Wastewater Reuse in Agriculture: An Experiment in Maharashtra

The 2030 WRG team is working with the Agriculture Department of the Government of Maharashtra and the Pune Agriculture College to launch a scientific experiment to assess the efficacy of low-energy biological treatment of city sewage and its application in agriculture, horticulture, floriculture and agro-forestry. There are plans to build two plants—each with a 100 m3/day capacity—at two campuses of the Agriculture College.

The experimental designs for both plants are based on a deep understanding of bioaccumulation of heavy metals, pesticides, organic pollutants and microorganisms in the food chain that has yet to be captured through any scientific assessments. The research approach includes testing the experimental zones with controlled food chains. Aligned with the spirit of the multi-stakeholder process followed by 2030 WRG, the experiments are designed to involve public sector (Agriculture Department), private technology developers, and civil society, specifically academia and researchers. If successful, this project could serve as an inspiration for greater adoption of wastewater reuse in the agriculture sector in India.  

Tapping city sewage

The plants are designed to tap city sewage from a drain passing through the campuses, which currently drains the wastewater into nearby river bodies. Results of initial technology evaluations carried out by a team of researchers at 2030 WRG and Pune’s Agriculture College favor the use of phytorid and bioremediation technologies, specifically using biologically engineered vegetation as a treatment option. These technologies are well commercialized and have been patented through National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), India’s leading Council for Scientific Research and Engineering (CSRE) laboratory. 

Strong regulatory support needed

In India, the economic value of treated wastewater within the context of circular economy is well understood, and there is strong regulatory support for wastewater recycling and reuse. Recent policy changes in the states of Gujarat, Karnataka, and Maharashtra clearly reflects such support. Although there is increasing adoption of such practices in the urban and industrial sectors in India, they are rare in the food and agriculture sector.  

Resilience essential

The Maharashtra 2030 WRG Multi-Stakeholder Platform’s work-stream on livelihood enhancement in rain-fed agriculture was developed in recognition of the need to explore wastewater reuse in the agriculture sector. Such an effort is strategic given the need to create water security and to ensure favorable water allocations in the agriculture sector where resilience in both rain-fed and irrigated agriculture is essential. 

Resource to be harnessed

Across the globe, a variety of sectors are starting to experiment with wastewater recycling and reuse, albeit with varying degrees of success. A global shift in perception has taken place, where wastewater was seen as a costly byproduct, and now recognized as a resource to be harnessed. Global best practices from Australia and Israel are testimonials to this encouraging trend.

 

For more details, get in touch with the Maharashtra 2030 WRG team: Mahesh Patankar, email: mpatankar@worldbank.org.