Groundwater and Land Management in Rural India

Director: Andrew Foster
Research Theme: Environmental Resources and Population Wellbeing
Location: Republic of India

Foster has a series of projects on groundwater in rural India that also focus on issues of scale in agriculture. A central question in this body of work is how the spatial distribution of the population affects the rate of aquifer depletion. In joint work with a former student he finds surprisingly that water markets are more likely to arise in areas where water is not scarce. He also finds that whether water buying or selling increases or decreases aquifer depletion depends in part on the relative sizes of neighboring farms. In a recent paper, Foster uses his Indian population-based longitudinal survey to explore the increasing returns to scale in land that arise from the potential to mechanize. The evidence indicates that, because larger farms use less labor per acre, land amalgamation could release almost 20% of the rural labor force without any change in rural wages or declines in profitability. Given the concentration of the rural poor in agriculture in low-income countries and ongoing debates about whether small landholders are better stewards of the environment, decisions about how land is held and managed will likely have a major impact on urban growth, migration, poverty, and environmental resources in low-income countries.