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.

Sprinting Towards Better Machinery Design

Posted on Nepal-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, April 18, 2017

India is the industrial powerhouse of South Asia, with a large agricultural machinery industry that, most notably, sells huge numbers of good quality, low-cost four-wheel tractors. Indian machinery manufacturers are well placed to expand and diversify their markets into other South Asian nations, not only for four-wheel tractors, but also for two-wheel tractors and their specialized implements, including planters and seeders.

To address the need for better two-wheel tractor attachments such as seeder-planters and reapers in Nepal, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) provided funding to the Cereal Systems Initiative in South Asia (CSISA), led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), to work with Indian manufacturers of two-wheel tractor attachments to better tailor their designs to the needs of small-scale farmers. Noting that two-wheel tractor owners have not adopted existing models of seeder-planters on a wide scale anywhere in the world, CSISA conducted a series of ‘Design Sprints’ in India that helped manufacturers of two-wheel tractor seed drills and planters tweak and modify their machinery designs to better suit the needs of small-scale farmers, including in Nepal’s hill and Terai ecologies.

A ‘Design Sprint’ at National Agro in Ludhiana, Punjab, going well into the evening due to lively debates and discussions.

During a series of three- to five-day Design Sprints, CSISA provided seed drill manufacturers with technical feedback on their current designs and facilitated discussions about the merits and demerits of various seed drills currently available in the market (worldwide there are over 40 design offerings from the private and public sector). Groups considered various incremental changes to their existing models, as well as entirely new designs that would be more relevant for, and commercially attractive to, small-scale two-wheel tractor owners, farmers and service providers.

After a series of visits by CSISA in 2016, the Design Sprints began in earnest in early 2017. The Sprints will accelerate the prototyping, testing and ‘getting to market’ of at least three new models of two-wheel tractor planters from Khedut Agro and Dharti Agro, both located in Rajkot, Gujarat, and National Agro in Ludhiana, Punjab. CSISA wanted to give the manufacturers’ designers wide creative berth to be as innovative as possible in solving existing agronomic and ergonomic limitations faced by their current offerings. Therefore, CSISA provided only a few stipulations – any new design should aim to:

  • Follow basic norms in seed drill design, including basic agronomic and conservation agriculture norms
  • Cost less than the current offerings
  • Be lighter weight than their existing designs
  • Fit easily on the two-wheel tractors that are prevalent in Nepal and Bangladesh (and many places in India)
  • Be driven safely and comfortably on the road so that service providers can move quickly between jobs (farmers’ fields).

New Dharti prototype for lightweight, road transportable, two-wheel tractor planter-seeder that emerged from the Design Sprint.

These conditions were derived from years of feedback received by CSISA about farmers’ experiences with various two-wheel tractor seed drills. Farmers conveyed that although many drills were agronomically sound in the field, they were ergonomically problematic for the operator, and too expensive for many small-scale two-wheel tractor service providers.

The three manufacturers have nearly completed their prototypes, and the next stage will involve CSISA facilitating several prototypes from each manufacturer to be tested and, if necessary, refined in Nepal by the Nepal Agricultural Research Center. Ultimately, USAID and CSISA aim to utilize the knowledge and knowhow of the Indian agricultural machinery industry to enable two-wheel tractor-based farmers to enjoy the same economic and agronomic benefits of increased input productivity from mechanized line sowing of seed and banding of fertilizer that four-wheel tractor-based farmers now enjoy in South Asia.

This article is authored by Scott E. Justice, Agricultural Mechanization Specialist, CIMMYT-Nepal.

Weeding Out Yield Losses in South Asia

Posted on Bangladesh-news, India-news, Nepal-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, April 18, 2017

Weed infestation is among the primary barriers to achieving the full yield potential of crops, including improved cultivars, in South Asia. According to Virender Kumar, Senior Scientist – Weed Science, International Rice Research Institute, “Unlike insects and disease where effects are more often immediately evident in the field, weeds are like a slow poison, working unseen in the background. Weeds are endemic to agricultural fields, have received relatively less attention from farmers, and are difficult to react to.”

Studies have shown that yield losses due to weeds can range from 15 to 90 percent in Bangladesh (Mamun et al. 1990, 1993, 2013*; Mazid et al. 2001*; Rashid et al. 2012). In India, studies (Rao and Chauhan, 2015; Milberg and Hallgren, 2003) have shown approximately 33 percent yield losses were attributed to weeds, followed by insect pests at 26 percent and diseases at 20 percent. Specifically for rice, 15 percent of losses in transplanted rice were attributed to weeds, as were 30 percent of losses in direct seeded rice. The situation worsens for rice cultivated in upland ecologies, such as Mayurbhanj district in Odisha. Here, 45 percent, or higher, of yield losses have been attributed to weeds.

In the geographies where the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), is active, effective, accessible and affordable weed management tools are needed as manual hand-weeding still dominates and weeds continue to be poorly controlled. In southern Bangladesh, the Indian states of Bihar, eastern Uttar Pradesh and Odisha, and the Terai region of Nepal, herbicide use remains very low and herbicide markets are only at a nascent stage of development. Increasing labor out-migration and the resulting rise in wages is expected to eventually drive up herbicide demand in these regions, but imprecisely or incorrectly applying herbicides is not the answer.

Farmers often lack knowledge on safe and integrated weed management practices. Therefore, all across South Asia, CSISA has adopted a new approach to safe and efficient use of herbicides, with the major focus still on the agronomic management of weeds. CSISA research results show that the integration of new classes of safe and effective herbicides with other cultural practices, supported by hand and mechanical weeding, resulted in up to 25 and 29 percent increase in grain yields in Odisha and Bihar, respectively, for transplanted rice and a reduction in weed control costs compared to farmers’ current practices. This method of integrated weed management (IWM) addresses labor bottlenecks in intensive rice-based systems and is also an important enabling factor for the adoption of sustainable intensification technologies such as direct-seeded rice and zero-tillage wheat.

“Most rice farming in South Asia is subject to water shortages, imbalanced fertilizer use and increased frequency of extreme weather, which allow complex weed flora to dominate and weeds to triumph in the face of crop–weed competition. We’re trying to move from conventional to new systems, to reduced water consumption and tillage. Naturally, this means we’re going to see even more weeds,” said Kumar, who also leads CSISA’s work on IWM. By undertaking collaborative applied research and creating business intelligence with national agricultural research and extension systems and private sector partners, CSISA hopes to help build a critical mass of IWM adopters in these regions. CSISA is working on demonstrating the efficacy of new molecule combinations for the control of complex weed flora, facilitating market development of new molecule combinations, and on promoting other non-chemical options such as dust mulching, fallows management, better land preparation, cropping system intensification and mechanical weeding.

In Bangladesh, by partnering with the Agricultural Input Retailers Network, CSISA has leveraged an existing platform of private sector agricultural input dealers to ensure its practical lessons on implementing IWM reach nearly 25,000 farmers this year alone. Approximately 800 input dealers underwent training on IWM conducted jointly by CSISA, Bangladesh Department of Agricultural Extension and Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute. Sajedul Islam, an agricultural input dealer from Jhenaidah district, said, “The method of calibrating the herbicide sprayer is a new and useful aspect of herbicide use, which I have learned from this training. I am now capable of doing the calibration myself and shall be able to pass this knowledge to farmers, which will help reduce their risk from improper herbicide use.” The other participants, like Islam, are naturally motivated to help disseminate these lessons to a much larger audience since it would directly benefit their businesses.

CSISA is working to create a similar network in India as well. A consultation organized in Odisha in January, for example, brought together representatives of major herbicide companies, research organizations, sprayer manufacturers, NGOs, dealers/retailers and service providers. By providing these organizations a common platform to share their knowledge and pool their resources, CSISA hopes to build a robust platform that will ensure its message on IWM reaches farmers quickly.

This article is authored by Anurag Ajay, Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist, CIMMYT-India and M. Shahidul Haque Khan, Communications Officer, CIMMYT-Bangladesh.


*Mamun, A. A. 1990. Weeds and their control: A review of weed research in Bangladesh. Agricultural and Rural Development in Bangladesh. Japan Intl. Co-operation Agency, Dhaka, Bangladesh. JSARD. 19: 45-72.

*Mamun, A.A., S.M.R. Karim., M. Behum., M.I. Uddin., and M.A. Rahman. 1993. Weed survey in different crops under three agro-ecological zones of Bangladesh. BAURESS Prog. Report. 8: 41-51.

*Mamun, M.A.A.,   R. Shultana., M.M.  Rana., and A.J. Mridha. 2013.  Economic threshold density of multi species weed for direct seeded rice. Asian J. Agril. Rural Develo. 8: 523-531.

*Mazid, M.A., M.A. Jabbar., C.R. Riches., E.J.Z. Robinson., M. Mortimer., and L.J. Wade. 2001. Weed management implications of introducing dry-seeding of rice in the Barind Tract of Bangladesh. In: Brighton Crop Protection Conference, 13–15 November 2001. 211–216 pp.

Scientists Trained to Fight Wheat Blast in South Asia

Posted on Bangladesh-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, April 18, 2017

Last year, the devastating disease wheat blast was observed in South Asia for the first time. Caused by the fungus Magnaporthe oryzae pathotype Triticum (MoT) and first discovered in Paraná State, Brazil, in the mid-1980s, blast constitutes a major constraint to wheat production in South America. The sudden appearance of a highly virulent MoT strain in Bangladesh presents a serious threat to food and income security in South Asia, home to 300 million undernourished people and whose inhabitants consume over 100 million tons of wheat each year. Last year, blast caused considerable production losses in Bangladesh. Approximately 15,000 hectares in the south-western and southern districts of Kushtia, Meherpur, Chuadanga, Jessore, Jheneidah, Barisal and Bhola experienced crop losses due to blast.  Average yield loss was estimated at 25-30 percent, but in severely infected fields, the entire crop was lost.

Actively responding to this problem, the Ministry of Agriculture formed a task force through the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council to suggest recommendations to mitigate wheat blast. Recommendations included a combination of integrated pest management and the development and adoption of resistant cultivars and agronomic methods. A fact sheet with recommendations prepared by the task force was distributed among farmers to raise awareness on how to manage wheat blast. In combating the disease, it is paramount that scientists and extension personnel are adequately trained to assess and manage blast.

The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in partnership with national and international partners, organized a 12-day training on “Taking Action to Mitigate the Threat of Wheat Blast in South Asia: Disease Surveillance and Monitoring Skills” in February in Bangladesh. Experts from CIMMYT, the CGIAR research program on wheat, Cornell University and Kansas State University facilitated the training, in addition to scientists from Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) and Bangladesh Agricultural University, for 40 wheat pathologists and agronomists from Bangladesh, India, and Nepal.

The training focused on providing participants information about the science and practical constraints in designing and conducting a disease survey, obtaining and analyzing the results and formulating the interpretation. In-depth classroom and lab sessions were held at BARI’s Wheat Research Center in Dinajpur followed by week-long practical surveillance exercises in farmers’ fields throughout all major wheat growing areas of Bangladesh, and sessions on molecular analysis of wheat blast at BARI in Gazipur. “This training will increase the capacity of Bangladesh and neighboring country scientists, thereby strengthening research on wheat blast and monitoring disease through intensive surveillance,” said Md. Fazle Wahid Khondaker, Additional Secretary (Research), Ministry of Agriculture, at the inaugural session.

The training was funded by BARI, CIMMYT, CSISA, Delivering Genetic Gain in Wheat project led by Cornell University and Kansas State University and Australian Center for International Agricultural Research.

 This article is authored by M. Shahidul Haque Khan, Communications Officer, CIMMYT-Bangladesh.

Sales Boost Seed Sector Growth in Nepal

Posted on Nepal-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, April 18, 2017

Many Nepalese seed companies are showing signs of significant growth, particularly with an increase in wheat seed sales over the past few years. Three companies, New Shreeram, GATE and Unique, have increased their volumes of wheat seed sales by almost 62% on average over the period of 2014-16. This growth is notable in Nepal’s current cereal seed industry, which is at a relatively nascent stage, composed primarily of small- to medium-scale enterprises that often lack business plans, have relatively low operating capital, and have limited processing and storage facilities. These companies produce truthfully labelled seeds of open-pollinated crop varieties, which are then released and registered by the National Seed Board (NSB).

Since 2014, the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), has supported and mentored nearly a dozen Nepalese seed companies to increase their professionalism, organization and product range and quality, and to improve their marketing strategy and sales. With strategic business development support, these enterprises have shown increased business confidence resulting in higher sales and more investors.

Under this initiative, CSISA selected 10 seed companies that were mainly engaged in wheat seed sales to receive strategic guidance on issues such as improved methods for sourcing, producing, processing, storing, and marketing seeds. Seed companies were mentored through a variety of networking and interaction meetings, structured workshops on developing or improving business plans, theory of change workshops, and an exposure visit to successful Indian seed companies and their industry associations. CSISA also undertook additional, complementary activities such as jointly implemented product demonstrations within high-potential market domains, provided advice on how to improve branding and marketing strategies, and conducted technological training on how to undertake maintenance breeding in order to preserve the quality of varietal lines over time.

Follow-up Funding

Five companies have been able to leverage support provided in part by CSISA and secure financial resources of up to US$ 200,000 per company from development projects such as Improved Seed for Farmers, funded by International Fund for Agricultural Development, and Raising Income of Small and Medium Farmers Project, funded by Asian Development Bank. Both of these projects are implemented by the Ministry of Agricultural Development (MoAD).

These funds have allowed the seed companies to expand their facilities to include seed storage buildings, processing plants and laboratories. Joint demonstrations and agronomic performance data provided by CSISA have helped companies increase their varietal diversity through the inclusion of newly released varieties and iron- and zinc-rich varieties in their product lines. Some companies have introduced innovative incentives for their producers, such as the payment of seed transportation costs from the farmers’ fields to the company stores.

Replacing Old Varieties

Nepal’s cereal seed industry as a whole has become more structured over the past few years. The Seed Entrepreneurs’ Association of Nepal (SEAN), the seed companies’ umbrella organization, has developed its own strategic plan, increased its membership from 600 in 2014 to 1,000 in 2016, formed three regional chapters, and contributed a unified voice to discussions around agricultural policies of interest to the seed industry.

Figure 1: Seed sold by seed companies from 2014 to 2016.

For example, SEAN spoke out against seed subsidies for old crop varieties, and as a result, MoAD revoked the subsidy on NL 297 – a 33-year-old wheat variety. Seed production area of this variety has since reduced by 50-70 percent, and some companies have stopped production of NL 297 altogether. Companies have replaced this production with new wheat lines such as BL 4341, which has shown great promise in on-station and on-farm trials carried out by public and private sector organizations. BL 4341 is currently undergoing registration by NSB.

The combination of these various innovations and investments have resulted in an increase in volume of wheat seed sold (see figure 1) and supported these seed companies to reach marginal areas of Nepal through networks of development projects and private sector traders.

For example, during the 2016–17 wheat season, five new wheat varieties were demonstrated on 150 farmers’ fields across 10 hilly districts of Nepal through partnerships between seed companies, District Agriculture Development Offices and development projects. New contractual agreements have been signed between seed companies and informal groups and cooperatives for the production of seed. As a priority in the Agricultural Development Strategy (2015-2025), these initiatives will help promote inclusive growth and an effective seed sector in Nepal.

This article is authored by Narayan Prasad Khanal, Innovation Manager-CSISA, CIMMYT-Nepal.

Partnering with Government Propels CSISA’s Efforts in Odisha

Posted on India-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, April 18, 2017

The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and implemented jointly with International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), has recently collaborated with the Institute on Management of Agricultural Extension (IMAGE) to strengthen the capacity of extension officers in the state of Odisha. IMAGE is an autonomous body founded by the Government of Odisha in 1997 with a mandate to build capacity of agricultural functionaries across the state’s 30 districts. This partnership reflects a key shift in CSISA’s approach in its third phase to mainstream and support the dissemination of proven sustainable intensification technologies through creation of internal expertise within the national agricultural research and extension system. While IMAGE has the resources – training budget, infrastructure, network of skilled personnel – and a well-planned annual training mandate, CSISA supports as a technical partner facilitating resource persons and demonstrations. This complementary partnership will ensure that the strong momentum created by CSISA is carried forward beyond the project lifecycle.

As part of this partnership, a series of trainings of trainers (ToTs) were organized for government partners to out-scale sustainable intensification technologies in Odisha. The master trainers created through this exercise are expected to help create additional trainers within the governmental extension system. The two- to three-day ToTs were conducted both in and out of the classroom. Classroom exercises focused on mutual learning through frequent and open discussion, presentations, videos, print material and data-based evidence gathered by the project. Demonstrations on equipment/machinery, operation, calibration, and best-bet agronomic practices were arranged in real-world situations that involved all participants through practical exercises. The trainings covered mutually agreed upon topics such as using seed-cum-fertilizer drills for direct seeded rice and maize, best practices on nursery management, and cultivation of rabi (winter) season pulses and oilseeds to avoid rice fallows, among others.

“These topics were selected keeping in mind some of the biggest challenges faced by agricultural extension agencies in the state. The training on integrated weed management and herbicide spraying techniques, for example, was especially relevant,” said B. N. Dash, Director, IMAGE. As per the initial agreement, five trainings have been conducted for a total of 157 participants, some of whom have already either conducted further trainings of their own or incorporated the learnings into their existing work plans. “The knowledge gained by our staff will surely be shared in all our future programs at various levels. We have already imparted a training on improved, safer herbicide spraying techniques for farmers,” added Dash.

Feedback from the trainings has been encouraging with IMAGE suggesting additional training topics, including on communication and research platform management skills, and requesting a repeat of the series of ToTs during the next two months to train additional personnel. For future trainings, CSISA also hopes to incorporate more instructional videos on different components and prepare modules and presentations in Odia, the local language. Tracking mechanisms are also being developed to measure the practical impact of the ToTs.

The collaboration with IMAGE is only one of many collaborations planned over the next few years as CSISA looks to align with the Government’s efforts through an overarching partnership with the Odisha Department of Agriculture and Farmers’ Empowerment. As a result of various strategic discussions, four thematic areas have been identified where the scope for synergy and potential impact is greatest. These are: Developing the maize value-chain in the plateau region, rice-fallows intensification, increasing scale-appropriate mechanization, and building capacity on data collection to improve feedback into state planning processes.

CSISA now plans to conduct similar trainings in 11 districts over the course of this year in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture, Regional Institutions on Training and Extension, Krishi Vigyan Kendras, NGOs and private companies to build an extensive network of master trainers on sustainable intensification technologies throughout the state.

This article is authored by Ashok Kumar, CSISA Odisha Hub Coordinator, IRRI and Ashwamegh Banerjee, Assistant Communications Specialist, CIMMYT-India.

Ensuring Access to Finance for Faster Technology Adoption in Northern Bangladesh

Posted on Bangladesh-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, April 18, 2017

Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) Phase III in Bangladesh, led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and implemented jointly with International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), has finalized a series of joint venture agreements with Eco Social Development Organization (ESDO) and Thengamara Mohila Sabuj Sangha (TMSS), key microfinance institutions in northern Bangladesh. The partnerships will help ensure timely access to finance for local service providers in Thakurgaon and Dinajpur districts, and provide a much-needed ‘shot in the arm’ for adoption of scale-appropriate mechanization among smallholder farmers in the area.

A local service provider signs necessary documents for obtaining funds to buy an agricultural machine.

These recent agreements result from the groundwork already laid out by CSISA-Mechanization and Irrigation (CSISA-MI), a complementary investment to the larger, regional project that is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development as part of Feed the Future – the U.S. Government’s initiative to address global hunger and food security. CSISA-MI’s overarching goal is to reach a tipping point – 15 percent of the total potential beneficiary base of local service providers and farmers in the Feed the Future zone – at which point a spontaneous private sector-led uptake is expected to take place.

CSISA-MI has been forging critical linkages in southern Bangladesh through, among others, public-private partnerships and by piloting self-sustaining business models. This approach follows an innovative private sector engagement model to create value chains that can and will continue to deploy equipment on a continued basis, ensuring long-term replication of the project’s scaling efforts.

Through joint venture agreements, CSISA-MI’s implementing partner iDE has so far established linkages with a number of established and emerging machinery manufacturers and importers, such as Advanced Chemical Industries, Rangpur Foundry Limited Group, and Janata Engineering. These enterprises and their service provider clients have invested their own funds towards the purchase, import, distribution, and marketing of equipment and use of machinery services – contributing an estimated value addition to the project of US$ 1.6 million.

A joint venture agreement is signed by Action in Development (AiD) and iDE.

As the spread of agricultural machines grows in Bangladesh, the need for access to affordable rural finance grows as well. This is an especially pertinent challenge for service providers, whose potential for increased earnings depends largely on their ability to purchase relevant agricultural machines. Therefore, CSISA Phase III is replicating the successful joint venture agreement model to forge partnerships with microfinance institutions that will help ensure that farmers in the North interested in purchasing relevant machinery can do so. Under this modality CSISA, through the microfinance institutions, has helped create a total credit availability of approximately US$ 90,000 for service providers to purchase machines.

CSISA Phase III has recently completed an orientation session for TMSS staff to iron-out the details of the joint venture agreement, to apprise them of technical issues commonly faced by service providers, and to familiarize them with technologies supported by the project. A similar exercise is planned for ESDO in the near future.

This article is authored by M. Shahidul Haque Khan, Communications Officer, CIMMYT-Bangladesh and Abir Ahmed Chowdhury, Officer-Communications, iDE.

Innovative Partnerships to Expand Technology Adoption

Posted on India-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, December 1, 2016

Partnering with Krishi Vigyan Kendras, CSISA aims to disseminate new knowledge and farming practices in India.

The Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs), which roughly translates into farm science centers, are a unique feature of the National Agriculture Research and Extension System in India. Spread across the country, these centers employ strong multi-disciplinary teams of scientists who possess expertise in research and extension and play a crucial role in carrying out front-line demonstrations. These centers are well positioned to play a strategic role in linking research outputs and priorities with extension activities. At present, however, most KVKs do not generate information on technology performance or farmer’s preferences. This represents a significant missed opportunity in terms of a feedback mechanism constantly providing district-specific data that could feed into investment priorities of a state.

More than 70 extension workers participated in a capacity building workshop organized by CSISA at KVK Kushinagar.

Extension workers participate in a capacity building workshop organized by CSISA at KVK Kushinagar.

In Phase III, working in partnership with KVKs from state agricultural universities and research organizations within the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) is central to CSISA’s strategy for technology mainstreaming. In June, a four-year agreement was signed with ICAR that enables KVKs in eastern India to conduct collaborative research with CSISA to evaluate and refine existing management recommendations for farmers. The objective of this unique partnership model is to bring together the best from the national and international agriculture research systems.

Working with select KVKs, CSISA aims to demonstrate how these centers can be leveraged to improve the quality and relevance of agricultural research science conducted in the country, and to increase their potential to boost farmer-to-farmer transfer of information on sustainable intensification technologies and practices. Rabi (winter) season planning meetings between KVKs and CSISA, held in September and October, focused on refining activities, setting priorities, and consulting with key stakeholders such as the Orissa University of Agriculture and Technology.

In this partnership, CSISA will support the KVKs by providing strategic guidance on research priorities, as well as on topics such as monitoring, learning and evaluation and Open Data Kit for mobile data collection. So far, 8 KVKs have taken up specific research activities related to identifying policy solutions that support the adoption of sustainable intensification technologies at scale.

Research activities include studying the performance of short-duration and long-duration crop varieties under different sowing schedules across ecologies, assessing the role of supplemental irrigation during terminal heat in wheat, understanding the effect of boron deficiency-induced sterility in wheat and its effect on the crop’s yield and yield attributes, and studying the response of nitrogen and phosphorus applied to timely-sown and late-sown wheat.

Expanding High Value and Premium Quality Rice in Bangladesh

Posted on Bangladesh-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, December 1, 2016

Securing a high and stable income from farming despite rising cultivation costs is a common challenge for smallholder farmers. This is certainly true in Bangladesh’s Feed the Future (FtF) zone, where rapidly increasing labor wages and input costs are making rice cultivation less profitable and less attractive for farmers.

Bangladesh rice farmers currently grow more than 70 premium quality rice (PQR) varieties, which are characterized by long, slender and fine grains; may or may not have an aroma; and command a higher price than other, popular rice varieties. PQR varieties have a 20–60 percent price advantage and 50 percent higher profit over other rice varieties, indicating that there could be significant interest in expanded production. The total demand for PQR is growing at 5 percent per year because of rising per capita income, leading to increased consumption of PQR, urbanization, growth of modern food supply chains (supermarkets), and growing investment of private companies in the rice value chains.

A farmer (center) receives seeds of BRRI dhan34 in Jessore District.

A farmer (center) receives seeds of BRRI dhan34 in Jessore District.

A diagnostic study conducted by CSISA found that the popular PQR variety, BRRI dhan34, had an average yield of 3.6 tons per hectare and farmers earned a net profit of US$ 570 per hectare – approximately 55 percent more than what they would earn from the popular non-PQR variety, Swarna. Higher profitability and growth in demand demonstrates considerable potential for expansion in the FtF zone, where PQR currently accounts for a mere 10 percent of the total rice area.

Increased PQR cultivation is also likely to create additional employment for the more than 4,000 rice mills operating in the FtF zone. The study identified that due to a shortage in supply of PQR, these mills remain underutilized for the better part of the year. Initial discussions with millers and traders has revealed a strong willingness to be linked directly with farmers growing these varieties.

The study identified low yield, a risk of blast damage, unavailability of seeds and poor knowledge of production practices as the major constraints to PQR expansion. To overcome these challenges, CSISA is developing training and extension materials for the Department of Agriculture Extension, Bangladesh Rice Research Institute, NGOs, development partners and agro-input dealers. In addition, CSISA is also facilitating PQR seed supply for nursery entrepreneurs and farmer groups.

In Jessore and Jhenaidah districts, for example, CSISA distributed 375 kg seed of BRRI dhan34, which is not commonly cultivated in the region, to 150 farmers during the current aman season. CSISA has also distributed 850 guides on better-bet PQR agronomy and conducted 36 adaptive trials across three hubs to evaluate the yield performance of eight PQR varieties to identify the varieties that fit best in specific locations, and those with the highest yields.

During the 2016-17 boro season, CSISA is targeting a distribution of 6 tons of PQR seeds at 50 percent cost and distribution of 65,000 copies of knowledge materials (through its partners) to catalyze cultivation in new locations. This will not only increase awareness and knowledge among farmers, but also improve the availability of PQR seeds for farmer-to-farmer dissemination.

Geospatial Technology Holds Potential to Revolutionize Agricultural Interventions

Posted on India-news, News & Announcements, December 1, 2016

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What information is needed to make a reasonably precise agronomic recommendation for a small plot of land, or for an entire district or a state?

Agronomists must collect and analyze a multitude of variables when formulating agronomic recommendations, including crop and soil types, biotic and abiotic stresses, weed and nutrient management practices, weather and available irrigation infrastructure. Moreover, agriculture is extremely dynamic and conditions can change rapidly – with each cropping season and from one farm to another, making the process of formulating agronomic recommendations a challenge.

This is where a Geographic Information System, or GIS, comes into play. GIS is an applied science that analyzes information pooled from various sources at precision and landscape scales and enables evidence-based decision making. When used effectively, it can serve as a powerful, interactive tool that presents complex information in an actionable and simplified form, including as maps, graphs or reports. In combination with remote sensing, which involves the collection of information for a specific geographic area or object remotely – typically by satellite or aircraft – GIS can be used in diverse fields such as natural resource management, transportation and infrastructure planning. In agriculture, although GIS use is in a relatively nascent phase, it is increasingly being used as a basis for crop management and policy making.

CSISA relies on GIS and remote sensing for crop monitoring, area identification and technology targeting. Further, CSISA employs these technologies to complement monitoring, learning and evaluation activities being conducted on the ground. For example, when selecting areas to be surveyed to evaluate the impact of CSISA’s interventions on timely sowing of wheat in Bihar, GIS and remote sensing were used to analyze sowing dates across targeted locations in the state and accordingly classified as early or late sown. This enabled CSISA to ensure the selected sample represented the actual ground conditions and minimized variability or bias in the results.

CSISA is using geospatial technology to study in-field yield variability by using high-resolution satellite data, specifically targeting fertilizer application methods and their effect on crop yield. CSISA is also evaluating in-season adjustments of nitrogen and irrigation based on remote sensing data such as vegetation indices that show the relative density and health of vegetation and thermal band imagery that shows surface temperatures.

It is important to note, however, that much like any other science, the accuracy of GIS-based approaches depends heavily on the quality of inputs provided. For instance, satellite data plays a big role in GIS analysis. CSISA uses MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) satellite images to analyze wheat sowing dates instead of Landsat imagery. This is because Modis has a very high temporal resolution but relatively coarser spatial resolution, meaning the satellite passes over the same area every 8 days but captures limited detail (where 1 pixel = 250 meters x 250 meters). Landsat, on the other hand, captures greater detail (where 1 pixel = 30 meters x 30 meters) but only passes over an area once every 16 days.

Other factors such as staff training, equipment quality, favorable weather for remote sensing, sampling plans with sufficient ‘ground truthing’ points, and availability of spatial and non-spatial information are all important to effectively utilize GIS application.

Further, while freely available datasets may be adequate at the landscape level – since data at that scale is largely aggregated – to achieve precision at the farm level paid imagery is crucial. Other challenges are those that may be said to be true for the agricultural sector in general – limited sharing of data between agencies, as well as constraints associated with copyrights, internal policies, and limited budgets for purchasing images and equipment.

GIS and remote sensing technologies have rapidly evolved, experiencing significant advancements in recent years. With the launch of micro satellites, for example, the tradeoffs between spatial and temporal aspects are reducing. Drones are facilitating a higher-level of precision in agricultural data by creating an opportunity for real-time monitoring. At the same time there has been unprecedented growth in open source platforms, which have made these technologies accessible even to small organizations. The United States Geological Survey, in fact, made Landsat images free to use for everyone – a major breakthrough in its own right.

How CSISA Uses Geospatial Technology

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  • CSISA used MODIS satellite data from the last 14 years to evaluate the trend of wheat sowing in Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh. By using satellite images and vegetation indices to understand the growth curve of crops, CSISA generated an algorithm to derive sowing dates. The resultant wheat sowing map indicates that wheat is generally sown earlier in the central and northwestern parts of the study area.
  • CSISA monitored field vacating dates after kharif harvesting using the same methodology. The resulting analysis helped CSISA identify which areas had the greatest potential for early sowing of wheat. This figure indicates that fields in the southwestern and north-central study area (the districts of Ara and Buxar) is usually harvested late and becomes available later for wheat sowing. These areas thus have the greatest potential for technologies that would enable early sowing.
  • Monitoring also facilitated CSISA’s efforts to convince farmers to sow wheat early in Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh. The encircled areas mark those targeted by CSISA, where early sowing has now been adopted.
  • CSISA also used GIS to identify kharif fallows in Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh. CSISA used MODIS images followed by vegetation indices and rigorous ‘ground truthing’ to define a specific threshold, below which one could identify the non-cropped areas. This data was cross-checked with previous years’ data to evaluate whether or not these were permanently fallowed lands. This figure shows that while some fallows shifted across the year, those in south-central Bihar were relatively fallowed throughout, possibly due to insufficient irrigation or other associated factors.
  • GIS and remote sensing also enabled CSISA to identify which areas in Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh had topographical limitations or other adverse characteristics that would undermine interventions on certain technologies. CSISA used digital elevation models, thermal bands and vegetation indices to generate a spatial model for identifying such areas. Analysis revealed that one of the challenges for early sowing of wheat in Bihar and eastern UP was the late drainage of water from rice fields. Farmers in these areas were opting for longer duration rice crops, meaning that early wheat sowing would not be feasible. The reason behind late drainage was primarily topographic. This figure depicts areas in the southwest that are usually drained late across years. These were identified as areas that were either low lying or where clay soils were responsible for water retention.
  • In coastal Odisha, CSISA supports the dissemination of direct seeded rice (DSR) technology, which would not be successful in waterlogged areas. CSISA needed to identify coastal areas prone to flooding during the monsoon. An in-season time series analysis helped identify these areas. This figure shows that with the onset of the monsoon in July, the north central areas were most severely affected – especially between the last week of July and early August – and that the water receded only after the last week of August, thereby making it unsuitable for DSR.

This article is authored by Amit Srivastava, GIS Specialist, CIMMYT.

Healthy Rice Seedlings for Improved Livelihoods

Posted on Bangladesh-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, Uncategorized, December 1, 2016

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Low-cost interventions to promote healthy rice seedlings scaled-out in Bangladesh

Rice nurseries are an important, but often underappreciated, component of a successful agronomic production cycle. How a rice crop is managed in its early stages influences performance and yield later. For example, it is very important to transplant healthy seedlings at an appropriate time to get optimum yield. However, in the absence of proper nursery management and supervision, many farmers obtain suboptimal yields.

As a common practice in South Asia, rice seedlings are grown in nurseries on flat seedbeds, and are then transplanted manually into puddled soil. In Bangladesh, transplanted rice covers around 85 percent of the total rice area. In the aman (wet) season, farmers start preparing rice nurseries after the onset of the monsoon in mid-June and usually transplant more than 30-day old seedlings from mid-July to August. While in the boro (dry) season, farmers start preparing rice nurseries in  late-November and usually transplant more than 40-day old seedlings from early-January to early-February.

Many Bangladeshi farmers are knowledge-, labor- or resource-constrained and do not follow  optimal nursery management practices. Farmers practice less productive methods, such as not making drainage channels in seedbeds, not removing half-filled or empty seeds, not treating seeds with chemicals to reduce the risk of insect and disease infestation at the later stages of crop growth, using unnecessarily large volumes of seeds, not applying farmyard manure and or optimal doses of fertilizers while preparing land for seedbeds, and transplanting old or thin seedlings.

The use of old and unhealthy seedlings has a huge economic cost. Studies have shown that the use of old and unhealthy seedlings can cause more than 10 percent yield loss in rice. This means that scaling the adoption of young and healthy seedlings in at least half of Bangladesh’s 11.7 million hectares rice area could produce an additional 2.5 million tons of paddy per year, which would contribute an additional US$ 680 million to the national economy, and potentially improving the food security of millions of poor Bangladeshis. This would make a huge positive socioeconomic impact for the country and it is achievable by rolling-out some simple interventions.

A variety of improved rice nursery management options are available for Bangladeshi farmers, including seed treatment before sowing (to reduce the potential for diseases), adopting optimal sowing dates for different cultivars in different environments, planting in the correct seed densities, using balanced organic and inorganic fertilizers, and following optimal transplanting age and density. The latter is particularly important for avoiding transplanting shock, which in addition to causing yield losses can also result in delayed crop maturity and harvests, and can further delay the sowing of the subsequent boro crop, in the case of monsoon aman rice. However, majority of farmers are not using these improved options because of knwoledge gap or lack of resources.

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A trader sells his rice seedlings at a ‘haat bazaar’ or open air-market in Bangladesh. In Faridpur District, approximately 10 such markets are convened in the aman season where 15-20 traders, coming from different locations, buy and sell seedlings. Photo: Humnath Bhandari/IRRI

The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA)  is playing a catalytic role to scale out healthy rice seedlings in the Feed the Future Zone in Bangladesh. Working collaboratively with the Department Agricultural Extension, NGOs, development projects, input dealers, farmer groups and lead farmers, CSISA has focused on a two-pronged approach to scale-out the use of healthy rice seedlings. First, targeting individual rice farmers to  produce  and use  healthy rice seedlings through better nursery management practices. Second, targeting rice nursery entrepreneurs for large-scale production and supply of healthy seedlings in the market alongside income generation through rural enterprise creation.

A diagnostic survey has indicated significant potential to promote improved rice nurseries management practices for production and use of healthy rice seedlings in FtF zone, especially when these messages are deployed at a large scale by development partners and livelihood initiatives, and by linking entrepreneurs to markets. However, the interventions cannot be scaled-out in the tidal flood prone areas of Barisal Hub and the submergence prone areas of Faridpur Hub.

Through mass-media campaigns such as showing a video and distributing leaflets to farmers, training  lead farmers and farmer groups on  ideal rice nursery technologies, training  rice nursery entrepreneurs and input dealers on production and marketing of healthy seedlings, and conducting training of trainers workshops for extension agents of  government and NGO, CSISA has supported large-scale awareness and adoption of healthy rice seedlings among farmers across Faridpur, Jessore, and Barisal Hubs in this year. In 2016 aman season alone, CSISA, working together with partners, showed a video to more than 23,200 farmers, distributed leaflets to 650 farmers, initiated eight new community-based nurseries, trained 20 rice nursery entrepreneurs, and conducted training of traniers workshop to 80 extension agents. These activities will continue and expand in coming seasons.

This article is authored by Humnath Bhandari, Agricultural Economist, International Rice Research Institute, Bangladesh.

Towards Large-scale Adoption of Zero Tillage in Bihar

Posted on India-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, November 30, 2016

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As scaling of zero tillage hinges significantly on affordable access to custom-hire services, a new study finds out who are most likely to provide zero tillage services at scale.

The Eastern Indian state of Bihar has the highest population growth rate in the country, an increasing per-capita wheat consumption and the lowest wheat yields in the Indo-Gangetic Plains (IGP). Bihar is already a net importer of wheat, and the regions that currently supply wheat to it, such as the Northwestern state of Punjab, have comparatively little scope for further boosting yields. Without concerted efforts to enhance agricultural productivity, the gap between consumption and production in this densely populated state of 104 million people is poised to widen further.

Zero tillage (ZT), one of CSISA’s cornerstone interventions, is a proven technology for enhancing wheat productivity while reducing production costs. However, few farmers in Bihar – and the IGP – possess their own tractors and even fewer the specialized seed drills essential for ZT. As a consequence, the large-scale adoption of ZT largely hinges upon affordable access to custom-hire services. While this service economy for ZT is expanding in Eastern India, it largely remains in the early stages of growth. Service provision businesses are predominantly uncharacterized and related business dynamics are poorly understood.

A recent study by researchers from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) under the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) identified factors that influence ZT entrepreneurship, encompassing new business formation and the resulting scale of the enterprise. The study used data from a census of 270 ZT service providers in Bihar which were pooled with those of 1,000 randomly selected wheat farmers located in the same districts – to identify determinants of undertaking ZT service provision. It was found that, in general, large-scale and well-educated farmers with extensive social networks – those expected to own a four-wheel tractor for their own farm purposes – were most likely to pursue ZT service provision. This was expected, since only 8.3 percent of the surveyed farm households owned a tractor.

More importantly, the study established that among this stratum it is the relatively smaller farmers and those with a relatively low own-farm productivity who were most likely to provide ZT services at a sizeable scale. Comparatively low returns from agriculture reduce the opportunity costs of undertaking service provision, making it a relatively more attractive additional income source. Consequently, these smaller-scale tractor-owning farmers become the most sensible targets for purchase subsidies on ZT drills, as well as the primary audience for business development training.

While ZT service providers expanded their businesses considerably from 2011 to 2012 to each cover an average total of 20 clients and 50 hectares, larger areas were primarily achieved by servicing larger client farms. So, although the rapidly increasing numbers of service providers in Bihar is promising, the development of service provision businesses over time and the access of different strata of farmers to such services under a more competitive business environment will have to be assessed on the basis of panel data spanning a longer time period. There is a clear need to develop business models that enhance the social inclusiveness of ZT services by, for example, reducing the transaction costs of servicing small farms. To this end, demand aggregation and service coordination through village-level point persons may be a promising approach.

And lastly, due to economies of scale, relatively large-scale service providers were identified as more likely to continue their business over time – even under less favorable subsidy scenarios for ZT drills. Awareness raising activities on ZT services as an additional income earning opportunity might be targeted at tractor owners in general. However, smaller-scale farmers should be targeted through purchase subsidies and business development training specifically for accomplishing service provision expansion. This could be achieved by, for example, determining a ceiling farm size as an eligibility criterion for receiving possible benefits.

This article is authored by Alwin Keil, Senior Agricultural Economist, CIMMYT.

Pulse Cultivation Boosts Farm Income in Fallows of Nepal

Posted on Nepal-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, November 30, 2016

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Low-risk mungbean expands through public-private partnerships.

This year, farmers in Banke, Bardiya, Kailali and Kanchanpur districts of Nepal have successfully cultivated mungbean, which they planted after the wheat harvest and which constitutes a new, third crop in the annual cropping calendar. Without mungbean, the land would be left fallow during this period. Pulse cultivation not only provides extra income but also improves household nutrition and helps farmers enrich their soil fertility.

By acreage, lentil is the most important pulse cultivated in Nepal, but due to disease pressures and the risk of crop failure due to wet winters in heavy soils and dry winters in light soils, many farmers are reluctant to invest resources in these ‘third crops’. Yields for lentil in particular have stagnated at a very low level. However, mungbean, a short-duration legume, provides an attractive pulse alternative that is less risky and an ideal complement to the rice–wheat cropping system because it can be planted soon after the wheat harvest and harvested before the rice season.

Growing mungbean allows farmers to earn additional income without displacing other crops. 2016 is the International Year of Pulses and it’s been highlighted that pulses offer exceptional nutritional benefits – being a good source of protein and vital micronutrients – that can greatly benefit people’s health and livelihoods, particularly in developing countries.

To increase the uptake of mungbean in Nepal, the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) initiated collaborations with the National Grain Legume Research Program and District Agriculture Development Offices in 2014 by conducting on-farm evaluations of mungbean performance in different cropping systems. Results showed that mungbean could be successfully produced during the spring season in pockets where irrigation exists. Building on these lessons, CSISA developed a public-private partnership model that linked seed companies and millers with producers and farmers’ groups with government extension.

CSISA also worked across the value chain to assess market requirements (required volume and product characteristics), facilitate contractual arrangements between the seed companies and agricultural cooperatives for seed production, and coordinate grain procurement between millers and farmers’ groups through pre-season planning. Output markets were strengthened so that producers have assured procurement, which has helped accelerate production and projected demand for mungbean in Nepal.

As an example, the private seed company GATE Nepal produced 10 metric tons (MT) of mungbean seed under contractual arrangements with nine agricultural cooperatives during the 2016 spring season, representing a 10-fold increase from 2015. At the farm level, more than 600 newly adopting farmers were involved in mungbean grain production in the Feed the Future zone in 2016, covering more than 100 ha and producing 85 MT of grains (average productivity 800 kg/ha), generating value of more than US$ 127,000. Farmers sold 30 percent of the total grain in the market and saved the rest as seed for the next season or consumed it as a pulse.

Seeing the benefit from mungbean cultivation and increased farmers’ demand, the Crop Development Directorate under the Department of Agriculture has decided to promote this crop through its ongoing “soil fertility enhancement” program across the Terai. As a consequence, GATE Nepal reports that 80 percent of the existing mungbean seed stock has already been booked for the 2017 season, and the company is seeking alternative sources from Indian seed companies to bolster supplies while their own production capacity increases. This suggests that the mungbean area could expand by at least by 1,000 ha in 2017.

To contribute to the further expansion of mungbean in Nepal, CSISA has developed a social marketing video documenting the advantages associated with cultivation. Efforts are underway to conduct community-level video campaigns in favorable areas for expanding mungbean production.

This article is authored by Narayan Prasad Khanal, Research Associate, CIMMYT.


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