Bringing Fallows into Cultivation in Southern Bangladesh

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

Surface irrigation

South Asia’s increasing population, movement out of poverty, and changing dietary preferences indicate that food demand is likely to continue increasing. Since the 1960s, however, the average increase in staple crop yields has been negligible, while farm area per capita has shrunk by 63 percent to approximately 0.1 hectare per person. As most arable farmland is already cultivated, how can farmers increase the production of staple foods, including rice, wheat and maize?

Sustainable intensification (SI), a guiding principle behind the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia’s (CSISA) interventions, helps increase productivity by maximizing resource use efficiency while minimizing environmental tradeoffs. SI often involves increasing the number of crops grown per year on the same land, thereby raising the yield per unit of area-time, while minimizing land expansion. However, to get more productivity out of the same land, farmers need access to irrigation. In southern Bangladesh, where CSISA works, farmers have traditionally relied on rainfed cultivation, so overcoming moisture constraints during the dry season has become an imminent challenge.

The Government of Bangladesh recently adopted a policy calling for investment of over US$ 7 billion to support agricultural development in southern Bangladesh. Of these funds, US$ 500 million is to be allocated for surface water irrigation to transition farmers from monsoon rice-fallow or rainfed systems into intensified double cropping systems. However, precise geospatial assessments of where freshwater flows are most prominent and where viable fallow and rainfed cropland is most common have been unavailable. CSISA has helped to fill the gap by analyzing remotely sensed data and yields measured from over 1,600 farmers for 33,750 square kilometers of the Feed the Future (FtF) zone in southwestern Bangladesh.

Modeled results describing the potential contribution of surface water irrigated winter rice, wheat and maize to national aggregate production in Bangladesh.

Modeled results describing the potential contribution of surface water irrigated winter rice, wheat and maize to national aggregate production in Bangladesh (click to enlarge).

The result is an initial scientific estimation of the extent of fallow and rainfed cropland that can be brought under cereal production during the dry season using surface water irrigation. Findings indicate substantial scope for surface water irrigation to intensify cropping, even in the face of soil and water salinity constraints. A total of  20,800 and 103,000 hectares of fallow and rainfed cropped land, respectively, that can be placed under reliable surface water irrigation. Although the potential for winter rice production appears to be more limited than anticipated, projections of dry season cultivation of wheat or maize result show significant potential for production increases, with important implications for national food security. These crops also address income generation constraints while minimizing water pumping and withdrawals, helping to minimize environmental risks.

Building on this work, CSISA has undertaken a convening role with NARES, government and private sector partners to discuss policy and market interventions that can lay the foundations for an environment to enable both surface water irrigation and rainfed legume crop intensification in the FtF zone.

Balancing Risks and Benefits
Winter rice cultivation helped Bangladesh increase its total rice production from 18.3 million tons in 1991 to 33.8 million tons in 2013, but at the cost of exploitation of groundwater in particular environments in northern Bangladesh resulting from unrestrained shallow tube well installation. CSISA’s interventions on cropping intensification in southern Bangladesh look beyond surface water irrigation to ensure long-term environmental sustainability. While research results support the targeted use of surface water irrigation alongside improved water governance measures, CSISA continues to explore more viable crop diversification options.
Recommended Reading: What Contribution Can Surface Water Irrigation Make to Crop Intensification in Bangladesh’s Feed the Future Zone? 

This article is authored by Timothy J. Krupnik, CIMMYT Systems Agronomist and Ashwamegh Banerjee, Assistant Communications Specialist, CSISA.

Farmers in Nepal Benefit from Earthquake Recovery Support

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

EQRSP ShreshtaCIMMYT’s Earthquake Recovery Support Program (EQRSP) has directly impacted the lives of nearly 50,000 farmers in the earthquake-hit areas of Nepal in the last one year. Supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented in cooperation with Nepal’s Ministry of Agricultural Development, the 13-month EQRSP was started in June 2015 through a US$ 1 million grant to CSISA in Nepal. The program has deployed a suite of agricultural assets including mini-tillers and other farm machines, seed and grain storage facilities, agricultural hand tools, technical training and agronomy support across eight of the most risk-prone affected districts.

As nearly two-thirds of Nepal’s population relies on agriculture for their livelihood, the devastation caused by last year’s earthquake and subsequent aftershocks have undermined the affected region’s food security, with estimated losses of more than US$ 280 million in the agriculture sector alone. The quakes destroyed grain and seed stockpiles, killed and injured milch and draft animals, wrecked tools and implements and collapsed regional irrigation and agricultural markets’ infrastructure.

While the program’s monitoring and evaluation activities are still underway, initial impacts can be estimated. The storage bags and cocoons distributed by EQRSP are expected to save about 2,700 tons of grain and seed; agricultural hand tools have facilitated important sustainable intensification practices; agronomy guides have provided information on new production technologies and management practices. The 400 mini-tillers distributed can cover 700 hectares of land, reducing drudgery for women especially. Consequently, mechanics trained by EQRSP are ensuring repair services for mini-tillers are available locally, which encourages continued demand for the machines.

Impact in Numbers*
- 42,798 total project beneficiaries
- 17,542 recipients of hermetic grain/seed storage bags and cocoons
- 12,560 farmers benefitted from mini-tiller ownership or access (5,896 men and 6,664 women)
- 10,800 recipients of better-bet agronomic guides on maize and rice; 500 on mini-tiller and attachment operation
- 1,333 received hand tools or gained access to hand tools through the program
- 111 cooperatives, 172 farmer groups, and 117 individual farmers received mini-tillers along with attachments worth US$ 300
- 368 mini-tiller recipients and 63 local mechanics trained on basic repair and maintenance; US$ 200 worth of spare parts distributed per mechanic

*Final figures may vary as data collection activities are ongoing

Subarna Bhandari, one of the recipients from Sindhupalchowk district, operated his mini-tiller for a total of 120 hours, earning a gross income of approximately US$ 540 within 3 months. The combined 8 machines that were distributed in his area would therefore help the recipients earn an aggregate US$ 4,320. As a resident from the same village states, “It was difficult to rent bullocks on time because everyone in the village had the same requirement at the same time throughout the village.” She would need three pairs of bullocks for two rounds of plowing at a cost of roughly US$ 60. Thanks to the mini-tiller, the same activity now only costs US$ 14.

She adds, “I no longer require extra laborers for pulverization, which was one of the most tedious tasks in field preparation.” Another farmer from Nuwakot district, Mitra Shrestha, agrees. “Keeping bullocks is costly and tedious because they need feed and fodder throughout the year, even when they are not in use. Whereas, the mini-tiller needs fuel only when it is being used. Besides, in one hour the machine can cultivate an area that would require a pair of bullocks to work an entire day,” she adds. Shrestha uses the surplus time she can now spare for vegetable farming and other household chores. “In fact, I now also use the mini-tiller for land preparation of potatoes, since it can till deeper and make ridges.”

This article is authored by Dilli K.C., CIMMYT Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist.

Catalyzing Change in South Asia’s Rice-Based Systems

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

Rice catalyze

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.

Accelerating Adoption of Direct Seeded Rice in Bangladesh and Nepal

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

Promoting DSR

Seasonal scarcity of agricultural labor is one of the biggest challenges to the viability and profitability of agriculture in South Asia. This is especially true for rice farmers whose primary method of crop establishment is transplanting rice seedlings into fields that have been repeatedly tilled. Labor constraints mean sowing and transplanting are often delayed, resulting in yield losses. “Despite offering a package of lunch, snacks, dinner and US$ 4 per day, we cannot find many takers,” says Bhabhisara Giri, a farmer from Bardiya district in Nepal.

The conventional practice is both cost and time intensive with farmers generally spending more than US$ 100 per hectare for wet tillage land preparation and manual transplanting. It also harms the environment, requiring a considerable amount of water and energy in the form of tractor fuel. Additionally, research conducted by CSISA shows that puddling degrades soil quality and causes adverse effects on successive winter crops.

Machine-sown dry direct seeded rice (DSR) on the other hand is a modern agricultural technology that allows rice seeds to be sown directly into non-puddled fields, foregoing the need to raise rice nurseries and transplant seedlings. DSR generally requires one or two passes of the machine and can also be practiced under zero-tillage, offering considerable time, cost and energy savings for farmers. As Kharka Pun, a farmer from Nepal’s Banke district who recently purchased a seed-cum-fertilizer drill points out, “For the first time in 20 years I didn’t have to puddle my field, prepare seedbeds or transplant seedlings.”

Despite these significant advantages, DSR’s uptake has been slow in Bangladesh and Nepal due, in part, to the fact that few farmers and service providers own seed drills. This scenario is changing through CSISA’s Mechanization and Irrigation (MI) programs that focus on improving accessibility and affordability of farm machines like seed drills.

In Bangladesh, CSISA-MI’s efforts have led to the commercialization of scale-appropriate seeders for the two-wheel tractor. More than 900 seeders have been sold by private sector partners since October, 2015. These efforts have received an additional boost from the Bangladeshi Government’s recent endorsement of policy priorities to expand semi-rainfed rice cultivation in the pre-monsoon season in response to mounting concerns over availability of irrigation water. CSISA estimates that approximately 101,000 hectares of conventionally transplanted pre-monsoon rice could be brought under DSR in the districts of Dinajpur and Jessore, where more than 400 two-wheel tractor-based direct sowing machines are in use by service providers and another 500 units are being imported by the project’s private sector partners.

CSISA is also collaborating with the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute and Department of Agricultural Extension to conduct service provider impact trainings, support DSR expansion through spatial analytics for technology targeting, aggregate farmer demand and raise awareness among emerging service providers. For service providers, DSR offers a promising opportunity to increase their earnings by adding an additional pre-monsoon crop.

In Nepal, to strengthen the value chain for DSR, CSISA has facilitated linkages between District Agriculture Development Offices, local machinery suppliers and service providers leading to the establishment of DSR on more than 200 hectares in the districts of Rupandehi and Nawalparasi this year. The technology is already becoming popular in the Mid-West districts of Banke and Bardiya where 105 hectares were brought under DSR during the monsoon season, a 90 percent increase over last year.

Targeting Early Adopters

Karka Pun implementing DSR on his field.

Kharka Pun implementing DSR on his field.

According to Anil Khadka, CIMMYT Research Associate, “Besides the ready availability of machinery, the success of DSR also depends on good crop establishment and proper weed control, which are often difficult in the monsoon season due to unpredictable rainfall patterns.” The selection of suitable land, deployment of trained service providers, timely crop establishment and utilization of integrated weed management practices are pivotal for reliably obtaining good yields with DSR.

For a technology that is drastically different from conventional practices, however, its success ultimately depends on a critical mass of first adopters. In Bangladesh’s Narail and Jhenaidah districts, CSISA’s demonstrations have motivated a group of 20 marginal farmers to become ambassadors for DSR, encouraging fellow farmers and working with DAE agents to promote pre-monsoon rice. CSISA also produced a radio jingle to spread awareness of the benefits of DSR in Western, Mid-Western and Far Western Terai districts of Nepal. The jingle was aired on popular FM radio stations at the start of the Kharif season for about three weeks with the name and contact number of service providers. These service providers have since confirmed receiving numerous phone calls from different parts of their districts.

This article is authored by Ashwamegh Banerjee, Assistant 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.

Video Project in Bangladesh Wins Award for Effective Farmer Communication

Posted on Bangladesh-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, May 2, 2016

EVCOM AwardA collaborative video project aimed at raising farmers’ awareness of small-scale agricultural machinery, water, time, and labor saving crop management practices in South Asia has won the bronze prize in the Event and Visual Communication Association (EVCOM) 2016 Award for Communication Effectiveness at an event in London on April 28.

The EVCOM Screen Awards are among the most prestigious competitions in corporate film and visual communications. The award was jointly accepted by Agro-Insight, the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI), Agricultural Advisory Society (AAS), and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT).

Paul Van Mele, director of Agro-Insight, praised the partnership between agricultural research organizations BARI and CIMMYT, video production company Agro-Insight and video distribution partner AAS.

“The EVCOM Award for Communication Effectiveness celebrates a unique partnership model whereby quality training videos far exceeded the impact that agricultural development projects usually have,” he said.

Greater Extension for Impact

“In population-dense South Asia, the sheer number of farmers makes it difficult to expand reach to raise awareness in rural areas,” said CIMMYT systems agronomist Tim Krupnik.  “Video is a great medium for extension if you want to make awareness spread like wildfire.”

Based on the film “Save more, grow more, earn more,” produced in 2012 through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation– and the U.S. Agency for International Development-funded Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), which also featured some field sites shown from ACIAR and U.S. Department of AgricultureCornell University funded partner projects, a suite of videos was translated into eight languages for farmers in Bangladesh, China, India, Iran and Nepal.

Harun-Ar Rashid, executive director of AAS commented that “our achievement was enormous.” Between 2012 and 2014, AAS and CIMMYT jointly organized 482 screenings for over 110,000 farmers in 482 villages in Bangladesh.

Israil Hossain, a leading agricultural engineer at BARI, commented that “now farmers are inspired, seeing the advantages for crop production, and use of machinery is increasing.”

Internationally, 1,500 DVD copies were distributed to farmer leaders and others such as two-wheel tractor operators, agricultural equipment and input dealers, community-based organizations, government services centers, NGOs and even tea stalls with televisions. Fifty eight million television viewers were reported in Bangladesh and over 100 million in India.

“The videos increased farmers’ awareness of the products of BARI’s research, which is a huge success,” explained Md. Rafiqul Islam Mondal, director general of BARI.

In order to meet food demands in South Asia by 2050, production of the major cereals rice, wheat and maize must each increase by about 1.1, 1.7 and 2.9 percent every year. However, cereal productivity gains in the region have slowed markedly, while resource degradation, declining labor availability, and climate change pose steep challenges to the sustainable intensification of cereal-based systems for improved food security and rural livelihoods.

The award-winning film can be viewed online here.

Seeder Sales Rise Sharply in Bangladesh

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

Mohammad AliOwing to the timely support that CSISA-Mechanization and Irrigation (CSISA-MI) provided to dealers, power tiller operated seeder (PTOS) sales in Bangladesh have sharply increased. Between October and December 2015, 245 service providers bought the PTOS, more than the last two years’ sales combined. These newly purchased seeders alone accounted for approximately 1,500 hectares of land covered by service providers during the last boro (dry) season – an indication that farmers and service providers alike see value in the technology. The project also tracked other enterprises that contributed to another 660 seeders being sold, which accounted for an additional land coverage of approximately 4,200 hectares.

To boost PTOS sales, CSISA-MI included agricultural machinery dealers in activities such as demonstrations, learning visits and potential buyers’ gatherings. Through such events, the dealers had an opportunity to identify potential customers and establish direct linkages with them.

According to Dinesh Chandra Majumder, a local machinery dealer, the increase in PTOS sales was foreseen. He explained, “CSISA-MI calculated the monetary benefit for farmers of using the PTOS and shared these calculations during their events and demonstrations.” Majumder used to be a mechanic in Tambolkhana Bazaar of Faridpur district. Last year, he participated in a CSISA-MI training for local mechanics and learned about the PTOS. With his interest piqued, Majumder participated in further demonstrations organized by CSISA-MI. Seeing the interest among farmers in the benefits of the technology, and among service providers to make money from it, he was convinced. He became the local dealer for RFL, an agricultural machinery importer and manufacturer.

Majumder said, “Last year alone I managed to sell 55 PTOS and 11 axial flow pumps. This brought me money and another dealership of ACI Motors Ltd. Thanks to CSISA-MI, PTOS dealers like me are more financially sound. And through us they are ensuring the machine’s benefits reach the farmers as well.”

Local farmer and service provider Mohammad Ali is one such beneficiary. He has 2 hectares of farmland and purchased a PTOS last year to complement the power tiller he already owned. With the PTOS he sowed wheat and jute on his land and also provided the machine as a service to his neighbors, covering an additional 10 hectares.

“I made enough profit with my new PTOS that I now plan to buy another power tiller and PTOS. Not only will I be able to provide support to other farmers, it will also make me rich,” said Ali. In addition to his own land, he expects to sow jute and onion on 14 hectares in the coming season as a service provider.

According to Ananda Kumer, Sub Assistant Agricultural Officer, Department of Agricultural Extension, Saltha, “Like many others in this area, Ali is a progressive farmer and a very active local service provider. By using modern agricultural technology he is able to improve his economic and social condition. CSISA-MI’s value chain activities are helping such farmers further develop their livelihoods.”

This article is authored by M. Shahidul Haque Khan, Communications Officer, CSISA-MI and Md. Salahuddin, Officer, Business Facilitation, iDE. 

Precision Broadcasters: Innovations in Fertilizer Application

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

Bardiya Earthway Spreader

Purna Bahadur Sahi, 42, lives and farms in Neulapur, Bardiya district. Sahi used to practice conventional techniques in his fields, which generally did not involve chemical fertilizers. One day, he visited CSISA’s wheat plots in Sirkoiya during a farmers’ field day.  During the visit, he came to know that soil needs balanced fertilizers just like people need food. He also witnessed a demonstration of the precision broadcaster (Earthway Spreader 2750). He was intrigued by the little red bag which had a very simple mechanism and could be used with a little practice. Sahi brought himself a broadcaster from Tharu Agrovet, Bhurigaun.

Sahi says, “Earlier I applied little amount (less than 40 percent of recommended dose) of fertilizers to my wheat. Seeing the wheat fields during the farmers’ field day, I felt I should use recommended dose of fertilizers in my fields too.” CSISA provided Sahi a training regarding the use of the Earthway Spreader and fertilizer dosages for various crops. Sahi then used the precision broadcaster on 13 Bighas (approximately 8.67 hectares) of wheat to broadcast urea. Neighboring farmers were skeptical, but once Sahi was in action, other were intrigued by the spreader, seeing the efficient application of fertilizer. Soon, his neighbors came asking for the bag to use in their own fields.

Purna Bahadur Sahi using the spreader for fertilizer application.

Purna Bahadur Sahi using the spreader for fertilizer application.

However, it was not easy for some of his neighbors. Some had fertilizer landing on their feet and some had accidentally broadcast their fertilizer outside of their field boundary. Sahi decided to teach them the proper way to use it, which he learned from CSISA. Sahi says, “They did not know the proper balance between walking and cranking speed, resulting in loss of valuable fertilizer. Some went all the way to the end of the field, which spread fertilizers 3 meters outside the field. After learning the right technique, they were doing fine. ”

Sahi says that the zipper on top of the bag does not let the fertilizer spill out, or let water in. He adds, “Urea is evenly spread in the fields and crop establishment is even. The spreader applies urea 4 meters on both sides and I don’t have to reach the end of the field boundary to apply fertilizer.”

“It took me 1 hour to fertilize 0.5 Bighas (0.33 hectares) of wheat. I fertilized a total of 13 Bighas (8.67 hectares), which took me approximately 26 hours. I completed the fertilization in a week, working around 3.5 hours per day. In contrast, when I compared with my neighbor who practiced hand broadcasting, he took 66 hours to fertilize the same field (during a different season) at the rate of 2.5 hours for 0.5 Bighas (0.33 hectares),” shares Sahi.

This article is authored by Anil Khadka, Research Associate, CIMMYT.

Transforming Fallows: Line Sowing Facilitates Cropping Diversification in Odisha

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

line sown mung

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.

Partnerships with Private Machinery Manufacturers Support Market Expansion of Machinery in Bangladesh

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

Janata JVA

CSISA-Mechanization and Irrigation (CSISA-MI) recently signed a joint venture agreement with Janata Engineering, an agricultural machinery manufacturer and supplier, to provide marketing support for the power tiller mounted reaper in Faridpur, Madaripur, Bhola, Jhenaidah and Magura districts of Bangladesh.

As private sector companies are better positioned to enter new market segments with their own investments, CSISA-MI works with International Development Enterprises (iDE) to develop public-private partnerships and successful business models to ensure the scaling of sustainable intensification technologies.

So far, CSISA-MI has entered into joint venture agreements with various large machinery manufacturers and importers, including Advanced Chemical Industries, Rangpur Foundry Limited Group, The Metal (Pvt.) Ltd. and Chittagong Builders. These companies and their service provider clients have invested their own funds towards the purchase, import, distribution and marketing of equipment and use of machinery services, leveraging an additional value of more than US$ 1.7 million over-and-above project funds.

These private sector engagements are helping to develop self-sustaining value chains that will continue to deploy equipment beyond the project’s lifecycle. Through these partnerships, CSISA-MI aims to reach the ‘tipping point,’ which is 15 percent of the total potential beneficiary population in the Feed the Future zone, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative. Beyond this, a spontaneous private sector and market led uptake is expected to take place.

To achieve this tipping point, CSISA-MI is now also reaching out to smaller local enterprises, such as Janata Engineering, that have the potential to develop, produce and import agricultural machines but lack knowledge and marketing support to modify and sell new products that meet the local demand.

The collaboration with Janata Engineering will help develop a strong business model for its power tiller mounted reaper through their commercial distribution network and will strive to establish a profitable and sustainable supply chain, including after-sales service and better availability of spare parts.

With a focus on the testing of new products and the modification of existing machines, CSISA-MI will further draw upon its relationships with development, research and government organizations to transfer research and knowledge to Janata Engineering.

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

CSISA Expands Domain of Registered Maize Hybrids in Nepal

Posted on Nepal-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, April 10, 2016

Dhangadhi MaizeCSISA is collaborating with national partners in Nepal to support the domain expansion of registered maize hybrids, helping increase maize productivity in the country.

Maize is the second most important food crop in Nepal, after rice. It contributes approximately 25 percent of Nepal’s food basket and occupies around 26 percent of the total cropped area. Maize productivity at 2.3 tons per hectare in Nepal is still quite low compared to the global average of 5.5 tons per hectare.

Growing demand from the poultry industry in Nepal cannot be met by the cultivation of open-pollinated seed varieties alone. As a result, higher-yielding hybrids have become increasingly popular among farmers because of their productivity, quality and profitability. However, most maize hybrids are only approved for sale and cultivation in the central and eastern Terai, east of the Narayani River. Farmers in many areas, especially in western Nepal, sometimes purchase non-approved hybrid seeds to meet market demand. These hybrid seeds are not registered at the Seed Quality Control Centre and are traded through informal channels.

With a potential risk of penalty from the government for violating the seed policy, traders have not distributed many high-performing hybrids, thereby restricting their local production, fair distribution and widespread availability, which otherwise could benefit many farmers in Nepal. It is estimated that annually about 2,500 tons of hybrid maize is grown in Nepal, of which only 1,000 tons are registered hybrids.

Catalyzing Change

In 2014 and 2015, CSISA and the National Maize Research Program (NMRP) partnered to evaluate maize hybrids in six additional districts (Banke, Bardiya, Kailali, Kanchanpur, Surkhet and Dadeldhura) in western Nepal. Trials were conducted in the spring in the Terai and in the summer in the mid-hills and were monitored by a team of stakeholders from NMRP. The performance data for variety release and registration was shared with the National Seed Board (NSB).

Of the ten hybrids that were evaluated, four (TX 369, Bioseed 9220, Rajkumar and Nutan) were found agronomically superior, producing more than 6 tons per hectare, and having a tight husk cover and providing moderate resistance to northern leaf blight and grey leaf spot. In response to the evaluation results, the NSB has approved and registered four hybrid varieties for sale in the western region.

Highlighting the need to increase farmers’ access to registered hybrids, Dilaram Bhandari, member of NSB and Director, Crop Development Directorate, Department of Agriculture said, “We have to adopt this modality for other hybrids as well since new hybrids expand outside the recommendation domains quite frequently.”

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

Long-term Production Systems Research Enables Development Opportunities

Posted on News - Homepage, News & Announcements, March 28, 2016

All too often the rewarding outcomes of agricultural research for enhancement of production systems are not realized: projects are terminated before components of the ‘production engine’ are in place and functioning. Consequently, productivity remains stagnant, as do rural livelihoods. An interesting exception is the USAID– and BMGF-funded CSISA initiative.

CSISA, implemented primarily by CIMMYT and IRRI with inputs from other CGIAR centers, has its roots in the former Rice/Wheat Consortium, a CGIAR eco-regional and system-wide research program that began in 1994 and continued for 20 years. In early 2015, I had the opportunity to lead an external evaluation of the CSISA initiative, which should now be seen as 30 years of continuous research-cum-development in three countries in the Indo-Gangetic plains. Here you can find the results of our review of the initiative’s work in agronomy, plant breeding, mechanization, irrigation efficiency, community empowerment, integrated crop, livestock and fish systems and more

A number of tangible outcomes are unfolding. For example, in the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, India, the planting date for wheat has been advanced to before November 15. This early planting enables wheat to escape very high pre-monsoon temperatures during grain-filling, significantly increasing wheat productivity. For this early planting, the monsoon rice must be harvested quickly and wheat immediately direct-seeded into the rice stubble. There is neither time nor need for re-plowing the soils. The research program, working with national partners, enabled the introduction of mechanized rice harvest and direct seeding of wheat using single-axle tractor-based technologies, including no-till seeders manufactured in China, Bangladesh and more recently in India.

Small farmers turned service providers not only more rapidly harvest rice with mechanization and then plant wheat on their own farms but also, using their equipment and knowledge, contract work for many other smallholder family farmers. These often young entrepreneurs are enabled and supported by private sector agro-dealers and frequently obtain subsidies from state and federal governments for first-time purchase of new equipment. The CSISA staff work closely with public and private sector personnel to create a shared vision among stakeholders. CSISA staff also train trainers to shape the enabling policies. Tangible adoption of such sustainable intensification is now found in the focal states in eastern India, Bangladesh, and the Terai zones of Nepal.

Much can be learned and borrowed from this long-term production systems research and applied in analogous agro-ecologies…

This article is an excerpt of a blog post on Agrilinks authored by Eric Kueneman, the Evaluation Team Lead for the Phase II Evaluation of CSISA. To read the full post, click here.

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. 

Reaping Benefits from Rice and Wheat

Posted on Bangladesh-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, Uncategorized, December 21, 2015

Rafiqul LSP ReaperIn Kalukhali, Rajbari district, Bangladeshi farmers mostly cultivate paddy, which requires engaging a large labor force in order to harvest the crop. Mohammad Rafiqul Islam, an experienced agricultural service provider, was keen to minimize labor expenses in order to accelerate his business profits. After seeing a reaper in the neighboring village that harvested the crop faster, thus helping in timely planting of the subsequent crop, he decided to purchase this new machine. Imported and marketed by ACI company, this machine was suitable for reaping wheat and Amon and Aush paddy.

“Initially, my family members were against the big investment of US$ 2,360 for purchasing this machine,” said Rafiqul.  “They told me this will be a costly deal,” he added. Previously, Rafiqul would hire 10 laborers for around two weeks to harvest 3.57 hectares of land, which used to cost him around US$ 1,300.

Despite facing resistance at home, Rafiqul bought the reaper anyway, and he didn’t regret it. Even after hiring a machine operator and purchasing fuel, Rafiqul could save around US$ 1,230 in labor costs from harvesting his land in less than two weeks. Additionally, he generated an income of US$ 76 by providing harvesting services to others for one more week.

“The demand for reaper services will increase in the dry season, and if weather conditions remain favorable, more than 20 hectares of land can be harvested by the machine,” said Mohammad Jahangir Jowarder, a reaper operator working with Rafiqul Islam.

The benefits extend beyond the farm and are helping make Rafiqul’s family life more comfortable.  “Earlier, during the harvest season I could not sleep more than three hours per night. I had to prepare at least four meals for ten laborers as well as dry, thresh, pack and store around 80 kg of paddy every day. But this time it’s different. I am able to rest in the evenings – first time in 30 years!” laughed Rafiqul’s wife Shirin Sultana, who originally opposed the decision to invest in the machine. So far, local service providers have supported more than 6,000 farmers with this machine covering 2,200 ha of farm land.

“The reaper is fast becoming popular among farmers. In short time, 55 local service providers have bought the reaper and harvested more than 2,000 hectares of land of more than 6,000 farmers,” said Subrata Chakrabarty, Project Manager, CSISA-MI. “It can be the most extensively used technology for rice and wheat harvesting in the next five years in Bangladesh,” he added.

Funded by USAID, the Cereal Systems Initiative in South Asia – Mechanization and Irrigation (CSISA-MI) Project – part of US President Obama’s Feed the Future (FtF) Initiative – is facilitating the market promotion of the reaper machine in collaboration with ACI. CSISA-MI seeks to transform agriculture in southern Bangladesh by unlocking the potential productivity of the region’s farmers during the dry season, while conserving the land’s ability to produce quality crops in the long term through surface water irrigation, efficient agricultural machinery and local service provision.

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

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).

Empowering Women Farmers through Participatory Research

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

Loktantrik Mahila samuhaCSISA has collaborated with a women farmers’ group in Bardiya district to collectively evaluate improved rice and lentil varieties and better bet agronomic practices. These trials have helped bring CSISA researchers closer to farmers’ needs and have led to increased adoption of new technologies by women farmers.

Loktantrik Mahila Krishak Samuha (Democratic Women Farmer Group) was formed in 2011 in the village of Neulapur in Bardiya district of Nepal to economically support poor women members and to improve their skills in new agricultural technologies. The group, with 33 active members, now has a savings fund of NRs 250,000 (US$ 2,500), and is able to make low-interest loans to members. Since 2013, CSISA-NP has been working with this group on research activities, trainings and demonstrations.

Farmers’ Choice

Group members participated in CSISA’s evaluation of rice varieties, as well as trainings and demonstrations on rice production technologies and crop establishment methods. Among rice hybrids, the group members were able to choose from varieties such as DY 18, DY 69, Arieja and Prithivi due to their high yielding potential and fine grain quality. The women group members expressed a preference for fine grain rice varieties for home consumption and coarse grain varieties for selling in the market.

In the winter of 2013 and 2014, a large number of farmers from the group also participated in adaptive research trials on lentil varietal selection and different agronomic practices. The group preferred Khajura 2 (released), ILL 7723 (enriched with iron and zinc) and Black Masuro, but did not express a preference for the other varieties produced. The average yield of improved varieties of lentil is 1,200 kg per hectare in farmers’ fields, which is nearly 50 percent higher than the commonly used variety.  The group members also earned additional income by selling lentil seeds, which were produced from these new varieties.

CSISA also introduced the group members to direct seeded rice (DSR) technologies, using both four-wheel tractor seed drills and Chinese two-wheel tractor seed drills. DSR, a technology that can provide significant cost savings to smallholder farmers, can be particularly attractive when labor availability is constrained as it eliminates the need for nursery bed preparation, puddling and transplanting of seedlings into the main field. DSR also reduces water requirements, while still providing similar grain yields achieved with transplanted puddled rice.


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