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.

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.

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.

CSISA-Trained Women Farmers Lead the Way for Agriculture in Bihar

Posted on India-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, September 11, 2016

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On account of various social and cultural barriers prevalent in rural India, women farmers often lack access to even basic information and training on modern agricultural practices. In the eastern Indian state of Bihar, Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) is working closely with women’s self-help groups (SHGs) to bridge this knowledge gap. According to the FAO State of Food and Agriculture 2010-11 Report, agricultural output in the developing world can, on average, be increased by 2.5 to 4 percent if women farmers had the same access to agricultural inputs and services as their male counterparts.

In the last two years, working through more than 300 SHGs, CSISA’s focused interventions have led to nearly 4,500 women farmers adopting new climate-resilient and sustainable agriculture practices and technologies. Geeta Devi from Bandra block in Muzaffarpur district, for example, adopted crop diversification by planting soybean on 0.03 hectares of land after harvesting her typically intercropped field of maize and potatoes. This new crop provided a yield of 1.8 tons per hectare providing Geeta Devi sustenance for her household and a profit of US$ 32 from selling the surplus harvest. Growing soybean is a viable solution to the state’s current drought-like conditions since it is a short-duration crop that requires less water. She shares, “This diversification helped improve my field’s productivity despite the unfavorable conditions. The additional income will help cover my household expenditure.” [Note: The term ‘Devi’ is a common salutation used when addressing women in Bihar and not a surname] 

Another farmer from the same block, Rekha Devi, adopted timely sowing of wheat with zero tillage – the first woman in her village to do so. “Initially, my family members were opposed to the decision and some even stopped talking to me. But having seen the beautiful crop standing in our field they are all very proud of me,” she says. By practicing zero tillage, Rekha Devi’s wheat yield increased from 4.4 tons per hectare to 6.1 tons per hectare.

It is important to note that the majority of these women, or ‘Kisan Sakhis’ as they have come to be known, are small and marginal farmers. Even a marginal increase in productivity or decrease in cultivation costs can go a long way in improving their circumstances. “Armed with these new skills and information, we are recording savings on all fronts. But more importantly, our knowledge of zero tillage, timely sowing, new varieties and community nurseries have helped change perceptions about our identity in our community. We are now recognized as able and progressive farmers,” says Bholi Devi.

Sanjay Shah, son of Kisan Sakhi Ashrafi Devi from Bochaha block, shares, “With the training my mother has received from CSISA, she has enabled us to practice innovative and improved farming such as zero tillage wheat and mechanical transplanting of non-puddled rice. We were all naturally hesitant when she first told us about these technologies. But today, we are all glad we listened and happily follow her advice.” A comment that brings a proud smile to his mother’s face.

According to Pankaj Kumar, CIMMYT Scientist, “Through CSISA’s classroom training and hands-on support provided out in the fields, these women groups have not only been able to learn new cost-saving technologies but are now also aware of and better equipped to benefit from various government schemes and subsidy programs.” Kisan Sakhi Sheela Devi from Sakra block, for example, was awarded last year by the Indian Agriculture Research Institute (IARI) Regional Station in Pusa for her efforts to increase food productivity using better-bet agronomic practices.

This article is authored by Sugandha Munshi, Gender Specialist, IRRI.

Catalyzing Change in South Asia’s Rice-Based Systems

Posted on Bangladesh-news, India-news, Nepal-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, August 4, 2016

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The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) operates in areas with high concentrations of rural poverty, in the Eastern Indo Gangetic Plans of Bangladesh, India and Nepal, where smallholder farmers are most vulnerable to the risks of increasingly erratic weather patterns. It is pertinent to note that the productivity of rice-based systems in these locations continue to be marred by a vast array of issues including, but not limited to, various biotic and abiotic stresses, irregular rains, outdated agronomic techniques, limited infrastructure, poor weed management practices, a lack of quality inputs and their timely availability.

Sub-par market infrastructure development and extension services coupled with a landscape dominated by resource-poor, smallholder farmers have so far prevented large scale adoption of mechanization and access to new knowledge, technologies and quality seed. Since there is virtually no scope for expanding the area under agriculture, as yield gaps close, future advances in production must come from systems intensification – growing more crops per year. A recent CSISA study, for example, indicates substantial scope for surface water irrigation to intensify cropping on fallow and rainfed cropped land in Southern Bangladesh.

Improved and easy to implement weed management is also a crucial strategy to facilitate sustainable intensification transitions in rice especially for technologies such as dry direct seeded rice (DSR), with average yield gaps due to farmers’ current practices in Bangladesh estimated at 1 ton per hectare. Studies in the northwest region of the country show that private dealers dominate the input channels in villages with a share of 96 percent of the fertilizer and pesticide markets. CSISA will utilize such input dealer networks to disseminate simple and actionable guides as well as provide experiential training to the dealers and retailers.

In India, where farmers’ use of recommendations from agro-advisory systems remains limited, CSISA is leveraging crop modeling and remote sensing informatics to improve the quality of irrigation scheduling recommendations for rice. Using geoinformatics, CSISA has also been able to more accurately gauge local farmers’ needs and respond accordingly. For example, in Odisha, it enabled the identification of districts most prone to flooding and hence ill-suited for DSR. Farmers in those areas are encouraged to use mechanical transplanting, which can substantially increase profitability in the double-rice systems prevalent in Odisha and which is beneficial for subsequent crops.

CSISA Impacts over the Years
 - Sales of hybrid rice in Bihar increased by 500 tons in 2015 over 2014, with an estimated area expansion of 33,000 hectares.
 - The number of CSISA-supported farmers practicing mechanical transplanting of rice in Odisha increased from 40 in 2013 to 2,000 in 2015.
 - In Bangladesh, more than 900 mechanical rice seeders have been sold by private sector partners since October, 2015
 - In Bangladesh, between 2010 and 2015, more than a million farmers benefitted from rice varieties with abiotic stress tolerance (salinity, flooding and drought) or high yield potential distributed CSISA.
 - Out of 60 rice entries tested by CSISA in India during the 2014 dry season under machine sown dry direct-seeded rice, 15 entries recorded more than 7.5 tons per hectare.

Across the three countries, CSISA’s interventions are grouped into three thematic areas: innovation towards impact – reducing risk for intensification and adding value to extension systems; systemic change towards impact – building partnerships and scaling pathways, and; achieving critical impact at scale – mainstreaming innovations by creating a critical mass of early adopters. Under each of these themes, CSISA conducts business diagnostics, trainings and mentoring to service providers, develops and disseminates communications material on better-bet agronomy, and conducts on-farm verification trials of production practices to reduce risk and ensure reliable rice production. Additionally, the project will employ a ‘training of trainers’ model to build capacity of NARES partners, NGOs and women’s self-help groups and their federations to ensure interventions are replicated beyond the project lifecycle. Altogether, these interventions will not only help increase yields and profitability of rice farming in South Asia, but also create business opportunities for women and youth in agriculture.

Enabling Environment

CSISA’s policy interventions prioritize scaling up work with national partners to address policy constraints in target geographies. Planned activities on seed systems and markets will focus on communicating policy reform options for state-led seed market interventions and the tradeoffs between promoting short-term varietal replacement and long-term seed market development. While activities on scale-appropriate mechanization will emphasize the design of policy incentives and investment strategies, such as targeted subsidies, which encourage the development of necessary localized commercial markets. Lastly, CSISA will support policy reforms to promote balanced fertilizer use through improved understanding of the costs, benefits, fiscal burdens, sustainability and effectiveness of various public programs.

Over the past years 7 years, CSISA has forged strong partnerships including with the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council, Indian Council for Agricultural Research, Nepal Agricultural Research Council and state agriculture universities. These partnerships continue to advance research-based recommendations for basic rice agronomy and application of precision approaches to weed, water and nutrient management, including decision frameworks for intensification.

Priority Interventions for Kharif 2016
1. Integrated weed management to facilitate sustainable intensification transitions in rice
2. Building precision nutrient management approaches around established and emerging scaling pathways
3. Deployment of better-bet agronomic messaging through input dealer networks and development partners
4. Promoting direct dry-seeded rice sowing to address labor and energy constraints to precision rice establishment
5. Production and use of healthy rice seedlings through training of individual farmers, farmer groups, service providers and nursery enterprises; engagement with partners to take this to scale
6. Rice fallows development in coastal Bangladesh and the state of Odisha in India
7. Providing timely and actionable advice on yield-enhancing irrigation scheduling for rice
8. Increasing the capacity of NARES to conduct participatory science and technology evaluations in Bangladesh and India.

This article is authored by Sudhanshu Singh, IRRI Senior Scientist and Rainfed Lowland Agronomist, South Asia.

Agreement Signed with ICAR

Posted on India-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, August 3, 2016

standee_revised 1.cdrThe International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) signed a four-year agreement with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Government of India, for collaborative work through the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) Phase III on 30 June 2016 in New Delhi.

The partnership will focus on sustainable intensification and strengthening extension systems to improve the productivity and income of smallholder farmers in eastern India. “In India, current production trends indicate that long-standing farming recommendations need to be reviewed and potentially revised through participatory research,” highlighted R.K. Malik, CSISA India Country Coordinator and Senior Agronomist, CIMMYT. “Through this collaboration, we aim to bring the Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) to the forefront of conducting quantitative participatory research which will drive location-specific extension recommendations and investment priorities that are mainstreamed through the State Departments of Agriculture in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha.”

The organizations will conduct collaborative research to evaluate and refine existing management recommendations for farmers through KVKs; to quantify the near and long-term effects of sustainable intensification technologies at the Research Complex for the Eastern Region (RCER) and the National Rice Research Institute (NRRI); to improve precision nutrient management recommendations through soil scanning technologies; and develop innovative training and communication approaches that help translate science into actionable guidance such as improving agro-advisories for better weather-linked irrigation scheduling.

The agreement was signed by A.K. Singh, Deputy Director General, Division of Extension and K. Alagusundaram, Deputy Director General, Division of Natural Resources Management and by Arun Kumar Joshi, Principal Scientist and India Country Representative, CIMMYT.

With support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), CSISA is implemented jointly by CIMMYT, IFPRI and IRRI and aims to enhance the productivity of cereal-based cropping systems in Bangladesh, India and Nepal as well as to increase farm incomes and reduce the environmental footprint of production through sustainable intensification technologies and management practices.

This article is authored by Anuradha Dhar, Communications Specialist, CSISA.

Scaling Nutrient Management in South Asian Cereal Systems

Posted on India-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, August 3, 2016

PNM Meeting

Degradation in soil organic carbon is not a new occurrence but the accelerated intensity of decline in recent decades is cause for concern. However, considerable efforts are being made in the field of precision nutrient management (PNM) in South Asia to ensure that the right type and amount of nutrients are used based on site-specific soil conditions. Despite many scientific advances achieved in PNM, imbalanced application of fertilizers is still common in India, as evidenced by a recent CSISA study.  Lack of awareness and understanding among farmers about the benefits of optimized fertilizer use could be a factor, according to Sheetal Sharma, IRRI Soil Scientist and Nutrient Management Specialist – South Asia. “Various strategies of PNM are being developed but the science is not being channeled to the end users. However, we now have a variety of new tools that can be leveraged for PNM leading to improved management of natural capital, optimization of resource usage and maximization of crop yields,” she added.

In collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Indian Council of Agricultural Research and Trust for Advancement of Agricultural Sciences, CSISA organized a convening on Scaling PNM in South Asian Cereal Systems from 27-29 April in Mussoorie, India. Participants included representatives from the government and fertilizer industry, as well as agronomists, soil scientists and remote sensing specialists from various CGIAR institutions. The goal of the convening was to identify pragmatic strategies for increasing the agronomic efficiency and profitability of soil fertility management at scale. It follows last year’s National Dialogue on Efficient Nutrient Management for Improving Soil Health, the recommendations of which have been adopted as the New Delhi Soil Health Declaration – 2015.

During the discussions at the convening, it emerged that current innovations in institutional data science and spatial data availability represented a remarkable opportunity to map physical and biological characteristics of crops and their environment rapidly and cost-effectively and with greater precision at scale. Such tools are being used for precision nutrient management as well as in-season adaptive management and can be done at the national level at an affordable scale. The Indian Government, for example, will require testing of 40 million soil samples per year as part of its new Soil Health Card Scheme – an ambitious program launched in 2015 at the cost of Rs. 5.7 billion. Its objective is to, among other things, help urea consumption come down 20-25 percent. Under the scheme, the government plans to issue individual soil cards to farmers that will carry crop-wise recommendations for nutrients and fertilizers to improve productivity through judicious use of inputs.

However, the various soil testing labs across the country currently have a capacity to test only 17.8 million samples per year. Additionally, conventional soil tests remain cumbersome with huge problems related to accuracy and reproducibility. Neither do they characterize the nutrient pools nor do they produce any absolute measure of nutrient availability. On the other hand, new methods, such as spectroscopy-based soil assessments, are highly reproducible and cheap. “Spectral analysis means that the majority of your lab work, you’re doing at the cost of electricity,” said Markus Walsh, Science Coordinator, Africa Soil Information Service (AfSIS).

Kaushik Majumder, Vice President, Asia and Africa, International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), also reiterated the importance of partnerships for scaling PNM practices and tools. “The most important learning from our experience is that partnerships are essential for the successful out scaling of any new tool and ownership of the tool by these partners even more so,” he stated. Based on these discussions, specific potential partnerships were prioritized to ensure CSISA’s role in scaling precision nutrient management remains complementary to the national system.

Policy Reforms

A roundtable discussion was also organized by IFPRI on 2 May in New Delhi on Policy Reform Options to Improve Soil Nutrient Management in India. The meeting focused on public expenditure priorities, current subsidy schemes and the Government of India’s Soil Health Card Scheme.

The figure for average fertilizer usage in India stands at 100 kilograms per hectare compared to 300 kilograms per hectare in China. At the same time, fertilizers here, especially for nitrogen, are not even 30 percent efficient – making the financial expenditures even more staggering.

According to Pramod K. Joshi, IFPRI South Asia Director, “Fertilizers have contributed significantly to increasing productivity but more recently have created numerous problems for the government, especially financially. With a bill of more than US$ 11 billion, the first major problem at the macro level is subsidies. The second is leakages with 24 percent going to inefficient production units and 41 percent diverted through urea; only 35 percent of the subsidy amount actually makes it to the farm sector. It is also important to note that we are trying to reduce subsidies while at the same time increasing consumption.” Participants in the discussion largely agreed that the fertilizer subsidy policy needs to be reviewed thoroughly, with a focus on incentivizing rather than penalizing.

This article is authored by Ashwamegh Banerjee, Assistant Communications Specialist, CSISA.

Launch of New Geo-Informatics Tool

Posted on Bangladesh-news, India-news, News & Announcements, June 20, 2016

CSISA recently launched the beta version of the Landscape-scale Crop Assessment Tool (LCAT), a geo-informatics technology that will help scientists to forecast crop yields and identify regions where conditions will support the adoption of specific technologies. Using geo-informatics, for example, CSISA has in the past been able to identify districts in Odisha most prone to flooding and categorize them as areas ill-suited for direct seeded rice. LCAT will provide a platform for extension professionals, policymakers and research scientists to leverage geo-informatics for better decision-making. The tool was developed for South Asia but can be used globally.

“In the eastern Indo-Gangetic Plains, we promote early sowing of wheat, which is one of the most important adaptations to climate change. But we haven’t been able to accurately monitor and measure where it is being implemented and when,” explained Andrew McDonald, CIMMYT principal scientist and CSISA project leader. “In our line of work, it is crucial to understand where you’re making progress. While the data exists, it is often not integrated at the spatial level.”

Considerable environmental and man-made landscape diversity exists across South Asia. LCAT will help to analyze these landscapes and characterize large areas of land based on remote sensing data. It will serve two main purposes – to facilitate technology targeting and provide information such as crop status, phenology and yield goals to support crop management decisions.

“The first version of the tool uses datasets from CSISA sites in Bangladesh and India to characterize the existing cropland. However, the algorithms on which it is based are generic and can hence be applied to describe any dominant agricultural landscape across the globe,” said Balwinder Singh, CIMMYT crop simulation modeler. “Within CSISA, the tool will be used for specific applications extending to crop yield forecasting and monitoring, learning and evaluation.”

Participants in the LCAT training workshop in New Delhi, India.

Participants in the LCAT training workshop in New Delhi, India.

However, critical knowledge gaps between landscape-scale processes and technology targeting remain a challenge. To ensure policymakers and scientists are able to effectively collaborate in using this tool, a team of scientists from Oak Ridge National Laboratories (ORNL) visited New Delhi in May to conduct a training session on LCAT for CSISA staff and government partners from India and Bangladesh. The training not only demonstrated the tool’s beta version but also created greater understanding of its practical applications.

“If you’re a user of data, you spend 60 percent of your time just assembling data before analyzing it. We want to reduce that to 5 percent,” said Suresh Vannan, director of the ORNL Distributed Active Archive Center for Biogeochemical Dynamics and CCSI data theme leader.

LCAT is being developed in collaboration with ORNL and the Group on Earth Observations Global Agricultural Monitoring (GEOGLAM) Initiative. It is funded by CIMMYT as part of a five-year agreement with ORNL signed in 2014.

This article is authored by Ashwamegh Banerjee, Assistant Communications Specialist, CSISA. 

Transforming Fallows: Line Sowing Facilitates Cropping Diversification in Odisha

Posted on India-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, April 22, 2016

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Rice is the major crop for most farmers in Odisha during the kharif (monsoon) season. However, due to a lack of adequate irrigation facilities, nearly 84 percent of the arable farmland (4.7 million hectares) remains fallow in the ensuing rabi (winter) season.

According to Vivek Kumar, Specialist (Agriculture Research and Development), IRRI, “As much as 95 percent of all farmland in Bhadrak District remains fallow in the rabi season. Some parts of the district are serviceable by canal irrigation, but the canals have been dry for nearly 6 years.”

Fallows present a considerable opportunity for cropping system intensification and diversification in Odisha. CSISA, in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture, Government of Odisha, is promoting mechanized line sowing of short duration crops such as pulses (green gram and black gram) and oilseeds (sunflower). Sowing with a seed drill allows for residual soil moisture and nutrients to be utilized for the rabi crop and consequently helps optimize the use of available land resources. This year alone, the machine has helped convert 22 and 20 hectares of previously fallow land in Nimapara and Gop blocks of Puri District, respectively.

Another advantage of the seed drill is that it can help reduce the cost of cultivation, making a rabi crop more viable for farmers. “The government introduced a buyback scheme for sunflower in one block of Bhadrak a few years ago to motivate farmers, but the cost of cultivation was still too high for it to be worthwhile,” informs Kumar. Sowing sunflower by dibbling requires 12-15 laborers and a similar number for earthing up and weeding.

He adds, “In January this year, with technical assistance from CSISA, farmers in Bhadrak used a seed drill to plant sunflower, the first time this has ever been done in Odisha. Sowing with the seed drill eliminated the labor requirement for dibbling. Since it sows the crop in lines with adequate spacing, it also made it possible to use a power weeder, which is both cheap and efficient.”

Farmer Pradeep Kumar (left) on his line sown sunflower field. Photo: Ashwamegh Banerjee/CIMMYT.

Farmer Pradeep Kumar (left) on his line sown sunflower field. Photo: Ashwamegh Banerjee/CIMMYT.

“By using the seed drill for planting sunflower on 4 hectares, I’ve saved more than US$ 150 in labor costs. What would’ve taken me 20 days, I could complete in just 2 days,” says farmer Pradeep Kumar Behera from Palikri Village. Behera also used a power weeder for weeding and earthing up, which took just 1 day instead of 4 and cost only a fraction of the manual alternative.

In the case of pulses, while the establishment costs with a seed drill remain comparable, its yields are much higher than that of conventional farming.

Traditionally, farmers growing green gram and black gram would hand broadcast the seeds and till their fields before and after sowing. “The conventional method only yielded 0.27-0.54 tons per hectare of green gram, which I would then sell for US$ 682 per ton,” shares Lingaraj Ratha from Srikanthapur Village in Puri district, who owns 0.80 hectare of land.

At a mass crop cutting event organized by CSISA in Puri District this month, farmers who used a seed drill for sowing green gram with basal application of DAP recorded yields of  up to 1.4 tons per hectare using the variety TARM 1. Farmer Ganesh Kandi, from Alasankha Village, who tried line sowing of green gram on his land for the first time says, “If my crop is good then I’ll grow green gram with the seed drill every year during rabi season.”

This article is authored by Ashwamegh Banerjee, Assistant Communications Specialist, CIMMYT. With additional inputs from Narayan Banik, Specialist Agricultural Research and Development, IRRI and Anurag Ajay, Assistant Research Associate, CIMMYT.

The Delivery of Change

Posted on India-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, April 22, 2016

Dariabad

Dariabad, a small village in eastern Uttar Pradesh, is an example of changing rural India. Farmers in this village are fast replacing their old farming practices with modern technologies to overcome growing water and labor constraints. In just two years, the area under zero tillage in this village has expanded from less than 1 hectare to more than 112 hectares and many farmers are now earning more using new agricultural methods.

Dariabad was selected to participate in the National Food Security Mission (NFSM) in 2013-14, wherein each season farmers from selected villages receive support from the Government through the Department of Agriculture (DoA) to take up line sowing of crops and are provided seed and subsidies on machines such as the zero till seed drill. However, a lack of local know-how on zero tillage machinery operation and calibration meant farmers in the village could not take full advantage of the subsidy scheme.

A single demonstration on line sown wheat under zero tillage by CSISA led to the creation of six service providers in Dariabad and an increase in area under zero tillage by more than 60 hectares in 2014. Line-sown seeds not only reduced the seed and labor requirement but also enabled mechanized weeding, better moisture control, uniform germination and better yields.

Farmer Harun Ali shares, “I had never heard of line sowing, zero tillage or direct seeded rice before. The demonstration organized in my village convinced me of the technology’s benefits but, since I own less than 1 hectare land I could not purchase a tractor.”

CSISA connected Ali to a local service provider who charged him US$ 24 to sow zero till wheat on his entire land. Ali says, “This service is saving me money since sowing used to cost me US$ 48 and took a lot more time. I will definitely use a service provider again.”

“There is a  disconnect between different players in the delivery process, which is often why scaling-out of technologies has been staggered,” highlighted R.K. Malik, CSISA India Coordinator. “To change this, CSISA has been creating a network of service providers and linking them directly with farmers, input dealers and the DoA, just as it did in the case of Dariabad village.”

Farmer Afaq Ahmad on his zero till wheat field. Photo: Ajay Pundir/CIMMYT.

Farmer Afaq Ahmad on his zero till wheat field. Photo: Ajay Pundir/CIMMYT.

In collaboration with the Block Technology Manager, CSISA organized a demonstration on zero tillage wheat. The wheat was sown on 0.71 hectares of local farmer Afaq Ahmad’s land by Siraj Khan, a service provider from neighboring Karma Khan Village.

“When the Block Technology Manager told me about the scheme, I agreed to try the zero tillage machine on a small plot first. I was willing to try it out because I’d heard Khan had a good yield the previous year,” says Ahmad. Pleased with his improved yield of 4 tons per hectare, Ahmad purchased his own zero tillage machine the following season and used it to plant 6 hectares of direct seeded rice. He also offered it as a service to other farmers.

Ahmad earned US$ 5,263 from farming and an additional US$ 752 from offering zero tillage service to other farmers. The same year, seeing Ahmad’s success, demand for zero tillage in the village became so high that six other farmers also purchased the machine for service provision.

As Khan points out, “Every farmer cannot afford every machine. If a service provider is available at the village level, they too can benefit by availing his services on custom hiring basis.” This year, 15 farmers in Dariabad recorded an average wheat yield of 4.6 tons per hectare and even the most humble of the seven service providers has been able to supplement their farming income by an additional US$ 300.

This article is authored by Ajay Pundir, Scientist, CIMMYT and Ashwamegh Banerjee, Assistant Communications Specialist, CIMMYT.

Dr. R.K. Malik Wins Derek Tribe Award for Improving the Livelihoods of Farmers in India

Posted on India-news, News & Announcements, April 11, 2016

RK MalikScientist Ram Kanwar Malik, working at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in India, has been announced as the winner of prestigious 2015 Derek Tribe Award from The Crawford Fund, for his ‘outstanding contributions to making a food secure world by improving and sustaining the productivity of the rice-wheat system of the northwestern and eastern Indo-Gangetic Plains.’

The award recognizes Malik’s more than 30 years of work in agricultural research and development dedicated to improving the livelihoods of millions of small and marginal farmers in India. He led the development of a management solution for herbicide resistant Phalaris minor, a major weed of wheat. This pioneering research resulted in saving farmers from huge yield losses, nearly one million hectares wheat, and raised wheat productivity in Haryana and Punjab, considered to be India’s grain basket, between 1992 and 2000.

Malik’s collaborative work with national and international partners and farmer participatory approaches led to achievements in the dissemination and adoption of climate-resilient technologies such as zero-tillage, laser land leveling and direct-seeded rice, as well as policy changes at the government level.

Malik currently serves as the country coordinator for India for the CIMMYT-led sustainable intensification project, Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA). He continues to raise productivity and smallholders’ incomes in the eastern states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha, areas where rural poverty, food insecurity and yield gaps of cereal staples are among the most severe in South Asia.

More recently, Malik played an instrumental role in advocating for the early sowing of wheat in Bihar, helping farmers to double production and avoid crop failure from the early arrival of summers and higher temperatures. Malik’s team has created a network of more than 2,000 service providers to facilitate easy access of mechanized services among smallholder farmers, who are not able to buy expensive machines, helping them to benefit from modern farming technologies.

Highlighting his life-long passion for understanding the needs of farmers and for ensuring farmers’ participation in research, Malik said, “For developing countries like India where farmers are small and marginalized and investment in research is low, the development of new technologies and the process of delivery are inseparable. In fact, a top-down approach could put up barriers to the adoption of new technologies. Listening to farmers and tailoring technologies to serve their needs thus become paramount.”

The Derek Tribe Award, given by the Australia-based Crawford Fund, is made biennially to a citizen of a developing country in recognition of their distinguished contributions to the application of research in agriculture in a developing country. Sanjaya Rajaram, World Food Prize winner and the previous director of the Wheat Program at CIMMYT, is among the past recipients of the Derek Tribe Award.

CIMMYT Director General Visits CSISA

Posted on Bangladesh-news, India-news, Nepal-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, March 28, 2016

CIMMYT DG visits Nepal

Martin Kropff, Director General, CIMMYT, visited CSISA’s programs in India, Nepal and Bangladesh during February and March. While in India, Kropff visited the CSISA Research Platform at ICAR-RCER in Patna, Bihar, and saw how CSISA focuses on closing yield gaps in different cropping systems in Bihar and Eastern UP in collaboration with government partners and local stakeholders. He also interacted directly with women farmers and service providers to better understand CSISA’s model for scaling up technologies and generating impact on the ground, as well as ensuring that gains can be sustained beyond the project lifecycle.

R.K. Malik, Senior Agronomist, CIMMYT, described to Kropff three of CSISA’s largest impacts in India: (1) the widespread adoption of early wheat sowing; (2) timely seeding or transplanting of rice, use of rice hybrids and transplanting young seedlings by machine, thus vacating the rice field early to facilitate wheat sowing; and (3) the creation of a critical mass of 2,200 service providers, who have helped spread information and CSISA-supported technologies to smallholders across our target districts.

In Nepal, Kropff met with the Minister of Agricultural Development and the Secretary of Agriculture, as well as top officials, directors and scientists at the Nepal Agricultural Research Council to discuss areas of current and future collaboration. Much of the discussion focused on how to align programming and investment with Nepal’s new Agricultural Development Strategy, which prioritizes areas of investment in the country’s agriculture sector through 2025. Kropff also visited Nuwakot, a district benefitting from CSISA’s Earthquake Recovery Support Program, and learned about the distribution of minitillers – along with attachments and spare parts – as well as storage bags, handtools, and agronomic information. His time in Nepal concluded with a visit to Bhairahawa, where he met service providers who continued to provide custom-hire services to local farmers even after project support had concluded.

In Bangladesh, Kropff visited demonstration and trial fields in Jessore and Dinajpur, discussing improved cropping systems and management practices with male and female farmers. He witnessed in CSISA-MI the power of working with the government and the private sector, particularly for the scaling of mechanization. His meetings with key officials at the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute, Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council and Department of Agricultural Extension highlighted the importance of cooperation and coordination in CSISA’s work. The Minister for Agriculture, Motia Chowdhury, raised the issue of wheat diseases emerging in Bangladesh and Kropff assured support in response to this emerging concern. He also shared updates on CSISA’s work on production environments characterization using new GIS and remote sensing tools.

Three Wise Men

Posted on India-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, January 28, 2016

India-Photo 1_farmers together E_0

By sowing wheat early, farmers in India are doubling production and avoiding crop failure resulting from earlier summers and higher temperatures.

Farmer Nathuni Singh is a man who speaks with wisdom. Though most would attribute this to his age—he is 74—Singh says that every farmer is forced to grow wise earlier than usual. “It’s the vagaries of nature that make a farmer learn the hard way,” he says. Singh began farming at age 28, soon after his father’s death, and since then has seen nature change course many times. “Nature has always been unpredictable. I have lost many of my crops to untimely rains and drought. But things have worsened in recent times. With every year, the sun seems to be getting hotter and harsher,” says Singh.

For Indian farmers like Singh, climate change has become a stark reality. The country today is the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, an alarming statistic as 58 percent of India’s population depends directly on agriculture as its primary source of income. While USAID partners with India to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions using sustainable technologies over the long term, relief is needed right away for farmers.

In response, in 2009, USAID established the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) to help farmers adapt to climate change and rainfall variability. CSISA is a public-private partnership with Government of India research institutions and private sector partners, and is led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).

“Even in the eastern Indo-Gangetic plains, one of the most fertile regions in the world, we saw farmers lose 25 percent of their crop harvest due to summers arriving ahead of schedule. Where summers previously didn’t begin until May, temperatures now reach 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of March,” says R. K. Malik, a CSISA senior agronomist.

To counter the impact of excessive and untimely heat due to climate change, CSISA began reaching out to wheat farmers in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, advising them to plant their wheat crop a month sooner than usual and without first tilling the land in the traditional way. “By sowing before Nov. 15 instead of the end of December, as is the practice in the region, the grain is able to fully develop before the heat wave arrives, which can cause the grain to shrink and lead to crop failure,” says Malik. However, this unique wheat sowing method found very few takers. “Initially, when we started in 2009, only four farmers agreed to plant their wheat early. One of them was Nathuni Singh,” Malik said.

Singh first heard about this new planting method when CSISA representatives came to his village of Devpokhar in eastern Uttar Pradesh to demonstrate how the technique can benefit poor farmers like him. Being the sole bread winner for his family of nine and having grown only 390 kilograms of wheat in the previous year—far below average—Singh was desperate for help. “The CSISA team gave me seeds and fertilizers, and guided me on when and how to sow the seeds without irrigating the land. They even assured me that, if the crop failed, they would repay me for the losses I bear,” he said.

For Ashwini Nayak and Ramawadh Chaudhary—two of the other four farmers who first adopted the early wheat sowing practice—it was the science behind the method that finally convinced them.

“Rice is a water-intensive crop. By planting wheat immediately after harvesting the rice, the wheat crop uses the remaining moisture present in the soil to develop. As a result, you not only save water but also the diesel cost required to run water pumps for plowing and irrigation,” explains Nayak, echoing the scientific tone of a CSISA officer.

Ramawadh Chaudhary in his field.

Ramawadh Chaudhary in his field.

But for the three farmers, the decision to move away from the traditional farming technique soon became an uneasy choice. “Everyone in the village used to laugh at us. They called us stupid because we planted our crops without tilling the land and before the season began,” says Chaudhary.

For Nayak, the lack of support from within his family further shattered his confidence: “My own younger brother joined the rest of the village in mocking me. But I always knew that, if there is no risk, there is no gain.”

And it was a risk that paid off for each of them.

“That year, from my 3-hectare farmland, I produced 881 kilograms of wheat, more than twice of what I had grown last year,” says Singh. “It was the first time in my life that I had harvested so much. I was happy beyond words.”

The three farmers not only managed to double their wheat production, but also saved additional expenses such as the cost of irrigation and ploughing. “I used to spend about rupees 30,000 ($470) on my 6-hectare farmland, which included the cost to hire a tractor for plowing the field and diesel for running the tractors. Now I’m saving all of this,” says Chaudhary, who last year bought 4 more hectares of farmland with the savings.

Today, over 620,000 farmers across the provinces of eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar grow their wheat using CSISA’s early sowing method. “The farmers found that the technique increased their grain yield by 485 kilograms per hectare. In fact, compelled by our success, even the Bihar State Department of Agriculture now officially recommends wheat farmers to plant before Nov. 15,” says Ajay Kumar, an agricultural scientist working at CSISA’s eastern Uttar Pradesh hub.

Buoyed by its success in India, CSISA, in partnership with USAID, is introducing the practice to thousands of farmers in Nepal and Bangladesh. Singh is excited to hear his success story being replicated outside India’s borders. “At present, the high-quality wheat that I’m growing is being sent to farmers in neighboring states like Uttarakhand. Now my wheat will also travel to Nepal,” says a smiling Singh.

Meanwhile, at Singh’s newly constructed house, farmers from neighboring villages arrive almost every month to inquire about the early wheat sowing method and to learn from his success. “I first welcome them and give them tea and snacks because many come from very far places. I then take them to my farm to show them how the seed is planted and when to put the fertilizer,” says Singh.

After his one-hour training session, Singh offers his guests a glass of water and bids them farewell with the hope that the farmers he trained will also prosper like him. “There is an old saying that the one who feeds the hungry is equal to God. A farmer struggles against many uncertainties and toils every day in the fields so you and I can have food in our plates. He needs to be given the right support and made sure that he is not left alone to struggle,” adds Singh.

This article is authored by Neha Kathor for FrontLines, the news publication of USAID. 

Supporting Sustainable and Scalable Changes in Cereal Systems in South Asia

Posted on Bangladesh-news, India-news, Nepal-news, News & Announcements, December 16, 2015

Rice harvestThe rates of growth of staple crop yields in South Asia are insufficient to meet the projected demands in the region. With 40 percent of the world’s poor living in South Asia, the area composed of eastern India, Bangladesh and Nepal has the largest concentration of impoverished and food insecure people worldwide. At the same time, issues of resource degradation, declining labor availability and climate change (frequent droughts and rising temperatures) pose considerable threats to increasing the productivity of farming systems and rural livelihoods. Thirty percent of South Asia’s wheat crop is likely to be lost due to higher temperatures by 2050, experts say.

“These ecologies are regionally important for several reasons,” said Andrew McDonald, Project Leader, Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia, CIMMYT. “First, they have a higher density of rural poverty and food insecurity than any other region. Second, yield gaps for cereal staples are higher here than elsewhere in South Asia – highlighting the significant growth potential in agriculture.”

According to McDonald, there have been some successes due to increased investment and focus on intensification in these areas over the past 10 years. A CIMMYT-led initiative, the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) has contributed to major outcomes such as rapid uptake of early-planted wheat, the use of zero-tillage seed drills and long-duration, high-yielding wheat varieties in eastern India.

CSISA, in close collaboration with national partners, has been working in this region since 2009 to sustainably enhance the productivity of cereal-based cropping systems, as well as to improve the livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers.

“Climate-resilient practices are gaining confidence in the areas we are working. More than 500,000 farmers adopted components of the early rice-wheat cropping system in Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh last year,” said R.K. Malik, Senior Agronomist, CIMMYT. “Early sowing can protect the crop from late-season heat damage and increase yields. It’s a non-cash input that even smallholders can benefit from and is one of the most important adaptations to climate change in this region.”

To increase the spread of these innovations and increase farmers’ access to modern farming technologies, CSISA is working to strengthen the network of service providers.

“This region has a large number of smallholder farmers and ownership of machines by smallholders is often not economically viable,” highlighted Malik. “In the Indian states of Bihar, Odisha and eastern Uttar Pradesh, CSISA has facilitated more than 1,900 progressive farmers to become local entrepreneurs through relevant skills, information and training during the last three years.”

The U.S. Agency for International Development and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have recently approved phase III of CSISA, running from December 2015 to November 2020. Building on the momentum and achievements of phases I and II, phase III will work to scale up innovations, strengthen local capacity and expand markets to support the widespread adoption of climate-resilient agricultural technologies in partnership with the national and developmental partners and key private sector actors.

“CSISA has made its mark as a ‘big tent’ initiative that closes gaps between research and delivery, and takes a systems approach that will continue to be leveraged in phase III through strategic partnerships with national agricultural systems, extension systems and agricultural departments and with civil society and the private sector,” said McDonald.

CSISA is led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and implemented jointly with the International Rice Research Institute and the International Food Policy Research Institute. The four primary outcomes of phase III focus on technology scaling, mainstreaming innovation into national systems, development of research-based products and reforming policies for faster technology adoption.

This article is authored by Anuradha Dhar, Communications Specialist, CSISA.

Photo Feature: Impacts of CSISA Phase II

Improving Public Policy Dimensions of Sustainable Intensification in South Asia

Posted on India-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, December 16, 2015

CSISA policyDespite continuous pessimistic murmurings, South Asia is not in the depths of a Malthusian crisis. While population growth rates are high, they are slowing. And although food staple yields are low relative to the rest of the world, they are still inching upwards. The dark and dreary picture of a hungry future may persist in our collective outlook for the future, but it won’t be for a lack of available food. In South Asia, hunger and malnutrition will remain the province of social and economic entitlements, gender relations, health and nutritional status and the quality of food.

But we shouldn’t be complacent. Achieving sustained yield growth requires continued investments in modern science, agricultural research and development and extension. And continued yield growth on a sustainable basis — growth without environmental degradation — is increasingly viewed by South Asian leaders, entrepreneurs and civil society as the only way forward.

Well-structured public policies can incentivize smallholder farmers, rural entrepreneurs and consumers toward choices that are more or less welfare-improving, yield-enhancing or environmentally sustainable. For example, a tax or fee for groundwater use can stem the excessive extraction of this scarce resource in regions where aquifers are already threatened by overexploitation. Conversely, tariffs and non-tariff barriers to the import of low-cost irrigation equipment can prevent widespread adoption of supplemental irrigation, as was the case in Bangladesh until the late 1980s.

Governments have a fairly wide range of policy tools at their disposal. They can enact laws, establish guidelines and regulations, invest in programs and projects, introduce or withdraw taxes and subsidies and set the rules for trade and investment. Each application of a policy tool is accompanied by resulting outcomes, trade-offs and possibly unintended consequences. CSISA’s greatest challenge has been to work with its partners and stakeholders to identify the appropriate policy tools with which to achieve the desired outcomes, while also being cognizant of the concurrent trade-offs and consequences.

CSISA’s policy work has aimed to develop a critical mass of research needed to promote an actionable and evidence-based agenda for improving public policies to address South Asia’s cereal systems. In doing so, CSISA has weighed in — through both scholarly research and outreach efforts — on several areas related to sustainable intensification of cereal systems in South Asia’s most risk-prone geographies.

For example, CSISA’s policy work has strengthened the quality of the debate and helped frame the ongoing contestation around seed systems development in the region. CSISA has helped policymakers identify key priorities amid all the noise accompanying the discourse about the proper role for state-owned enterprises in seed distribution in Bangladesh, the role of private and foreign direct investment in the seed market in Nepal and the future of genetically modified crops in India.

Similarly, CSISA’s policy work has tackled the question of input subsidies and their impact on sustainable intensification. Blanket subsidies on seed, machinery and equipment are common public interventions throughout the region, but, while they can be useful in encouraging new technologies and practices among smallholders, they often come at a high price: forgone spending on other development priorities, elite capture of the subsidies, distortion of input markets and crowding-out of private investment. For example, CSISA’s work on the economic and environmental trade-offs associated with poorly targeted subsidies for laser land levelers in eastern Uttar Pradesh provides state and local government with alternative strategies for improving the impact and lessening the damages caused by subsidies.

Finally, CSISA’s policy work has been striving to transform research and extension guidelines and recommendations from very linear and top-down models to something more nuanced — something more in tune with the precision and site-specificity required for sustainable intensification in the risk-prone geographies in which CSISA operates. CSISA efforts have highlighted the importance of recognizing heterogeneity within populations targeted for the dissemination of new cultivars, agricultural equipment and inputs, as well as the potential to use this heterogeneity to tailor interventions for greater efficacy.

CSISA research and outreach efforts have emphasized the potential for tailoring extension messages to female household members as a means of transmitting information to both men and women about new technologies. And CSISA efforts have drawn attention to the complexity of systems-based solutions for sustainable intensification and the opportunities to bring more smallholders on board through programs that tie public research and extension to private service providers, input suppliers, crop aggregators, community-based organizations and other market actors.

There is still a lot for CSISA to do to improve the policy environment for sustainable intensification in South Asia. New partners are needed, both to build a strong evidence base and to carry that evidence forward to government and corporate decision-makers. New audiences are needed to scrutinize and lend support to the social, economic and environmental goals of this work. And a clear understanding of the long-term nature of this engagement is needed to ensure that policy decisions in support of sustainable intensification have the desired impact and scale.

This article is authored by David Spielman, Senior Research Fellow, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Livestock and Livelihoods: Boosting Incomes and Productivity

Posted on Bangladesh-news, India-news, Nepal-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, December 16, 2015

harvesting grn fodder_origLivestock provides an important complement to cereal farming-based livelihoods in South Asia and can increase incomes for millions of crop-livestock farmers. In collaboration with other CSISA partners, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) has been helping crop-livestock farmers to boost income and milk production by increasing the availability of fodder, promoting efficient use of cereal residues and improving the quality of supplementary feeds in India, Bangladesh and Nepal.

ILRI applied the lessons learned during CSISA Phase I regarding multi-disciplinary R&D, working in innovation hubs, adapting technologies for new contexts and forming strategic partnerships in CSISA Phase II in order to intensify the uptake of locally adapted feed interventions and strengthen farmer linkages with input (including service) and output markets. ILRI explored business opportunities in CSISA’s new hub in Odisha, as well as new sites in Bihar, south-west Bangladesh and the far west of Nepal.

Crop-livestock Farmers Benefit from New Technologies

In Phase II, ILRI focused on technology development and adaptation, as well as capacity development among partners for the uptake and scaling out of proven technologies and best practices. Tangible impacts included higher milk yield (10-14 percent) and better milk quality (1-3 percent higher fat content), which translated into higher income from milk sales (additional US$ 50-150/animal/year) and/or reduction in feed costs (30 percent savings from less waste due to chopping, for example). The increased uptake of locally-adapted livestock feeding practices introduced by CSISA have contributed to improved livestock productivity.

cow pulling fodder

A cow pulling fodder.

In Bihar, 1,500 farmers across six districts (Samastipur, Muzzafarpur, Begusarai, Vaishali, Ara and Patna) have adopted urea-treated maize stover as feed, and self-prepared balanced concentrate feed and mineral mixture as feed supplements to basal diets of their dairy cows. In Odisha, around 1,200 farmers across three districts (Puri, Bhadrak and Mayurbanj) have adopted chopped straw and fodder grass as essential diets of their dairy cows, supplemented with improved concentrated feed and mineral mixture.

In Bangladesh, 150 farmers have adopted maize stover as feed and over 1,500 farmers have been practicing mechanical chopping of crop residues, of which two out of every three is female. In Nepal, 700 farmers (in five village development committees) have adopted chopped straw as basal diet supplemented with self-prepared balanced concentrate feed and mineral mixture, an increase from 10 percent (pre-CSISA interventions) to 40 percent among farmers inside and outside CSISA’s farmer-group collaborators.

Easily Available High-Quality, Chopped Fodder

The increased availability of high-quality chopped fodder reflects the emergence of derived demand for complementary inputs and services to sustain the adoption of new feed technologies and best practices. Through various trainings and capacity-strengthening activities, auxiliary service enterprises were developed, revealing the entrepreneurial tendencies of our collaborators, expanding their livelihood opportunities in the process. For example, eight local service providers (LSPs) in Bihar and five LSPs in Odisha have been established for preparing balanced concentrate feed, while 12 LSPs have been established in Bangladesh to provide straw chopping services in response to increased demand for chopped straw and fodder.

In addition, two fodder markets in Shanerhat and Pirgong in Bangladesh’s Rangpur district were established in collaboration with local partners to serve increased demand for fodder, which have made fodder easily accessible and widely available while providing income-generating opportunities for fodder growers. With the introduction of fodder crops and forages as part of a basket of feeding options, farmers in CSISA sites were able to expand their feed resource base, helping them mitigate productivity constraints arising from seasonal variability and the generally low quality of available feeds.

This article is authored by Lucy Lapar, Senior Scientist and Agricultural Economist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

Farmers in Tamil Nadu Benefit from Better Information, Tools and Technology

Posted on India-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, Uncategorized, October 9, 2015

TN exit workshopIn the last five years, CSISA has reached over 25,000 farmers and has covered more than 70,000 acres through water- and labor-saving agricultural technologies in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, as reported during the CSISA Tamil Nadu Hub Celebration Workshop from 15-16 September in Thanjavur (participants of the workshop pictured above).

As part of CSISA, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) tested and scaled-out improved rice crop technologies and management practices including laser land leveling, mechanized dry direct seeding of rice, mechanical transplanting of rice, site-specific nutrient management and line sowing using a multicrop seeder under reduced-tillage conditions. These technologies are helping farmers reduce the cost of production and increase their income in Thanjavur, Thiruvarur and Nagapattinam districts of the Cauvery Delta and the neighboring districts of Ramanathapuram and Sivagangai.

“Farmers can save water by 25–35 percent by not puddling the field and by using shorter-duration crops,” said R. Ganeshamoorthy, CSISA Tamil Nadu hub manager. “Farmers can save about 40 percent of labor because renting a farm machine is cheaper than hiring manual labor. The profit from the dry direct seeded rice is twice as much as that of conventional rice cultivation. Overall, farmers can increase their yields by 7–10 percent depending on the rice variety.”

Making Arid Lands Cultivable

Sivagangai and Ramanathapuram districts are two of the most arid areas in Tamil Nadu. With almost 73 percent of the population depending on agriculture, paddy is a staple crop grown only during the dry season (rabi), mainly under rainfed conditions, with seeds broadcasted before the rains. The practice of dry direct seeding of rice, which requires less water and labor, is helping transform uncultivable lands (geographically about 50 percent of the area) to productive agricultural areas in these districts.

The Reliance Foundation and CSISA have been working in partnership to convert dry tracts of lands from traditional broadcasted rice to dry direct seeded using a seed drill. As a result, 250 hectares in Sivagangai have already become cultivable and farmers’ groups have purchased 11 seed drills and are renting out the equipment to other farmers.

“Working together with several important organizations is key to the success of the widespread dissemination of these technologies in Tamil Nadu,” said Noel Magor, head of the Impact Acceleration Unit and Training Center at IRRI.  “In 2013, for example, the use of seed drill and land laser leveling machines was endorsed by Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) while the Department of Agriculture (DoA) facilitated and provided some subsidy to purchase the machines for outscaling to the farmers.”

The Tamil Nadu Rice Research Institute, National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, ITC Agribusiness division, Syngenta, MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) and the Reliance Foundation are among several partners who supported the research, capacity-building and extension work for large-scale adoption of the technologies.

Less Fertilizers, More Profits

The Nutrient Manager for Rice (NMR), an ICT-based decision tool that gives real-time site-specific fertilizer recommendation, is helping farmers use less fertilizers as compared with farmers’ current practice, thus increasing their profits by US$ 67 per hectare on average. This tool, introduced by CSISA in the Cauvery delta, provides fertilizer guidelines matching the field-specific needs and conditions of a farmer, according to IRRI scientist P. Panneerselvam.

“Fertilizers are typically the second largest input cost in rice production,” said Panneerselvam. “Thus, Nutrient Manager for Rice is a welcome technology in Tamil Nadu.” NMR supports and complements the existing crop management advisory services of the state government.

Based on the information provided by farmers about their fields, Nutrient Manager recommends the ideal amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium to be added at critical growth stages, while taking into account the amount of fertilizer the farmer prefers to use.

With the use of NMR, farmers can save 15-20 percent of nitrogen, 36-42 percent of phosphorous and 28 percent of potassium compared with state fertilizer recommendation; and 33-42 percent phosphorous and 30 percent potassium compared with farmer’s practice. These were the results from an on-farm participatory research done from 2013 to 2015 in Thanjavur, Thiruvarur, and Nagapattinam districts in Tamil Nadu.

“Tamil Nadu is a major rice producing state in India with 1.9 million hectares under rice. The Cauvery delta contributes a substantial share to the state’s rice production,” said Panneerselvam. “Thus, helping farmers here will have an impact on the overall production of the country.”

Sustaining Impacts

Partner organizations such as TNAU and MSSRF have agreed to extend the research and development initiatives under CSISA, beyond the project life-cycle. “TNAU will take up the outscaling of key technologies under CSISA although the project has already ended,” said R. Rajendran, TNAU agronomist, who has been associated with CSISA for the last seven years.

“TNAU will continue by extending technologies such as improved dry seeded rice cultivation, nonpuddled machine rice transplanting and laser land leveling,” Rajendran said. “Also, the research initiatives conducted through CSISA will not stop. The research outcomes will be taken continually to the farmers with the support from the Government of Tamil Nadu and TNAU,” he added.

The Tamil Nadu Rice Research Institute and the Soil and Water Management Research Institute will also continue to expand the adoption of the water- and labor-saving technologies in the Cauvery Delta and the entire rice-growing areas of Tamil Nadu.

“MSSRF is now extending the training to farmers after its staff members attended the season-long training on dry direct seeded rice,” said G. Sudhakar, scientist at MSSRF. The season-long training was piloted by CSISA where participants received hands-on training on all aspects of crop production and management — from sowing to grain storage — during the entire growing season.

The original version of this article appears in the IRRI News Bulletin.

Asia Wheat Breeders Develop Strategies to Face Future Threats

Posted on Bangladesh-news, India-news, Nepal-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, October 7, 2015

Wheat Breeders MeetingOver the past six years, wheat breeding for biotic and abiotic stress tolerance has gained momentum in South Asia through effective collaboration with national partners under the umbrella of CSISA, according to Arun Joshi, Principal Scientist, CIMMYT and CSISA Objective 4 Leader. Joshi said that new wheat varieties have been developed that have faster grain filling ability and can adapt to a range of sowing dates. “Improved networking with public and private sector seed hubs enabled faster inclusion of these new varieties in the seed dissemination chain,” added Joshi.

Fifty scientists from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal assembled at Karnal, India on 2-3 September for the 7th Wheat Breeding Review meeting, reflecting the growing interest of the national agriculture research systems (NARS) in South Asia in genetic gains and CSISA’s seed dissemination work. In addition to assessing the broad framework of issues that currently concern wheat improvement, the meeting reviewed the progress of the 2014-15 cycle and established work plans for the coming crop cycle.

According to Indu Sharma, Director, Indian Institute of Wheat and Barley Research, Indian Council of Agricultural Research, collaborative research with a regional perspective will be important to achieve food security and sustain farmers’ livelihoods in the future. While appreciating new research efforts, she highlighted that CSISA has played a critical role in wheat research focused on handling rust resistance and heat tolerance in South Asia.

Participating scientists from CIMMYT and national public partners discussed strategies to strengthen research on future threats such as wheat rusts, early and late heat stress and water scarcity. Wheat rusts have been known to be a constant threat causing severe losses to wheat production worldwide. “The threat from rusts is particularly acute in South Asia, which produces 20 percent of the world’s wheat. Recently, yellow rust has become extremely threatening for India, Pakistan and Nepal,” Joshi highlighted. CIMMYT’s resistance breeding programs continue to keep these diseases (including Ug99) in control, safeguarding farmers and their incomes.

According to Joshi, disease-resistant varieties are one of the most effective control strategies for most diseases of wheat grown by resource-poor farmers in the developing world. For a farmer, the cost of protecting 1 hectare of wheat against disease through the application of modern chemicals is estimated to be US$ 10-80 per hectare. With the use of disease-resistant varieties, farmers can save this cost as the rust resistance in wheat is embedded in the seed.

Various sessions reviewed progress and plans from 10 national research centers. After a gap of 20 years, the partnership between the Bhutanese national research program and CIMMYT has led to the release of three new wheat varieties, informed Sangay Tshewang, Wheat Co-ordinator, Renewable Natural Resources Research & Development Sub Centre, Tsirang, Bhutan during his presentation.  Enhancing the capacity of wheat scientists in the region and establishing linkages between breeders, seed producers and farmers featured among the other themes discussed during the meeting.

Looking ahead, many national scientists stressed that they would focus on increasing linkages and improving coordination between the national research programs, CIMMYT and other stakeholders in the seed business to create an enabling environment for faster release of new varieties to farmers and strengthened capacity to handle disease and climate change threats.

This article is authored by Anuradha Dhar, Communications Specialist, CSISA.

Building Wheat’s Resilience to Heat in South Asia

Posted on Bangladesh-news, India-news, Nepal-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, October 7, 2015

Wheat-heat-resilienceEnhancing the productivity of the rice-wheat cropping systems in the Indo-Gangetic Plains is essential for ensuring food security for more than 20 percent of the world’s population. Such enhancement is particularly important in the relatively impoverished and food insecure regions of eastern India, Nepal and Bangladesh.

In the eastern Indo-Gangetic Plains, farmers must regularly contend with risks posed by high temperatures during the wheat grain filling period. These risks can reduce yields by more than 50 percent — even with good management. In addition, progressive climate change has already affected the region, making adaptation to heat stress an urgent near and longer-term priority for ensuring regional food security and climatic conditions are expected to worsen significantly in the coming decades.

Under the CSISA umbrella, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), in close collaboration with the national wheat programs in India, Nepal and Bangladesh, has released new wheat varieties with higher yield potential, which perform well even in the stress-prone areas of the eastern Indo-Gangetic Plains.

Nevertheless, the long-term solution to heat stress cannot be found in any single technology; it must draw from several approaches, including adjustments to management practices, genetic advances, efficient irrigation technologies and mechanization.

CSISA efforts have identified timely wheat planting as the most important contemporary determinant of wheat yields in farm fields across the eastern Indo-Gangetic Plains. In 2009, CSISA began to promote early sowing of wheat to combat the negative effects of rising temperatures.

Due to ingrained habits in places like the eastern Indian state of Bihar, few farmers were initially willing to sow their wheat in early November, even on a trial basis. Through community-based evaluations and collaborative research trials with partners such as the Research Complex for the eastern region, CSISA has built a compelling body of evidence for the importance of early planting. As a result, public perception and official recommendations have changed, resulting in more than 600,000 farmers planting wheat earlier in the Indian states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

CSISA has also worked to expand access to sustainable intensification technologies that facilitate early planting methods, such as zero tillage. With assistance from CSISA, more than 1,600 entrepreneurs are currently providing zero tillage services to over 100,000 households in eastern India and farmers have achieved significant wheat yield gains (20 percent) and cost savings ($100 per hectare).

With USAID’s Feed the Future support, CSISA pursues climate-smart strategies that are profitable today and fully supported by the public and private sectors to help farmers in the eastern Indo-Gangetic Plains build toward a more food secure future.

This article is authored by Andrew McDonald, CIMMYT Cropping Systems Agronomist and CSISA Project Leader. It was originally published in the Feed the Future Newsletter.  

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