)


  • IoT based irrigation scheduling system which sends irrigation recommendations to farmers based on soil moisture. Additionally, the algorithm could work in a customized way based on crop, season, geography, agroclimatic zone etc.
  • Any alternative to diesel pumps (low cost irrigation devices, renewable energy run irrigation suitable for small holder)



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