Water-milk nexus in India: a path to a sustainable water future?

This paper examines the nexus between milk production and water use in India. The nexus is examined in the context of extended consumptive water use (CWU) of milk production beyond drinking water. It includes the real CWU (evapotranspiration (ETa) that occurs during the production of green fodder and feed grains) and the virtual CWU (ETa embedded in by-products for animal feed). The real CWU appears as large as that of sugarcane, and the real and virtual CWU combined is as large as that of rice. However, milk production generates more value than the outputs of rice and sugarcane combined. Sustainable water use and agricultural growth in major milk-producing areas require a drastic reduction in groundwater CWU, which, at present, exceeds natural recharge. It is suggested that diversifying to a mix of milk and high-value (but low water consuming) crops can reduce groundwater CWU while ensuring higher total output.