Nonlinear Groundwater and Agricultural Land Use Change in Rajasthan, India

  • Trevor BirkenholtzEmail author


Since the 1950s, the rapid expansion of groundwater irrigation globally has led to dramatic shifts in land use. Nowhere is this more true than in India where, since the 1960s, groundwater irrigation has expanded to 34.5 million hectares, 70 % of the country’s total. Yet we do not know the character of this landscape nor the degree to which changes in land use are the result of multiple ecological and social drivers. Therefore, this article asks: (1) what is the relationship between groundwater decline and agricultural land use change in India, and what does it mean for the future of agricultural intensification; and (2) in what ways do social institutions produce and adapt to this change, while leading to yet further shifts in land use? This chapter draws on government statistics and from household surveys and interviews from a case study in the semiarid state of Rajasthan, India, to examine these questions.

Findings suggest that the relationship between the expansion of groundwater-irrigated area and land use change is nonlinear, in that the expansion of irrigated area initially led to the expansion of market-oriented crops but rapid groundwater decline is demanding a return to local cropping varieties, particularly among the most marginal producers. This return is being facilitated through the creation of new adaptive social institutions, such as tube well irrigation partnerships, under conditions of dynamic ecological change, including synergistic groundwater and land use change. The conclusion offers suggestions toward a second Green Revolution in agriculture via the strengthening of local social institutions.


Adaptation Groundwater India Irrigation Second Green Revolution Social institutions 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Geography and Geographic Information ScienceUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignChampaignUSA

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