A livelihood in a risky environment: Farmers’ preferences for irrigation with wastewater in Hyderabad, India


Most cities in developing countries fail to treat their wastewater comprehensively. Consequently, farmers downstream use poor-quality water for irrigation. This practice implies risks for farmers, consumers and the environment. Conversely, this water supply supports the livelihood of these farmers and other stakeholders along the value chains. Linking safer options for wastewater management with irrigation could therefore be a win–win solution: removing the risks for society and maintaining the benefits for farmers. However, in developing countries, the high investment costs for the required treatment are problematic and the willingness of farmers to pay for the water (cost recovery) is often questionable. Using a choice experiment, this paper gives insight into farmers’ preferences for wastewater use scenarios, quantifying their willingness to pay. The case study is Hyderabad, India. Farmers there prefer water treatment and are prepared to pay a surplus for this. Considering the cost-recovery challenge, this information could be valuable for planning small on site wastewater treatment systems.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2


  1. 1.

    TDS represents the total quantity of dissolved minerals in the water; since the major part of the material dissolved is ionic, electrical conductivity (EC) is conventionally used as a measure of TDS (McCartney et al. 2008).

  2. 2.

    Para-grass is a type of grass, cultivated as fodder for buffalo feed.

  3. 3.

    Water intensive crops (e.g. sugar cane and rice) are referred to as ‘wet crops’; less water intensive crops (e.g. cotton and maize) are referred to as ‘dry crops’ (Tirupataiah, pers. comm.).

  4. 4.

    USD 1 = INR 54.90 as of May 2013.

  5. 5.

    “Are you aware of the health risks related to irrigating with Musi water?”

  6. 6.

    “Did you experience any negative effect on your health when using Musi water? Please mention the effects”.

  7. 7.

    “Are you aware of the nutrient content of the Musi water, which decreases the need for fertilizer use?”

  8. 8.

    “Did you experience any negative effect on the crops when using Musi water? Please mention the effects”.

  9. 9.

    Examples mentioned by the respondents: decrease in crop yield and in grain-filling both for paddy.

  10. 10.

    The utility functions were specified as follows: U(NI) = ASC1 + A 1 * Price/U(R) = ASC2 + A 2 * S crop + A 3 * M crop + A 4 * T hlth + A 1 * Price/U(WT) = A 5 * M wat + A 3 * M crop + A 4 * T hlth + A 1 * Price, where A 1A 5 are the coefficients and ASC no intervention (ASC1), ASC restrictions (ASC2), strict crop restriction (S crop), moderate crop restriction (M crop), tolerable health risks (T hlth) and medium water quantity (M wat).

  11. 11.

    State government fixed water fees based on crop type and land size per season: wet crops approximately 500 INR/ha; dry crops approximately 250 INR/ha (Tirupataiah, pers. comm.).


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Field research for this paper was supported by the International Water Management Institute and Ghent University. The authors thank Dr. Priyanie Amerasinghe for facilitating contacts and fieldwork in Hyderabad; Dr. George Danso and Dr. Krishna Reddy Kakumanu for their comments on the choice experiment and the questionnaire. We also thank many interviewees who generously shared information. Finally, we thank two anonymous reviewers whose comments helped us to improve this paper.

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Correspondence to Cecilia Saldías.

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Saldías, C., Speelman, S., Drechsel, P. et al. A livelihood in a risky environment: Farmers’ preferences for irrigation with wastewater in Hyderabad, India. Ambio 46, 347–360 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-016-0824-3

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  • Agriculture
  • Choice experiment
  • India
  • Wastewater