Strategic, evidence-based policy: Launching a policy experiment with the Government of Odisha

Posted on CSISA Success Story, India-news, News - Homepage, July 29, 2018

The Central Government of India has invested US$ 148.74 billion in the fiscal year 2017–18 to support agricultural development in the country. However, these investments are often unable to target the most relevant needy areas or populations due to lack of concrete evidence of their effectiveness. To support the inclusion of scientific evidence in policy-making processes, CSISA discussed with the Government of the state of Odisha the need for co-generating evidence and for its endorsement to launch a policy experiment on rice-fallow intensification and mechanization options during the 2018–19 Rabi season. The policy experiment will entail offering different combinations of incentives for service provision, irrigation facilities and for giving farmers access to credit. These experiments will be supplemented with baseline and endline surveys to gather data on the impacts of the interventions.

Rice-fallow intensification was the first priority raised by the incoming ICAR Director General, Dr. T. Mohapatra, in discussion with the CSISA leadership team in March 2016. A strategic meeting with a team of policy makers and other decision makers at the Department of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, Odisha, held on 24 November 2016, identified behavioral constraints to rice-fallow intensification and mechanization as two core themes for working closely with the department and allied institutions. Since the Odisha Government invests heavily in mechanization (~US$ 50 million in 2017) in the form of direct subsidies and support to agri-service entrepreneurs, CSISA’s engagement with the Government of Odisha aims to capitalize on this opportunity by helping the State Departments of Agriculture sharpen their support programs by better targeting subsidies that do not crowd out private investments but do encourage the development of markets and machinery value chains.

Following up on discussions with the Government, CSISA conducted two behavioral evidence-generating studies in Kharif 2017. First was a participatory cognitive mapping exercise in which farmers and other stakeholders drew a map of their imagined farming systems; at the same time, CSISA sought their perspectives on ways to overcome constraints to double cropping. Second, using the key outcomes from the cognitive mapping exercise, CSISA conducted an experiment to elicit individuals’ investment preferences, as well as their commitment to community funding for key intensification parameters such as irrigation, credit, timely harvesting and marketing, and cropping systems. On the mechanization front, CSISA conducted a survey on potential mechanized services and the entrepreneurial behavior of service providers. Data from this survey were used to analyze the scope for introducing incentivization in local machine service provision.

Findings from these studies were presented to the relevant stakeholders within the Government of Odisha, including the Principal Secretary of the Department of Agriculture. CSISA now plans to design an integrated policy experiment that considers multiple leverage points that encourage farmers to consider double cropping and mechanization (investment options, institutional facilitation and incentivization in service provision) to be piloted during the coming Rabi season in Odisha. This proposed experiment is expected to determine the key factors that make farmers keep fields fallow and the policy incentives required to encourage potential entrepreneurs to become machinery service providers. The opportunity and apparent need for mechanization and cropping intensification in these expansive ecologies is clear, particularly given the diminished yield in the “breadbasket” areas of northwest India, the lack of major genetic breakthroughs that increase the yield potential of staple crops and the prevailing labor constraints.

Lessons from the experiment are expected to help identify the agricultural policy changes at the State Government level that are needed to boost crop production and intensify the cropping systems. This collaborative arrangement between the State Department of Agriculture, Odisha and CSISA is also notable because the State is a key partner in generating evidence as well as in facilitating adoption.

Authors: Prakashan Chellattan Veettil, Vartika Singh and Andrew McDonald

Wheat blast in Bangladesh: CSISA–BARI collaborative research

Posted on Bangladesh-news, CSISA Success Story, News - Homepage, July 29, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CSISA is collaborating with the Wheat Research Centre (WRC) of the Bangladesh Agriculture Research Institute (BARI) to develop a model for identifying wheat blast resistant varieties and approaches to mitigate the disease. In 2017, a blast resistant, zinc-enriched variety, BARI Gom 33, was released. This variety was validated in last year’s blast-affected farmers’ fields, and field days were organized to demonstrate its resistance to farmers, government organizations, NGOs and private sector companies. Most field day participants indicated that they liked BARI Gom 33, and farmers were advised to preserve its seed.

This important research came about through multi-party collaboration. Activities were supported by CSISA through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Research was facilitated by the USAID Mission in Bangladesh with the support of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research by leveraging the capacity of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) through a project titled “Identification of sources of resistance to wheat blast and their deployment in wheat varieties adapted to Bangladesh.”

The first-ever outbreak of wheat blast outside South America, where it was first reported, was recorded in Bangladesh in February 2016. This is a fearsome fungal disease caused by Magnaporthe oryzae pathotype Triticum (MoT), that now affects over 15,000 hectares in seven southwestern and southern districts of Bangladesh. The estimated average yield loss is 25–30%, but in severely infected fields, total losses have also been observed.

The Ministry of Agriculture of Bangladesh officially announced the presence of wheat blast on 27 March 2016, and formed a technical sub-committee including CIMMYT to create an action plan to mitigate the disease.

An international consultative meeting was held in 2016 in Kathmandu, Nepal, and in 2017 in Dhaka, Bangladesh, to plan short-, medium- and long-term strategies to mitigate the disease. International training courses for wheat scientists from India, Nepal and Bangladesh were organized at the Wheat Research Centre (WRC), Dinajpur, and the Regional Agricultural Research Station (RARS), Jashore, in 2017 and 2018, respectively. Field surveillance was conducted through CSISA in partnership with USAID and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Recommendations were presented to farmers in a factsheet through government, NGO and private sector partners in 2017 and 2018. Recommendations included early seeding to help crops avoid high temperatures and early rains at heading, collection of seeds from blast-free areas, seed treatment, cultivation of resistant varieties, preventive foliar spray at heading and 12–15 days after heading, weed-free cultivation and rotation with non-wheat crops.

Wheat blast-affected areas in 2017 and 2018 shrank to only 22 and 16 ha with low, sporadic infection due to farmers adopting the recommendations and climate conditions that were less favorable for blast spread. However, trace infection was found in three new areas in 2017 and two new areas in 2018, outside districts infected in previous years. This indicates the ongoing spread of the disease and its adaptability to new environments, underscoring the potential for its spread. Symptoms of wheat blast infection were also found on Digitaria, Eleusine indica, and Panicum repens, common weed species found throughout Bangladesh, but research is underway to confirm whether spores from these species can infect wheat and vice versa.

WRC and BARI, in collaboration with CIMMYT, will undertake a seed production program in farmers’ fields in the coming season and will distribute the seed to farmers.

Wheat blast surveillance work was conducted in 2017 and 2018, and laboratory confirmation is underway at WRC/BARI laboratories, with the support of CSISA. Blast mitigation trials have continued in 2018 at a hot spot in RARS, Jashore. Out of 25 advanced lines, 7 were found to be resistant (<10% disease index). Out of 408 germplasm lines, seven (including Borlaug 100) had zero disease index and 164 were resistant (<10% disease index). A seeding experiment showed that there was no disease in six new varieties, including susceptible BARI Gom 26, which were sown on 25 November and 5 December. However, on BARI Gom 26 planted on 4 January, seeding disease severity was >85%. The effectiveness of seed treatments and foliar spray fungicides was confirmed by the 2018 results.

Author: Dr. Dinabandhu Pandit, Sarah Sayeed Gazi and M. Shahidul Haque Khan

 

 

 

CSISA and PMAMP collaboration in Nepal: A new paradigm in extension research

Posted on CSISA Success Story, Nepal-news, News - Homepage, July 29, 2018

In 2015, the Government of Nepal endorsed a new 20-year Agriculture Development Strategy (ADS), which recognizes the need for new science-led innovations, crop diversification options for income generation, strong seed and fertilizer input systems, mechanization to cope with outmigration and an aging agricultural workforce, and enterprise development to create new jobs and extend essential support services to large numbers of farmers. In support of these priorities, CSISA works with partners who can help to rapidly and broadly increase the adoption of sustainable intensification technologies at scale.

The Prime Minister’s Agriculture Modernization Project (PMAMP), launched in 2016 to help implement the ADS, is designed to enhance productivity and commercialization of major cereals, fish, fruits and vegetables over the next decade. The PMAMP has laid out a structure comprised of super zones (commercial areas of more than 1,000 ha), zones (areas over 500 ha), blocks (over 50 ha) and pockets (over 10 ha). These are defined areas across the country that receive government support to produce certain crops intensively.

CSISA has been working closely with PMAMP from its inception by providing technical backstopping at the central and local levels for the wheat, maize, rice and farm mechanization programs. CSISA sees PMAMP as a key mechanism for scaling up sustainable intensification technologies in Nepal. CSISA has helped PMAMP form working groups and hold forums to facilitate discussion and spark collaboration among stakeholders in Nepal.

In July 2017, CSISA and PMAMP jointly held a national-level wheat working group forum aimed at unifying and coordinating the efforts of 21 public and private stakeholders working on research, extension and private sector development for wheat in Nepal. The forum emphasized the need to identify proven best practices for sustainable intensification of wheat, explored possible pathways for scaling knowledge and technological innovations, and identified knowledge gaps and areas for future research.

Energized by this successful wheat working group meeting, PMAMP took the lead and organized a similar meeting for maize. A rice forum was held with CSISA’s support in December 2017, followed by a subsequent meeting organized with the rice super zone in Jhapa, Eastern Nepal, in May 2018. In February 2018, CSISA and PMAMP held a mechanization forum. Seeing consistent results, PMAMP has now established similar forums and guidelines for other commodities such as fish, tea, coffee and potato.

In addition to the forums, CSISA has provided technical guidance on planning seasonal activities to PMAMP staff, and has facilitated cross-learning events and “train the trainers” courses for super zone and zone technicians and operational committees on how to implement and out-scale sustainable intensification technologies. CSISA has also developed training materials, educational videos and other extension materials for utilization by the cereal and mechanization programs. PMAMP has asked CSISA to help formulate joint plans at the pocket, block, and zone levels in different districts. Many technical training sessions have also been held, focusing on the best maize management practices, scale-appropriate mechanization, mechanized weeding, seed drill operation and calibration, precision nutrient management, mechanized harvesting, integrated weed management and safe handling of herbicides.

This initiative has been useful not only for institutionalizing CSISA’s innovations and findings, but also for designing market-oriented approaches for our private sector partners. With continued technical backstopping and support on developing seasonal work plans from CSISA, PMAMP will carry out agronomic interventions for cereal cropping systems in CSISA’s working domain.

 

Authors: Cynthia Mathys and Mina Devkota-Wasti

Partnering with India’s KVK system to improve data collection and diagnostics

Posted on CSISA Success Story, India-news, News - Homepage, Uncategorized, July 29, 2018

In India, the Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) network was established in 1974 to serve as district-level “farm science centers” tasked with conducting on-farm tests of agricultural technologies, implementing frontline demonstrations, conducting need-based training programs, serving as local knowledge centers and supporting the marketing of locally relevant agricultural technologies. The KVK system, now comprising 680 KVKs, is overseen by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and administered by a group of 11 agricultural technology application research institutes. The KVK is the largest countrywide network that caters to the needs of researchers from state agricultural universities and ICAR institutes and provides field-level extension for the Department of Agriculture in each state.

Since 2015, CSISA has worked with KVKs in Bihar, eastern Uttar Pradesh and Odisha to test and modify locally relevant technologies and help integrate successful technologies into the government’s official package of practices for each state. In the Eastern Indo-Gangetic Plains, a region marked by low cereal productivity, small farm sizes and resource-poor farmers, CSISA and its KVK partners strive to intensify cereal-based cropping systems by facilitating the adoption of better-bet agronomic management practices such as zero tillage, early wheat sowing, timely establishment of rice, hybrid rice and maize, and crop diversification.

CSISA, national agricultural research and extension system (NARES) institutes, KVKs and the Department of Agriculture are working to increase the availability of scale-appropriate machinery in rural areas so that entrepreneurial farmers can develop service provision businesses. As an example, in each of 25 KVKs, Bihar Agricultural University, Sabour, is facilitating the establishment of 10 service providers who will raise and market rice nurseries to local farmers. To date, CSISA’s programming and partnerships have facilitated the emergence of nearly 4,000 service providers in the project’s working domain.

In 2018, CSISA launched a new capacity-building partnership with 50 KVKs, and trained their staff to conduct a landscape diagnostic survey, a tool that helps KVKs identify which technologies would be most likely to succeed in their geographic domains. KVK teams were taught how to use an Open Data Kit (ODK), an Android-based mobile data collection tool that increases the speed, efficiency and quality of data collection in the field. Once data are in hand, ODK also enables faster data analysis and visualization.

In June, CSISA and its KVK partners launched a landscape diagnostic survey in 50 KVKs. The survey will run through October, ultimately covering 10,500 farmers this year, and is expected to be repeated beginning in January 2019. Survey data collected by the KVKs will help research organizations like the state agricultural universities and ICAR institutes, and state extension agencies like the Department of Agriculture, jointly develop investment strategies and implementation plans that address the needs of multiple stakeholders.

Innovative partnerships such as the ones between CSISA, NARES (including the KVKs) and the private sector, serve as a necessary accelerant for the adoption of scale-appropriate technologies and the intensification of cereal-based cropping systems in India. Rigorous surveys and the sharing of analytical results will serve as important milestones in the overall capacitation and transformation of the KVK system.

Author: Dr. RK Malik and Cynthia Mathys

 

Farmers apply healthy rice seedling practices long after development interventions

Posted on Bangladesh-news, CSISA Success Story, News - Homepage, Uncategorized, July 29, 2018

To promote awareness about raising healthy rice seedlings, CSISA developed a dynamic solution – it introduced seedbed technology, an innovative technique for raising seedlings. Rice farmers in Bangladesh have long employed traditional methods to grow transplanted rice. They often use inferior quality seed and high seed rates that negatively affect the quality of seedlings. These seeds are susceptible to disease and contribute to lower yields. To reduce the yield gap, CSISA began raising awareness about healthy seedlings by promoting the use of seedbed technology.

Seedbed technology has considerable advantages. It facilitates better seed management and ensures quality seedlings. Growing healthy rice seedlings can increase effective tillering, which enhances yield up to 10%. Stronger seedlings have better disease resistance, which benefits farmers.

CSISA typically raises awareness among farmers through five major activities – using mass media, distributing booklets on techniques for raising healthy rice seedlings, hands-on training of trainers on healthy rice seedling production methods, encouraging young entrepreneurs to start seedling businesses to grow and sell healthy rice seedlings to farmers, and scaling-out healthy seedling raising practices through networks of development partners.

CSISA developed a short 10-minute farmer-friendly video in Bangladesh on practices for raising healthy rice seedlings in the 2016–17 winter Boro and summer Aman seasons. It partnered with a national NGO, the Agricultural Advisory Society, to carry out 498 video showings during the 2016–17 winter season and at 265 events during the 2017 summer season for farmers in open-air public gathering places, community centers and markets across Jessore and Faridpur Hubs. A total of 37,117 viewers were registered in the winter season and 17,736 in the summer season. Taking into account unregistered audience members, the total number of farmer/viewers was estimated at approximately 110,000 across both seasons.

Informative booklets on the subject were developed and distributed by CSISA to 1,500 field-level master trainers of the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) and 33,000 farmers through 3,000 input dealers in the Feed the Future zone. In total, 612 block-level DAE staff and 80 NGO field workers were trained on healthy rice seedling raising practices.

Through CSISA’s initiatives, 41 entrepreneurs who were already running seedling businesses and six new entrepreneurs were trained on advanced healthy rice seedling agronomy and business management skills. In winter 2016-17, 95 community-based seedbeds were established across Jessore, Faridpur and Barisal Hubs by 1,092 farmers working with DAE and NGO partners.

However, funding shortfalls forced the suspension of these activities starting in the 2017–18 winter Boro rice season. CSISA conducted a follow-up survey of farmers, which revealed that farmers who had previously watched the videos had continued to adopt healthy rice seedling practices this year, even without CSISA’s intervention.

Survey results indicated that of the 17,736 farmers who viewed the video shown by CSISA and partners prior to the 2017 summer season, 51% continued to use healthy rice seedling practices to grow their crops in the 2017–18 winter season. The average size of plots where healthy rice seedlings were transplanted was 0.52 ha, indicating sustained adoption on more than 4,704 hectares in the Feed the Future zone.

CSISA-driven initiatives using videos and booklets have been tremendously impactful, as evidenced by the number of farmers who retained the core messages and continued to apply healthy rice seedling practices long after they viewed the video.

Author: Dr. M. Murshedul Alam, Sarah Sayeed Gazi and M. Shahidul Haque Khan

Reaper adoption picks up speed in Nepal

Posted on CSISA Success Story, Nepal-news, News - Homepage, Uncategorized, July 29, 2018

 

Nepal struggles with labor shortages in agriculture, particularly due to the out-migration of laborers who move in large numbers to India and Gulf countries to work. These shortages have increased labor wage rates and the cost of cereal crop production. In response to these constraints, and to try to reduce drudgery and increase profits associated with farming to make agriculture more attractive to young people, CSISA has been facilitating the uptake of the reaper, which can increase the speed, improve the timeliness and reduce the labor costs associated with harvesting cereal crops like rice and wheat. Reaper attachments can be front-mounted on the many different two-wheel tractor models available in Nepal, making it relatively affordable for farmers.

Fifteen years ago, a few reapers were sold in central Nepal, but prior to CSISA’s interventions, reapers were not available anywhere in the Feed the Future zone, which constitutes much of the far and mid-west development regions. In 2014, CSISA and its public and private sector partners began to demonstrate reapers in farmers’ fields, starting with a stock of 20 reapers. Demonstrating the functionality and benefits of the reaper across different Feed the Future districts generated rapidly increasing demand among farmers and service providers. To ensure the machines were available at the local level in the areas where reaper uptake was being facilitated, CSISA worked with private sector suppliers and the Nepal Agricultural Machinery Entrepreneurs’ Association (NAMEA) to ensure larger stocks of reapers were available in an uncertain market and greatly multiplied reaper field demonstrations.

Towards the end of 2016, reaper importers’ district sales agents began to capitalize on farmers’ increasing interest in reapers by holding their own farmer field days, focusing their efforts on the 2016 rice harvest. With CSISA’s technical support, NAMEA and its members conducted more than 50 demonstrations in 2016. As a result of the multiplying effect of private sector participation, starting from near zero purchases in 2014, by the end of 2016 farmers in the Feed the Future zone had purchased 678 reapers.

In early 2017, CSISA boosted reaper adoption in Nepal by increasing the range of stakeholders they support. CSISA facilitated innovative partnerships between the private and public sectors so that public extension agencies (such as the Department of Agriculture and the Prime Minister’s Agriculture Modernization Project) partnered with local agents to conduct even more farmer field days. For example, CSISA provided training to farmers who purchased a reaper to enable them to become service providers, thereby increasing the number of farmers who had access to reaper services and the amount of land under reaper harvesting. Each reaper owner provided harvesting services to 10 farmers on 10.5 ha of rice and wheat area in the Feed the Future zone. Also in 2017, District Agriculture Development Offices and the Prime Minister’s Agriculture Modernization Project began providing subsidies on reapers and conducting their own demonstrations.

As commonly occurs when machinery adoption spreads, the availability of spare parts and repairs for reapers lagged behind sales. To address this problem, CSISA, the Nepal Agriculture Research Council and private sector companies provided reaper repair training to district sales agents’ mechanics, as well as small grants (US$ 200 worth of “pre-positioned” reaper spare parts) to certain agents/mechanics in the far and mid-west region to seed the market.

A 2017 CSISA survey of reaper adopters in the Feed the Future zone indicated that, compared with manual harvesting, reapers increased average farm-level profitability by US$ 120 when used for harvesting both rice and wheat. Reaper adoption also relieved families of having to find and manage work teams during harvesting periods, an activity that farmers typically found stressful. Reapers also gave farmers the opportunity of becoming entrepreneurs by turning their reapers into a small business.

As of March 2018, traders in the Feed the Future zone have sold the vast majority of their 2,197 reapers, representing total sales of approximately US$ 1.2 million. In the 2017 rice and 2018 wheat seasons, farmers harvested around 11,000 hectares of rice and wheat using reapers. Just prior to the 2018 sales season for reapers, importers reported that they had over 300 reapers in their warehouses; to date, farmers have purchased almost 70% (200 pieces). Interestingly, more than 95% of service providers purchased reapers without any subsidy, which indicates a willingness to take risks and an expectation of success. In response to the increased demand, the number of importers increased from four to seven between 2016 and 2018. Given that sales almost doubled in each of the last three years, optimism abounds about the potential for reaper scaling in Nepal.

Authors: Scott Justice and Gokul Paudel

 

New video highlights value of mechanization in Nepal

Posted on CSISA Success Story, Nepal-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, July 29, 2018

 

CSISA has launched a new video highlighting the value of scale-appropriate mechanization and the benefits of service provision in Nepal. Featuring farmers who have adopted technologies such as seed drills, power tillers, mini tillers and reapers, the video highlights that mechanization can save time and costs and reduce drudgery. Participating farmers also point out that extra income can be made from becoming a service provider and that this extra income can help reduce incentives for Nepal’s youth to go abroad looking for work.

Khumlal Chaudhary, a service provider in Rupandehi, says in the series, “I am extremely busy [providing services to other farmers]. It gets so hectic that I have to switch off my phone sometimes. […] I now have two sources of income. I am a farmer so I make income from what I grow in my fields. I also provide services with my tractors and the seed drill machine. The two activities help me make a good living.”

Yogendra Chaudhary says that since he and his son are able to make money through service provision, his son decided to remain in Nepal to work on the family’s farm instead of seeking employment abroad, and that the machines allow them to remain together, work together and prosper together.

Sutra Media Works and the CSISA team hosted video showings in four of CSISA’s working domains so that farmers, potential service providers, self-help groups and Nepal government representatives could see the film, ask follow-up questions and discuss locally relevant issues raised by the video. These community video showings were preceded by farmers’ field days and demonstrations of sustainable intensification technologies, and were followed by question and answer sessions.

Shown in Baridya, Dang, Kailali and Kanchanpur districts with 296 attendees (including 72 women), the video was well received and generated discussion about the following preconditions for mechanization to spread broadly: (1) increased awareness of agricultural technologies and their providers at the local level, (2) technical training on how to use the equipment, (3) availability of spare parts and repairs for fixing machines, and (4) mechanisms to make the cost of technology and services affordable for farmers.

Attendees included farmers, service providers, machinery traders and public sector representatives from the Nepal Agricultural Research Center, as well as the Prime Minister’s Agriculture Modernization Project, representatives from the Wheat and Rice Zones and “Super Zones.” CSISA is currently sharing the video with relevant governmental and non-governmental agricultural programs, as well as with relevant video sharing websites and broadcast and cable TV outlets, to broadly disseminate important messages about mechanization and service provision throughout Nepal.

 

Author: Cynthia Mathys

Generating accurate and valid scientific results

Posted on CSISA Success Story, India-news, Nepal-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, May 21, 2018

Machine learning (ML) allows software applications to become more accurate in predicting outcomes with increased use. ML involves building algorithms that can predict an output value within an acceptable range.

CSISA generates numerous scientific datasets on crop production practices and agronomic field trials, but generating frequent and valid results from these thousands of observations is a challenge. ML tools can help.

CSISA organized a five-day workshop in Odisha to train CSISA scientists from Bihar, eastern Uttar Pradesh (EUP) and Odisha in the use of ML tools – based on the open-source statistical computing and graphics software, ‘R,’ – to analyze CSISA’s crop cut and production practice survey datasets.

Each year, CSISA generates data from multi-location adaptive trials, production practice diagnostic surveys and a few other targeted needs-based surveys in Bangladesh, India and Nepal. These datasets are used to determine the most important yield attributing factor(s), information that could help policymakers target and refine recommendations and advisories. ML allows us to draw quick, accurate and valid results from these datasets.

Under the leadership of CSISA-Nepal’s Socioeconomist, Gokul Paudel, participants jointly reviewed production practice survey datasets, cleaned the data, applied relevant analytical tools and generated results.

The group started by reviewing basic statistics and R-software, the rationale behind ML and algorithms such as classification and regression tree (CART) and random forest models. Using R, participants checked data summary statistics and visualized in histograms, boxplots, scattered plots and correlation plots. With CART, the participants produced graphical results by chronologically classifying covariates in terms of their possible predictive roles in a particular outcome. CART showed that sowing date is the most important factor in determining wheat yield in Bihar and EUP, followed by crop establishment method, amount of nitrogen applied and number of irrigations.

Participants also used the random forest model, which is more robust in terms of training and validation performance because multiple decision trees, based on different characteristics, are built. Results also identified sowing date as the most important factor, also matching CART results for other covariates determining wheat yield.

These ML results provide sufficient evidence of the role of sowing date in wheat yield in UP and Bihar, which has also been documented earlier by CSISA.

This team of CSISA scientists successfully analyzed and visualized data with modern statistical tools and gained confidence to consistently undertake robust diagnostic surveys and collaborative research trials, as well as generate location specific insights, discuss these insights with partners and inform decision makers at relevant levels. All publications, along with full datasets, will be made available to the public through open source channels.

Overcoming gender gaps in rural mechanization

Posted on Bangladesh-news, CSISA Success Story, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, May 21, 2018

The custom hiring of labor- and cost-saving agricultural machinery services is increasingly common in South Asia. With agricultural machinery, gender gaps exist not only in the use of these technologies, but in farmers’ ability to rent and hire them.

To explore
gender dynamics in emerging markets for
agricultural machinery service-provision in 
 Bangladesh, the Gender, Climate Change, and Nutrition Integration Initiative (led by IFPRI), CSISA and CSISA-MI partnered to conduct qualitative research in Faridpur and Jhenaidah districts in October–December 2017. The team interviewed husband and wife machine service providers, men and women who hire machines for their farms, women farmers in non-mechanized farming households, and CSISA staff and community leaders.

Researchers focused on machinery services for multi-crop reaper-harvesters, which enable farmers to rapidly cut crops during harvest. Service providers running reaper businesses often hire skilled machine operators to harvest farmers’ fields. Women and men in the study identified multiple benefits of hiring reaper services, including the reduction of drudgery, the ability to pay for services after receiving them (unlike when they hire laborers, whom they have to pay up front), the time saved during crop harvesting, and the cost savings associated with using a machine rather than laborers who need to be housed and fed.

Unfortunately, women were found to face multiple barriers to running reaper-based service provider businesses, including: cultural norms preventing them learning about machines from men, lack of capital for investing in machines, fewer connections to help them advertise machine services, an unwillingness among men to operate machines for women, and a lack of family and community support for women who want to work outside the home.

Despite these gender-based constraints, many women still expressed interest in participating more or starting their own reaper service provision business. The following approaches can help close gender gaps in reaper-based business ownership: models that allow joint machine ownership and provide training to men and women equally; leveraging women’s networks to expand their potential client 
 bases; well-targeted, smart subsidies that make machine procurement more accessible for women; encouraging savings and loan associations to provide credit to women; models of group-based machine ownership; mobile phone-based payment options for clients; and sensitizing men to women’s contributions to service provision businesses.

Clearly, women benefit from managing and sometimes owning machinery services, as well as from the direct and indirect consequences of hiring such services to harvest their crops. However, a number of technical, economic, and cultural barriers still constrain women’s full participation in these benefits. Initiatives that promote rural machinery services should more fully engage women as business owners and users of machinery to expand the benefits of these markets throughout South Asia and other farming geographies dominated by smallholders.

CSISA and Bihar Agriculture University launch redesigned Soil Health Card

Posted on CSISA Success Story, India-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, May 21, 2018

 

Bihar Agricultural University (BAU), in collaboration with CSISA, launched a new Soil Health Card in Bihar in February 2018. The Indian Government’s Soil Health Card scheme was launched in 2015 to provide 130 million Indian farmers with a ‘soil report card,’ issued once every two years. Soil health cards reflect indicators of soil health, as determined by a lab-based analysis of soil samples from each farmer’s field. The card also recommends corrective measures to improve the soil, if needed.

The scheme’s objective is to help farmers improve soil health and productivity through the judicious use of chemical fertilizers, organic manures and bio-fertilizers. To make the cards more user-friendly, the Krishi Vigyan Kendra (farm science center) system, with support from BAU and CSISA, studied the soil health card’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as farmers’ experiences in trying to interpret the results and implement the recommendations. Results indicated that farmers face significant challenges in applying laboratory data to their field crops. Therefore, the KVKs, BAU and CSISA agreed to redesign the card.

In 2017, CSISA researchers also conducted soil health card user tests with farmers in Bihar and Odisha, soliciting detailed feedback on the card’s content and ease-of-use. Researchers found that although farmers valued the cards because they perceived the content to be useful, they struggled to understand the information due to a confusing format, overly scientific terminology and insufficient inclusion of images. This farmer feedback was presented to scientists at BAU in late 2017 and early 2018. Based on this feedback, BAU scientists endorsed a proposed new design. The redesigned the soil health card aims to improve farmers’ ability to absorb, interpret and use the recommendations included on the card.

The new card was written in the most common regional language and featured additional symbols and images to help farmers understand and interpret the contents, hopefully also making it easier for them to implement the recommendations. On February 24, 2018, the Union Minister of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare launched the redesigned soil health card at a regional Kisan Mela (agriculture fair) organized by BAU. The Bihar Minister of Agriculture and the Vice Chancellor of BAU facilitated the release of the new soil health card.

The success of the soil health card scheme depends not only on whether India’s network of soil chemistry laboratories can keep up with the dramatically increased demand for soil analysis, but also on whether the soil health cards can effectively influence farmers’ decision making.

Following distribution of the revised soil health cards to farmers in Bihar, CSISA intends to conduct follow-up surveys to determine whether the new design has increased farmer comprehension and implementation of the recommendations, or whether further innovation is required. Additional initiatives can also be undertaken in CSISA’s other priority geographies, including Odisha and Andhra Pradesh.

Mapping Indian soils at scale

Posted on CSISA Success Story, India-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, May 20, 2018

In India, a wealth of soil analytical data are generated by soil sampling programs such as the All India Soil Sampling Program and the Soil Health Card scheme. These rich data assets allow scientists to use state-of-the-art technologies and methods to produce digital maps of key soil fertility parameters that can support bringing soil fertility recommendations to scale.

Digital soil mapping (DSM), defined as the ‘computer-assisted production of digital maps of soil types and soil properties,’ makes use of (geo)statistical models that predict the soil type or property from a limited number of soil observations from a sample data set for locations where no samples have been taken. These ‘unsampled locations’ are typically arranged on a regular grid, i.e. DSM produces gridded (raster) soil maps at a specific spatial resolution (grid cell or pixel size) with a spatial prediction made for each individual grid cell.

Adopting DSM methods, combined with intelligent sampling design, could reduce the strain on the soil testing system in terms of logistics, quality control and costs. Improving digital soil mapping practices can also help create the infrastructure for a soil intelligence system that can drive decision-making at scale.

In November 2017, the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) engaged Dr. Bas Kempen of ISRIC – World Soil Information to provide a 5-day, hands-on training on digital soil mapping to 17 participants from Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha. Held at the Andhra Pradesh Space Applications Centre in Vijayawada, the training focused on capacity development and the generation of fine-scale digital soil maps at state and district levels using local data.

The training started by covering the essentials of ‘R,’ which is a useful, free statistical software. The group then learned about quantifying and modeling spatial variation with a variogram, followed by discussions about geostatistics and a machine learning algorithm called ‘random forest’, a powerful algorithm to model the predictive relationship between the soil property of interest and a (large) set of environmental covariates. Next, the participants focused on data preparation, which included organizing soil sample and covariate data, creation of a prediction mask, creation of a covariate stack and the regression matrix (soil sample data set with covariate data associated to each sampling site). The participants worked on a hands-on data preparation exercise using a soil sample data set from Bihar.

The latter part of the training was dedicated to validation and a hands-on DSM exercise using local data. On the last day of the training, the participants finalized and presented their maps, energized that they had produced digital soil maps using local data. The workshop concluded with the identification of follow-up actions that can lead towards the better use of spatial data analytics and DSM methods for bringing improved soil fertility management to scale.

In January 2018, to reinforce the skills taught by Dr. Kempen, CSISA engaged Dr. David G. Rossiter, Adjunct Associate Professor at Cornell University and Guest Researcher at ISRIC, to provide follow-up training on advanced spatial data quality assessments, cleaning and curation, as well as to provide direct mentorship to DSM trainees on the improvement of their ‘first generation’ digital soil maps. First generation maps for soil properties such as critical micronutrients like Zinc and soil pH have been produced and are being validated against field data. Implications for insights into efficient soil sampling at scale are being derived from the maps while critical use cases such as the deployment of predictive maps for precision nutrients management at scale are being evaluated.

In partnership with state government agencies and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, CSISA will continue to provide training and support to these initial participants as well as others, working to expand DSM capacity in India for the efficient and rapid scaling of soil fertility recommendations for farmers.

New systems analysis tools help boost the sustainable intensification of agriculture in Bangladesh

Posted on Bangladesh-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, December 5, 2017

 

DHAKA, Bangladesh (CIMMYT) – In South Asia, the population is growing and land area for agricultural expansion is extremely limited. Increasing the productivity of already farmed land is the best way to attain food security.

In the northwestern Indo-Gangetic Plains, farmers use groundwater to irrigate their fields. This allows them to grow two or three crops on the same piece of land each year, generating a reliable source of food and income for farming families. But in the food-insecure lower Eastern Indo-Gangetic Plains in Bangladesh, farmers have lower investment capacities and are highly risk averse. Combined with environmental difficulties including ground water scarcity and soil and water salinity, cropping is often much less productive.

Could the use of available surface water for irrigation provide part of the solution to these problems? The government of Bangladesh has recently promoted  the use of surface water irrigation for crop intensification. The concept is simple: by utilizing the country’s network of largely underutilized natural canals, farmers can theoretically establish at least two well-irrigated and higher-yielding crops per year. The potential for this approach to intensifying agriculture however has various limitations.  High soil and water salinity, poor drainage and water logging threaten crop productivity. In addition, weakly developed markets, rural to urban out-migration, low tenancy issues and overall production risk limit farmers’ productivity. The systematic nature of these problems calls for new approaches to study how development investments can best be leveraged to overcome these complex challenges to increase cropping intensity.

Policy makers, development practitioners and agricultural scientists recently gathered to respond to these challenges at a workshop in Dhaka. They reviewed research results and discussed potential solutions to common limitations. Representatives from more than ten national research, extension, development and policy institutes participated. The CSISA-supported workshop however differed from conventional approaches to research for development in agriculture, in that it explicitly focused on interdisciplinary and systems analysis approaches to addressing these complex problems.

Systems analysis is the process of studying the individual parts and their integration into complex systems to identify ways in which more effective and efficient outcomes can be attained. This workshop focused on these approaches and highlighted new advances in mathematical modeling, geospatial systems analysis, and the use of systems approaches to farmer behavioral science.

Timothy J. Krupnik, Systems Agronomist at CIMMYT and CSISA Bangladesh country coordinator, gave an overview of a geospatial assessment of landscape-scale irrigated production potential in coastal Bangladesh to start the talks.  For the first time in Bangladesh, research using cognitive mapping, a technique developed in cognitive and behavioral science that can be used to model farmers’ perceptions of their farming systems, and opportunities for development interventions to overcome constraints to intensified cropping, was described. This work was conducted by Jacqueline Halbrendt and presented by Lenora Ditzler, both with the Wageningen University.

“This research and policy dialogue workshop brought new ideas of farming systems and research, and has shown new and valuable tools to analyze complex problems and give insights into how to prioritize development options,” said Executive Director of the Krishi Gobeshona Foundation, Wais Kabir.

Workshop participants also discussed how to prioritize future development interventions, including how to apply a new online tool that can be used to target irrigation scheme planning, which arose from the work presented by Krupnik. Based on the results of these integrated agronomic and socioeconomic systems analyses, participants also learned how canal dredging, drainage, micro-finance, extension and market development must be integrated to achieve increases in cropping intensity in southern Bangladesh.

Mohammad Saidur Rahman, Assistant Professor, Seed Science and Technology department at Bangladesh Agriculture University, also said he appreciated the meeting’s focus on new methods. He indicated that systems analysis can be applied not only to questions on cropping intensification in Bangladesh, but to other crucial problems in agricultural development across South Asia.

The workshop was organized by the Enhancing the Effectiveness of Systems Analysis Tools to Support Learning and Innovation in Multi-stakeholder Platforms (ESAP) project, an initiative funded by the MAIZE CRP through the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and supported in Bangladesh through the  Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA). ESAP is implemented by Wageningen University’s Farming Systems Ecology group and the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT).

by Shahidul Haque Khan / December 4, 2017

Check out CSISA’s Data Repository

Posted on News - Homepage, News & Announcements, October 27, 2017

Kathmandu, Nepal (CSISA) – In keeping with the open data policies of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) has launched the CSISA Data Repository to ensure public accessibility to key data sets, including crop cut data- directly observed, crop yield estimates, on-station and on-farm research trial data and socioeconomic surveys.

CSISA is a science-driven and impact-oriented regional initiative for increasing the productivity of cereal-based cropping systems in Bangladesh, India and Nepal, thus improving food security and farmers’ livelihoods. CSISA generates data that is of value and interest to a diverse audience of researchers, policymakers and the public.

CSISA’s data repository is hosted on Dataverse, an open source web application developed at Harvard University to share, preserve, cite, explore and analyze research data. CSISA’s repository contains rich datasets, including on-station trial data from 2009–17 about crop and resource management practices for sustainable future cereal-based cropping systems. Collection of this data occurred during the long-term, on-station research trials conducted at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research – Research Complex for the Eastern Region in Bihar, India. The data include information on agronomic management for the sustainable intensification of cropping systems, mechanization, diversification, futuristic approaches to sustainable intensification, long-term effects of conservation agriculture practices on soil health and the pest spectrum.

Additional trial data in the repository includes nutrient omission plot technique trials from Bihar, eastern Uttar Pradesh and Odisha, India, covering 2012–15, which help determine the indigenous nutrient supplying ability of the soil. This data helps develop precision nutrient management approaches that would be most effective in different types of soils.

CSISA’s most popular dataset thus far includes crop cut data on maize in Odisha, India and rice in Nepal. Crop cut datasets provide ground-truthed yield estimates, as well as valuable information on relevant agronomic and socioeconomic practices affecting production practices and yield. A variety of research data on wheat systems are also available from Bangladesh and India. Additional crop cut data will also be coming online soon.

Cropping system-related data and socioeconomic data are in the repository, some of which are cross-listed with a Dataverse run by the International Food Policy Research Institute. The socioeconomic datasets contain baseline information that is crucial for technology targeting, as well as to assess the adoption and performance of CSISA-supported technologies under smallholder farmers’ constrained conditions, representing the ultimate litmus test of their potential for change at scale. Other highly interesting datasets include farm composition and productive trajectory information, based on a 20-year panel dataset, and numerous wheat crop cut and maize nutrient omission trial data from across Bangladesh.

CSISA’s web site also has a variety of other valuable resources, including knowledge management products and training manuals, peer-reviewed publications and project reports. In particular, CSISA has just published training modules on integrated weed management and mechanical tran

Sustaining Gains through India’s Agriculture Technology Application Research Institutes

Posted on CSISA Success Story, India-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, October 27, 2017

Delhi, India (CSISA) – In the past year, the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), has trained scientists from 15 Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) – agricultural extension centers – in Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh on improved methods of survey design and on the digital data collection tool, Open Data Kit (ODK).

CSISA and its partner KVKs, have identified the strengthening of the monitoring, learning and evaluation (ML&E) systems as a strategic objective of the collaboration. With improved data collection and analysis, the KVKs can assess farmers’ agronomic practices and cropping system productivity to see how their practices compare with state-level agricultural recommendations and to undertake a critical review of official recommendations and update them if necessary.

Designing surveys as digital questionnaires allows surveys to be shorter, more streamlined and faster to implement. Digital data collection allows researchers and ML&E staff to generate datasets in real time, reducing the time it takes to collect data and minimizing the opportunities for error that occur when transferring data from paper forms to electronic spreadsheets. ODK is an open-source platform that is easy for KVKS to adopt, streamline and facilitate data collection, storage, analysis and sharing.

From the first batch of 15-trained KVKs, seven have already deployed improved survey design methods and implemented a survey through ODK. Seven KVKs in Bihar are conducting a coordinated survey on wheat production practices for the 2016-17 cropping season. The survey covers 129 villages and 1,855 farming households. From the findings, it was quickly observable that farmers are using slightly more nitrogen- and phosphate-based fertilizers than recommended by the state agriculture universities and official dose recommendations. Using higher-than-recommended fertilizer doses does not increase yields, only cost.

CSISA has worked with KVKs since 2015 to test and modify locally-relevant technologies and help integrate successful technologies into the government’s official package of practices for each state.

CSISA is facilitating KVK scientists to survey farmers’ practices and conduct agronomic trials on nutrient productivity so that they can feed locally relevant research results into extension systems. In the areas where KVKs operate, improved ML&E systems, as well as better, cleaner and more readily available data, can help these KVKs align their activities with the seasonal priorities and investments of the state-level departments of agriculture, as well as help inform the research priorities of the state agriculture universities.

The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia is led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center and implemented jointly with the International Food Policy Research Institute and the International Rice Research Institute.

This article was authored by Anurag Ajay.

Photo credit: Anurag Ajay/CIMMYT

Engagement with Prime Minister’s Agriculture Modernization Project in Nepal

Posted on CSISA Success Story, Nepal-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, October 27, 2017

Nepal (CSISA) – In July 2017, the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) and the Prime Minister’s Agriculture Modernization Project (PMAMP) jointly held a working group forum, aiming to unify and coordinate the efforts of 21 public and private stakeholders working on research, extension and private sector development for wheat in Nepal. The forum emphasized the need to identify proven best practices for sustainable intensification of wheat, explored possible scaling pathways for knowledge and technological innovations and identified knowledge gaps and areas for future research. The group also laid out a strategy for development of a joint work plan for the 2017–18 wheat season.

The Government of Nepal recently endorsed a new twenty-year agriculture development strategy that charts a progressive course of action to revitalize agriculture as an engine for economic growth and domestic food security. At the center of this strategy is the recently-launched PMAMP, designed to enhance productivity and commercialization of major cereals, fisheries, fruits and vegetables over the next decade. The PMAMP has laid out a structure of super zones -commercial areas of more than 1,000 ha, zones – areas over 500 ha, blocks – over 50 ha and pockets – over 10 ha, these are defined areas across the country that receive government support to produce particular crops intensively.

CSISA has been closely working with PMAMP from its inception in 2016 by providing technical backstopping at the central and local levels for the wheat, maize, rice and farm mechanization programs. CSISA sees PMAMP as a key mechanism for scaling up sustainable intensification technologies in Nepal due to the large geographic reach of the program.

Since early 2017, CSISA has provided PMAMP staff technical guidance on seasonal activity planning and has facilitated cross-learning events and ‘trainings of trainers’ to super zone and zone technicians and operational committees on how to implement and out-scale sustainable intensification technologies. CSISA has also developed training materials, educational videos and other extension materials for utilization by the cereal- and mechanization-based programs.

In the recent forum, Rajan Dhakal, Senior Agriculture Officer at PMAMP, remarked that the discussions were instrumental in identifying technical priorities for wheat and revealing how the efforts of diverse partners can contribute to the food security goals of the Government of Nepal.

Similarly, Yagya Prasad Giri, Chair and Director of Crops and Horticulture at National Agriculture Research Council (NARC), said he appreciated CSISA’s efforts to facilitate discussion and coordination across a diverse set of stakeholders through a common and action-oriented platform.

Drawing on the success of the wheat forum, PMAMP is planning to convene meetings for maize and rice with support from NARC, CSISA and private sector partners within the next two months. CSISA will continue to provide technical support for program implementation and scale-up, as well as advice on seasonal planning, in recognition of the value of public-private collaborations around sustainable intensification issues in Nepal.

The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia is led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center and implemented jointly with the International Food Policy Research Institute and the International Rice Research Institute.

This article was authored by Mina Devkota.

Photo credit: CIMMYT

Campaign for Healthy Rice Uses Video as a Medium to Extend Reach

Posted on Bangladesh-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, October 27, 2017

DHAKA, Bangladesh (CSISA) – The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), in collaboration with the Agricultural Advisory Society (AAS), is scaling out a campaign in Bangladesh to increase farmers’ knowledge and skills on quality rice seedling production.

Reaching the vast number of individuals of rural Bangladesh’s huge farmer population presents a formidable challenge to the agricultural extension system’s capacity. The diversity and geographic spread of Bangladesh’s farmers also challenge extensions’ ability to link farmers with innovative and locally relevant agricultural research findings.

CSISA has launched a partnership with the AAS, an NGO, to help disseminate agricultural research and extension messages to large numbers of farming villages, highlighting locally relevant sustainable intensification technologies.

In 2012, CSISA and AAS teamed up to field test an initiative to use videos to spread agricultural information. CSISA and AAS organised 482 screenings of the Bangla language video ‘Save more, grow more, earn more,’ which introduces farmers to small-scale agricultural machinery that can be attached to two-wheeled tractors. These implements seed and fertilize crops in a way that saves fuel and labour, allowing farmers to profit while reducing irrigation requirements.

Groups of volunteers in over 300 communities distributed over 3,000 DVDs across Bangladesh and the video aired 12 times on the national station, Bangladesh Television, which resulted in a viewership of 28 million.

The initiative was so successful that it earned the prestigious international Access Agriculture Award for the use of training videos for farmer outreach in 2015.

Based on this experience, CSISA and AAS worked together this year to use video shows to increase farmers’ knowledge and skills on quality rice seedling production. The team screened ‘Healthy Rice Seedlings’ in 11 districts within Southern Bangladesh during May-July, reaching an audience of at least 23,970 people.

“Video-based material is very important for agricultural extension,” said Rezaul Karim Siddique, the director of this video production. “[Videos] create awareness among farmers about new technologies, disseminate scientific knowledge to marginalized people and areas, and can reduce knowledge gaps in agricultural production.”

Now, over 205,000 farmers have seen CSISA-related videos in the target area in Bangladesh.

The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia is led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center and implemented jointly with the International Food Policy Research Institute and the International Rice Research Institute.

A Boost for Machinery Testing and Training in Nepal

Posted on CSISA Success Story, Nepal-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, October 27, 2017

NALWAPUR, Nepal (CSISA) – A targeted investment by the U.S. Agency for International Development has boosted the government of Nepal’s capacity to test innovative, scale-appropriate agricultural machinery and conduct agricultural machinery training programs for local farmers, operators and mechanics.

In collaboration with the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia in Nepal (CSISA)’s Mechanization and Irrigation project, the government of Nepal is launching two new centers in the coming months: an Agricultural Machinery Testing and Research Center, established by the Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC), and the Central Agricultural Machinery Training Center, established by the Department of Agriculture’s Directorate of Agricultural Engineering.

The Agricultural Machinery Testing and Research Center will greatly improve NARC’s capacity to evaluate agricultural machinery as well as to suggest changes, and where appropriate, implement design improvements. The center will allow NARC to oversee the quality of manufactured agricultural machinery as a service to importers, local manufacturers and Nepal’s farmers.

The Central Agricultural Machinery Training Center aims to strengthen the Directorate of Agricultural Engineering’s capacity to conduct training programs on agricultural machinery operation and maintenance for farmers and service providers, and for agricultural machinery repair for mechanics. The establishment of these new centers fulfills part of Nepal’s Agriculture Mechanization Promotion Policy, as well as the larger Agricultural Development Strategy of Nepal.

Collaborative work between CSISA, NARC and the Engineering Directorate began in 2015 with the initial site selection process. Both NARC and the Engineering Directorate wanted the centers to be centrally located to facilitate collaboration, dialogue and knowledge sharing between the centers. The NARC center obtained a 10-hectare parcel of underutilized research farmland in Nawalpur, overseen by a separate NARC research program, which is undergoing renovations to create offices, storage and equipment space. The Directorate of Agricultural Engineering finalized selection of a nearby site, which is currently undergoing approval by the Ministry of Agriculture and Development.

CSISA, NARC and the Engineering Directorate have now started the procurement process of relevant machinery for the facilities. For NARC, one of the center’s most important testing machines is a dynamometer, which calculates exact power outputs of motors. This center also procured mechanical vibration testing equipment and various sensors for measuring torque, revolutions per minute, drawbar force and digital telemetry for data transfer from the machinery in testing. NARC has also started field-testing new two-wheel tractor seeders and planters.

For the Engineering Directorate’s Machinery Training Facility, a wide variety of tools and equipment have been procured to support upcoming agricultural trainings. The equipment includes diverse hand tools, power tools, field equipment, tractors, tractor attachments and specialized training devices such as small agricultural machinery cutaways. Such machinery will be used to train lead farmers in the use and maintenance of scale-appropriate machinery, as well as to train technicians, mechanics and blacksmiths in machinery manufacturing and repair.

The establishment of these new centers represents a deepening of support by USAID and CSISA to scale-appropriate mechanization research and development in Nepal and highlights their long-standing commitment to, and cooperation with, the Government of Nepal, NARC and the Department of Agriculture, in providing research and technologies needed by Nepal’s farmers. As evidence of the government of Nepal’s commitment to these centers and the growth of agricultural mechanization, NARC recently announced a US$ 100,000 co-investment in the Agricultural Machinery Testing and Research Center, complementing the nearly US$ 300,000 investment made across both centers by CSISA.

The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia is led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center and implemented jointly with the International Food Policy Research Institute and the International Rice Research Institute.

This article was authored by Scott Justice.

Photo credit: K. Bhatta/CIMMYT

Dry Direct-Seeded Rice Increases Profitability in Bangladesh

Posted on Bangladesh-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, October 27, 2017

DHAKA, Bangladesh (CSISA) – The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) recently organized field demonstrations to show how using direct-seeded rice (DSR) instead of transplanting rice crops not only minimizes water use but also reduces production cost and increases profitability. This event created significant awareness of, and interest in, DSR technologies among policymakers and farmers.

Bangladesh has attained self-sufficiency in rice production, according to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS). In 2015–16, rice occupied 74% of the country’s total cropped area, 15.44 million hectares, and total paddy (rough rice) production was 52 million tons.

Sustaining rice self-sufficiency will require the country to produce about 20 percent more, or 10 million more tons of paddy, by 2025 to feed the expected population of 169 million people. This increase must occur despite the steady decline in cultivated land area, reduction in availability of groundwater, declining profitability and increasingly erratic climate.

In Bangladesh, rice grows throughout the year in three seasons popularly known as Aus (March–July), Aman (June–November) and Boro (November–May), with the majority of production occurring in the Boro season. Rice in Aus and Aman is mainly rainfed but fully irrigated during Boro. More than 80% of irrigated areas rely on groundwater, which is decreasing over time due to unregulated use, leading to a lack of irrigation water at the end of the Boro season across a large part of the country and driving up irrigation costs, reducing the profitability of Boro rice.

Diversifying cropping and production systems with nutritious and low water crops would save groundwater, but could reduce the total volume of rice production. To minimize rice shortages, previously uncultivated areas during Aus and Aman seasons may need to be cultivated.

Considering the important contribution of Aus rice to Bangladesh’s rice production levels, CSISA began testing mechanized DSR during the 2016 Aus season on 17 hectares in the United States Agency for International Development’s Feed the Future Zone in southern Bangladesh.

Based on the successful results of the use of this technology, CSISA began an awareness campaign for farmers, stakeholders and policymakers. High-level officials of the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) and the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) visited the DSR fields and exchanged ideas with farmers.

The promotion of mechanized Aus DSR directly supports the government priority to increase Aus cultivation and farm mechanization. Both public and private organizations have shown significant interest in Aus DSR and a willingness to work with CSISA.

CSISA has therefore targeted this region for DSR rice in Aus season where over 400 two-wheel tractor-based direct sowing machines are currently in use by service providers, and another 500 units are shipping to Bangladesh from CSISA partner RFL, an agricultural machinery importer and manufacturer.

CSISA will work with BRRI, DAE, non-government organizations and machinery dealers to further raise awareness of DSR technology, aggregate farmer demand for emerging service providers, and scale out the technology. CSISA will facilitate market linkages to ensure quality inputs, particularly seeds and herbicides and with millers and traders to help farmers sell their rice.

The wider dissemination and adoption of DSR in Aus will save water use, reduce labor requirements, lower production cost, and increase the profitability of rice farming.

The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia is led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center and implemented jointly with the International Food Policy Research Institute and the International Rice Research Institute.

This article was authored by M. Murshedul Alam, Sharif Ahmed and Humnath Bhandari

Photos credit: Md. Khairul Islam Rony

CSISA Launches Collaboration with Government of Odisha

Posted on India-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, October 27, 2017

ODISHA, India (CSISA) – In its latest efforts to facilitate the adoption of sustainable intensification technologies in eastern India, the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) has launched a collaboration with the Department of Agriculture and Farmers’ Empowerment (DAFE) in the Indian state of Odisha.

A letter of intent signed by both parties outlines five themes: improving maize production in the Odisha plateau, growing the service economy for agricultural mechanization, rice fallows intensification, data-driven monitoring and evaluation, and advancing the science and impact of precision nutrient management through India’s soil health card scheme. The collaboration constitutes a major push to accelerate agriculture productivity growth in the state.

In collaboration with the DAFE, CSISA piloted hybrid maize cultivation and proper nutrient and weed management practices in the north-central plateau of Odisha. Farmers realized a grain yield of 4.8 tons per hectare; almost double that of traditional maize yields.

For maize, post-harvest management is very challenging because it coincides with monsoon season when hot and wet conditions persist. Farmers need management innovations to maintain good grain quality, particularly when monsoon-harvested maize is destined for dry grain markets. CSISA and DAFE are designing post-harvest and marketing interventions to help farmers’ maize harvests reach markets.

The key drivers of agricultural machinery-based entrepreneurship must be understood to grow a service economy. CSISA and DAFE are conducting a study to clarify the motivating factors behind farmers becoming service providers. Data collection for the study will occur in October–November 2017 and the results of the study will guide key policy actions to modify the existing subsidy structures, which will provide a thrust to the service economy by effectively utilizing state resources.

Some complex factors cause farmers to leave land fallow, or unused, after the rice season in Odisha, and ad-hoc investments will not yield effective or sustainable solutions. The decision process behind leaving land fallow goes beyond biophysical and technical issues. CSISA found that complex constraining factors – social, economic and political – and trade-offs that farmers face greatly affect the decision.

To understand some of these complexities, CSISA conducted participatory diagnostics of three things, potential interventions, the sequencing of those interventions, and the coordination of those interventions, which could stimulate intensified cropping in the rice fallows of coastal Odisha. CSISA, with experts from stakeholder organizations, conducted workshops with farmers at the village and district levels.

These participatory diagnostics of decision-making around the cultivation of fallow land highlighted the importance of considering unconventional issues, such as poor synchronization of markets with new-crop investment and credit repayment timing. A state-level working committee has been formed to develop seasonal work plans for this theme, as well as to monitor activities, such as how to generate evidence on fallow investment preferences and the design and implementation of experiments.

In 2016, CSISA, the Government of Odisha and private sector actors cultivated approximately 4,000 hectares of fallow land with hybrid maize, an initiative that has benefitted smallholder tribal farmers primarily. Seeing the success, DAFE urged CSISA to implement similar interventions in other areas of the state.

In the spring of 2017, CSISA began work in the west-central plateau of Odisha. In this area, CSISA facilitated the availability of hybrid seeds, high-quality planting equipment and extension workers trained on best management practices for maize. These interventions were the first of their kind in the area and resulted in the cultivation of 600 additional hectares in the 2017 cropping season. CSISA and DAFE are jointly planning further expansion to additional districts, especially areas where mechanization is uncommon.

CSISA considers precision nutrient management critical for sustainable intensification and, in collaboration with various government agencies, has engaged a team to assess the Indian government’s Soil Health Card (SHC) system.

CSISA’s experience in facilitating the uptake of improved agricultural technologies, as well as the integration of new information, indicates that the distribution of soil health cards alone will not be sufficient for generating behavior change at the farm level. To understand farmers’ perspectives on SHCs, CSISA conducted user tests in several districts of Bihar and Odisha to see which information farmers understood and adopted from the SHC. Researchers found that although the cards contain significant essential information, farmers have a difficult time understanding it. Therefore, CSISA and government partners are collaborating to simplify the SHC and make it more user-friendly and farmer-accessible.

CSISA is supporting the state’s learning & evaluation (ML&E) systems to ensure that feedback from the field is used to help set the next year’s priorities. The collaboration will focus on the training of extension staff on effective tools and techniques for digital data collection, as well as data analysis. CSISA conducted training for DAFE staff on an open source software called open data kit (ODK), in May 2017. Follow-up trainings will provide capacity building on data analysis tools and techniques.

Using ODK, the trained staff will now capture survey data according to a standardized questionnaire agreed to by the group. Since data will be collected in ODK, it will be available through an online database to DAFE researchers. CSISA will provide the initial support to DAFE for the analysis of the data and interpretation of the results. Results will help policymakers fine-tune agricultural programming and inform their agricultural investments. Analytical and design work is underway, and results are expected to emerge by mid-October 2017.

The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia is led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center and implemented jointly with the International Food Policy Research Institute and the International Rice Research Institute.


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