Agricultural productivity is closely linked to efficient water management and optimum utilization of nutrients by the plants. In a tropical country like India water loss through evaporation and run off can deprive the plants of water required at the desired levels. There are farm technologies like drip irrigation, spray irrigation etc which are used by well to do farmers for high dividend crops but they are beyond the means of most of the farmers who depend on rain water to manage just one crop in an year. As water is a scarce natural resource, it is imperative that it is conserved as much as possible preventing avoidable losses. It is in this context one has to appreciate the innovative technology developed under the ICAR aegis which uses a type of hydrogel to retain water without allowing it to evaporate over a long time making water available to the plants regularly. Here is a report from the NRDC of India which has made this technology available for commercialization recently hoping it will help the farming community to manage their water resources more efficiently.
"National Research Development Corporation (NRDC), under the Department of Scientific & Industrial Research (DSIR), and Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) have signed an agreement for commercialisation of a novel superabsorbent hydrogels technology. This involves a novel hydrophilic super absorbent polymer indigenously developed by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi, to meet the requirements of water productivity in agriculture. "The scientists had successfully demonstrated the potential of resolving the problem of poor water use efficiency in agricultural crops. Besides, improved nutrient use efficiency, an array of other benefits have been achieved by using this product," said DSIR in a press release. NRDC is about to execute another agreement with a Chennai based company for the transfer of the same technology. NRDC has already executed agreements with five companies. Hydrogel absorbs a minimum of 350 times its weight of pure water. It exhibits absorbency at high temperatures suitable for semi-arid and arid regions. Besides, low rate of application it also improves physical properties of soil such as porosity, aggregate stability and hydraulic conductivity. "No undesirable effect on the crops raised in the fields treated with hydrogel has ever been observed or reported by the experimenters or the end users, the farmers," added the release."
How far this technology can help the farmers under field conditions is not clear now. But in principle the hydrogel technology has the potential to revolutionize the farming sector if products are manufactured and made available at affordable cost. Also to be seen is the type of adjustments farmers will have to make in their normal operations to use hydrogels. If government is convinced that the new technology can revolutionize water usage pattern in the country, no effort should be spared to support its use nationwide. Of course this not going to be a panacea for solving the water problems in the agricultural sector, especially in drought affected areas but it will reduce unnecessary water loss in areas where water is available in lesser quantities.