"More crop per drop": Exploring India's cereal water use since 2005

Benjamin Kayatz* (Corresponding Author), Francesca Harris, Jon Hillier, Tapan K. Adhya, Carole Dalin, Dali Nayak, Rosemary F. Green, Pete Smith, Alan D. Dangour

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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India has the highest national freshwater demand globally and 91% of India’s freshwater is used in the agriculture sector. Cereals account for over 50% of the dietary water footprint in India and represent a potential opportunity for reducing water use in Indian agriculture.

This study combines governmental production and irrigation statistics with crop distribution maps to examine trends in annual water use for cereal production in India between 2005 and 2014. A new online water assessment tool, Cool Farm Tool Water (CFTW), was used to calculate water use and derive seasonal state-level blue and green water footprints for rice, wheat, sorghum, millet and maize.

The analysis indicates that India achieved 26.4% increased total cereal production between 2005-2014 without additional water or land use. Cereal water footprints have declined due to higher yields for most crops and slightly lower rates of evapotranspiration. There has also been a shift in the area under production away from the Kharif (monsoon) towards the Rabi (dry) season in which total water footprints for all cereals except rice are substantially lower (-33.4% to -45.0% compared to Kharif), but show a significantly higher dependency on ground and surface water.

The value of this study is two-fold. First, it provides a full assessment of production trends for the five major cereals in India for each year from 2005-14 and links it to water use. Secondly, it uses updated seasonal water footprints, which demonstrate the potential for changes in cereal production practices to contribute to improved efficiency of water use in India. Future pressures on scarce water resources may encourage transition to cereals with lower irrigation dependency, in particular maize, but also sorghum and millet. In addition, increased emphasis on improving millet and sorghum yields would be of benefit to secure cereal production and reduce its overall water footprint.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)207-217
Number of pages11
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date25 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jul 2019

Bibliographical note

This study forms part of the Sustainable and Healthy Diets in India (SAHDI) project and the Sustainable and Healthy Food Systems (SHEFS) programme supported by the Wellcome Trust’s Our Planet, Our Health programme [grant numbers: 103932/Z/14/A and 205200/Z/16/Z]. The Wellcome Trust had no role in the design, analysis or writing of this work. Carole Dalin was supported by the Natural Environment Research Council Fellowship (NERC NE/N01524X/1). The authors acknowledge Dr. S.K. Ambast, Director, ICAR-Indian Institute of Water Management, Bhubaneswar, India and his scientific colleagues for their insightful review of early results of this study.


  • cereals
  • India
  • water resource management
  • food security
  • irrigation
  • CoolFarmTool
  • Irrigation
  • Cereals
  • Food security
  • Water resource management
  • Cool Farm Tool


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