Editorial Notes

[Editorial Notes] Harnessing the benefits of Farm ponds

The challenge before India is a fast-changing rainfall pattern and capturing the surplus water and conserving it is critical for farmers, who depend on it for their livelihood. Farm ponds can be cost-effective structures that transform rural livelihoods.
By IASToppers
August 05, 2019


  • Introduction
  • What are farm ponds?
  • Benefits of farm ponds
  • Current water crisis in India
  • Situation of farm ponds in India
  • Challenges faced by farm ponds in India
  • Suggestions
  • Way Ahead

Harnessing the benefits of Farm ponds

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  • At a recent NITI Aayog meeting, Prime Minister explicated the need to implement innovative water management measures, stressing particularly the importance of rainwater harvesting.

NITI-Aayog’s-Health-Index-4 IASToppers.com

  • One such intervention that has been tried out in various States, and needs to be taken up on a bigger scale, is the construction of farm ponds.

What are farm ponds?

  • Farm ponds are small water bodies formed either by the construction of a small dam or embankment across a waterway or by excavating or dug out.
  • The water is usually harvested from a small catchment area and then used for irrigation during prolonged periods.

small dam IASToppers

Benefits of farm ponds

  • It helps in enhancing water control.
  • It contributes to agriculture intensification and boost farm incomes.
  • It collects excess runoff during rainy period.
  • They are cost-effective.
  • Stored water can be used for supplemental irrigation to crops.
  • It is useful as drinking water for cattle’s during drought situation.
  • It can be used for spraying pesticides.
  • It conserves soil and moisture.

Current water crisis in India

  • Variability of monsoons has increased in India and groundwater tables is rapidly depleting.
  • A number of peninsular regions like Bundelkhand, Vidarbha and Marathwada have been facing recurring drought-like situations.

Maharashtra IASToppers

  • The severe drought prevailing in the country has caused distress in more than 250 of 600-plus districts across 11 states, affecting about 330 million people.

Situation of farm ponds in India

  • In Jharkhand and West Bengal, farm ponds helped in superior water control through the harvesting not just of rainfall but also of surface run-off and subsurface flows. Some of them contributes to ground water replenishment.
  • They also helped in providing supplemental irrigation in the kharif season and an enhanced irrigation coverage in rabi crop.
  • The yield of paddy, which is the most important crop in kharif, was stabilized contributing to greater food security.
  • The area used to cultivate vegetables and other commercial crops also increased.
  • The ponds were also a financially viable proposition, with a fairly high Internal Rate of Return, of about 19%, over 15 years.
  • Farm ponds, retaining water for 8-10 months of the year, enhanced cropping intensity and crop diversification within and across seasons.

Challenges faced by farm ponds in India



  • In parts of peninsular India, only some farmers are benefiting from farm pond at an individual level, but not contributing to water conservation and recharge.
  • They are being used as intermediate storage points, accelerating groundwater depletion and increasing evaporation losses as the groundwater is brought to the surface and stored in relatively shallow structures.
  • Most of farm ponds under a flagship programme of Maharashtra that aims to dig over one lakh structures by offering a subsidy are being constructed without inlet and outlet provisions and their walls are raised above the ground level by only a few feet.
  • They cannot arrest the excess run-off as there is no inlet, and therefore cannot be used effectively for rainwater harvesting, further, farmers line them at the bottom with plastic, restricting seepage and converting the ponds into intermediate storage points.
  • The usual practice is to lift water from a dug well and/or a borewell, store it in the pond and then draw it once again to irrigate the fields, often using micro-irrigation, such farm ponds have an adverse impact on the water tables and accelerate water loss.
  • This practices intensifies competition for extraction of groundwater from the aquifer, which is a common pool resource.
  • In the irrigation area, farmers fill up their farm ponds first when the canal is in rotation.
  • This can impede circulation of water, as during canal rotation, the aquifer will get recharged because of the return flow of water coming from the irrigated fields. But if canals fill up the farm ponds first, it restricts their benefits only to the pond owners and in the long term, reduces the overall return flow at the system level.


  • Due to lack of awareness or their preoccupation with old practices, farmers are generally reluctant to adopt any new ideas such as farm pond. Hence, awareness programmes need to be carried out to convince the farmers to join the initiatives.
  • Farm ponds should be used as rainwater harvesting structures and not as intermediate storage points for an increased extraction of groundwater or diversion of canal water.
  • Providing operational support like machineries and trained personnel at a nominal fee to keep the operational costs down for the farmers rather than providing financial help directly to the farmers is the best way to achieve success.
  • The refusal to adopt a grant model, wherein the farmers would passively receive financial assistance, will make the farm pond programme a social enterprise, achieving scale and impacting a large population.

Way Ahead

  • Constructing farm ponds to store and manage water is one of the ways to make farming sustainable by reducing its dependency on uncertain monsoon.
  • Farm ponds can act as effective harvesting structures and also yield healthy financial return but if they are promoted merely for on-farm storage of groundwater and canal water, they could accelerate, rather than reduce, the water crisis in India.


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