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Abstract

Investments in water infrastructure remain key to climate change adaptation plans in many countries, and rank high in adaptation costs for developing countries (Narain et al., 2011). In this paper, we use district-level panel data from 1970-2005 across India’s major agricultural states to investigate the role played by subsidized access to electricity, groundwater wells, tank and dam projects in mediating the vulnerabilities associated with monsoonal variation. We focus on wheat, a staple of India’s food supply, as it requires irrigation and represents a significant portion of India’s total agricultural output. Results show that the impact of negative precipitation shocks is significantly dampened when a particular district has access to a more reliable source of irrigation – e.g., access to tubewells helps to dampen the impact of negative precipitation shocks on irrigation decisions associated with wheat, while upstream dams do not significantly contribute to this dampening effect. In contrast, having access to dugwells exacerbates the impact of a fall in monsoon precipitation curtailing irrigation of wheat. Our results suggest that historical agricultural policies that increased access to tubewells and the subsequent electrification of regions naturally endowed with more groundwater have equipped farmers with the ability to withstand monsoonal shocks and fluctuations.

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