Published on The Water Blog

Unlocking agricultural transformations for small and marginal farmers in Uttar Pradesh, India

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Uttar Pradesh (UP), India’s most populous state, leads the nation in terms of agricultural production, accounting for a quarter of the country’s total agricultural output, yet average farmer incomes are low because of smaller land holdings and lower levels of technology adoption.

As the state with the most area of land under irrigation (86%), it is vulnerable to climate change. The prevalence of irrigation has led to the adoption of very water-intensive cropping patterns involving crops such as rice and sugarcane. To sum up, the agri-water ecosystem in UP presents a range of technological, financial, and institutional opportunities for reducing agricultural emissions and inefficiencies in water use to make it more sustainable.

A newly launched state-led initiative aims to leverage these prospects to make UP a global leader in sustainable agriculture within the next five years.  The UP Accelerator for Agri-Water-Use Efficiency, also known as UP Accelerator PRAGATI (Program for Agricultural Transformation and Increased Incomes), was conceived by the state’s Multi-Stakeholder Platform supported by the 2030 Water Resources Group (2030 WRG), a multi-donor trust fund managed by the World Bank’s Water Global Practice. The UP Accelerator PRAGATI is being led by the Agriculture Production Commissioner, Government of UP.

The initiative sets out to transform agricultural production in the state by enhancing water-use efficiency, improving mechanization in agriculture, promoting farm productivity, and integrating climate-smart water management practices.  To meet these objectives, the UP Accelerator PRAGATI will facilitate convergence across relevant Government programs and engage the private sector to design and deliver services for implementation, financing, and market linkages.

The UP Accelerator PRAGATI, which builds on five years of 2030 WRG’s engagement in the state, takes a three-pronged approach to increase farmer incomes and enhance agricultural productivity. The following list of interventions is coupled with an agenda of support for smallholder farmers.

1. Ease water stress: Improve water-use efficiency to increase productivity
A key aspect of the initiative is to increase the net irrigated area under micro irrigation – from 200,000 to 750,000 hectares over the next five years. The practice of applying water directly to the root zone reduces loss of water through conveyance, run-off, deep percolation, and evaporation – resulting in increased yields and decreased water, fertilizer, and labor requirements.  To this end, with the support of the UP Accelerator PRAGATI, the Government of UP broke new ground on July 26, 2023, with the launch of the new UP Micro Irrigation Project (UP-MIP), an integrated service delivery system for rolling out micro irrigation services to smallholder producers. The new online platform, adapted from the Gujarat Green Revolution Company Ltd., will drive up water-use efficiency in agriculture and boost farm productivity through technology uptake in key crop value chains. Accountability and transparency will enable subsidy-targeting and bring down the transaction and unit costs to irrigation service providers and farmers, respectively. As of September 6, 2023, the UP-MIP already saw around 35,000 farmers register to avail of the subsidy-based micro irrigation support, covering roughly 55,000 hectares. 

The UP Accelerator PRAGATI will also increase the area under climate-smart rice-wheat systems promoting practices such as Direct Seeded Rice (DSR) – the process of establishing a rice crop from seeds sown in the field rather than by transplanting seedlings from the nursery – from 25,000 to 250,000 hectares. Under a DSR system, water savings of 18 to 35% can be achieved relative to traditional transplanted rice (TPR) without compromising yield. Further water savings can be achieved with better management practices, including delaying the first irrigation and not flooding.

2. Increase crop productivity: Boost farm mechanization to improve yields and save water
Farm mechanization helps to improve the productivity of land and labor, reduce harvest and post-harvest losses, and maximize the efficiency of inputs like water, seeds, and fertilizer. For every 1% increase in the level of mechanization, the yields of crops increase by 1.6% in absolute terms. By improving access, availability, and affordability of farm machinery and equipment that supports sustainable cultivation, the UP Accelerator PRAGATI will increase both yields and crop productivity.

3. Reduce greenhouse gas emissions: Climate action through ag-water management
Research studies indicate that – in comparison with other irrigation practices – micro irrigation in specific crops could slash per-yield soil carbon dioxide emissions by 59%, nitrous oxide by 38%, and nitric oxide by 20%. Similarly, DSR – in contrast with conventional TPR, which is a major source of GHG – helps to avoid methane emission, on top of saving water and labor. The UP Accelerator PRAGATI will mobilize climate finance through blended mechanisms and value chain investments to reduce carbon footprint in over 250,000 hectares. The UP Accelerator PRAGATI will also explore opportunities to incentivize small and marginal farmers to switch to practices that promote better soil management, water savings, and more efficient use of specified nutrients while enabling farmers to supplement their income. Additionally, the UP Accelerator PRAGATI and the World Bank’s Climate Change Group are jointly exploring the deployment of the Bank’s Climate Warehouse work program as a mechanism to leverage sustainability credits and emissions reduction in paddies. 

Beginning of the UP Accelerator PRAGATI
In December 2022, the Cabinet of the Indian State of UP officially approved the UP Accelerator PRAGATI. The aim is to create a conducive space for the private sector to collaborate and leverage innovations and best practices that increase the value of sustainability investments in agri-water operations. Ultimately, this program will catapult UP as a global leader in agriculture. It will be a truly transformative change that will help drive economic development, investments, and inclusive growth in the state and beyond. “Pragati” is also a Sanskrit / Hindi word that means "progress."

The UP Accelerator PRAGATI is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). BMGF support to 2030 WRG enables the establishment of a Technical Support Unit that offers technical assistance to the program and strengthens convergence with Government schemes and private investments.

Related Links:

Water can’t wait: Accelerating the adoption of innovations in water security

How is India addressing its water needs?

The future of water: How innovations will advance water sustainability and resilience worldwide

2030 WRG

Water in Agriculture


Manoj Kumar Singh, IAS

Agriculture Production Commissioner / Infrastructure & Industrial Development Commissioner and Additional Chief Secretary to Govt. of Uttar Pradesh

Saroj Kumar Jha

Global Director, Water Global Practice

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