A sociohydrological model for smallholder farmers in Maharashtra, India

Saket Pande*, Hubert H G Savenije

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

51 Citations (Scopus)


We present a sociohydrological model that can help us to better understand the system dynamics of a smallholder farmer. It couples the dynamics of the six main assets of a typical smallholder farmer: water storage capacity, capital, livestock, soil fertility, grazing access, and labor. The hydroclimatic variability, which is a main driver and source of uncertainty of the smallholder system, is accounted for at subannual scale. The model incorporates rule-based adaptation mechanisms of smallholders (for example, adjusting expenditures on food and fertilizers and selling livestocks) when farmers face adverse sociohydrological conditions, such as low annual rainfall, occurrence of dry spells, or variability of input or commodity prices. We have applied the model to analyze the sociohydrology of a cash crop producing smallholder in Maharashtra, India, in a semisynthetic case study setting. Of late, this region has witnessed many suicides of farmers who could not extricate themselves out of the debt trap. These farmers lacked irrigation and were susceptible to fluctuating commodity prices and climatic variability. We studied the sensitivity of a smallholder's capital, an indicator of smallholder well-being, to two types of cash crops (cotton and sugarcane), water storage capacity, availability of irrigation, initial capital that a smallholder starts with, prevalent wage rates, and access to grazing. We found that (i) smallholders with low water storage capacities and no irrigation are most susceptible to distress, (ii) a smallholder's well-being is low at low wage rates, (iii) wage rate is more important than absolution of debt, (iv) well-being is sensitive to water storage capacity up to a certain level, and (v) well-being increases with increasing area available for livestock grazing. Our results indicate that government intervention to absolve the debt of farmers or to invest in local storage to buffer rainfall variability may not be enough. In addition, alternative sources of income may need to be provided, for instance by ensuring minimum wages or by providing more access to grazing areas.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1923-1947
Number of pages25
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2016


  • smallholder
  • sociohydrology


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