Improving the Livelihoods of Smallholder Farmers in Dadeldhura

Posted on Nepal-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, June 18, 2015

DadeldhuraLittri Gaun is a characteristic remote, hilly village in Dadeldhura district of Nepal. Relatively low agricultural yields, soil erosion and labor out-migration are major challenges for monsoon-dependent agriculture in this region. During the kharif season, farmers mostly grow the dominant staple crops – unbunded upland rice and maize. Some farmers also practice maize-soybean mixed cropping because soybean fetches a good price in the market. Finger millet is also grown for home consumption in some areas during kharif.

Farmers in Littri Gaun believe that chemical fertilizer can destroy soil, and use only farmyard manure and plant litter to enrich their soil. Low nutrient levels — particularly for Nitrogen – have led to consistently low crop productivity. Moreover, farmers grow traditional local varieties for which seeds may have been saved for several years, as seed replacement rates are low. With men migrating outside for work, women are left responsible for the agricultural production, as well as household duties, resulting in high levels of drudgery for women and high labor constraints during peak agricultural times.

The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia in Nepal (CSISA-NP) began working with farmers in Littri Gaun in 2012 and facilitated farmers in the village to form a group called “Ugratara Agriculture Group.” CSISA works with Ugratara to introduce new, suitable crop varieties, better-bet agronomic practices and small-scale machinery that women can use.

CSISA and Ugratara have conducted several maize trials to screen and grow different registered hybrids, to evaluate different crop establishment methods and to experiment with different methods of fertilizer management. Trials showed that hybrid maize yields were more than double to those of the local varieties under the same management conditions. With hybrids, Ugratara has even harvested up to three times the yield of the local maize varieties. Among the genotypes tested, group members preferred Kanchan-101 (hybrid) because of the high and early yields. Trials also showed that the local maize variety produced higher yields when fertilizer was applied, demonstrating the importance of good nutrient management.

Dadeldhura Field DayDuring a farmers’ field day Ugratara group members expressed that improved varieties, like the maize variety Kanchan 101 (hybrid) introduced by CSISA, are more productive than their local maize. Ugratara group member, Naresh Khadka said, “We are producing more than double using the hybrid Kanchan-101 and it’s ready early than the local variety.” For upland rice, trials also showed that the appropriate use of chemical fertilizers nearly doubled yields of local rice varieties and that chemical fertilizer increased yields over those achieved through the application of farmyard manure.

CSISA also introduced improved varieties of lentil, which has increased the number of farmers producing lentil, lentil yields, and household lentil consumption. Farmers have also been able to sell their surplus lentil production in the market for NRs. 150/kg. “After seeing the benefits of improved lentil variety, more farmers are now expanding their area under lentil cultivation,” said Khadka.

Finally, CSISA introduced small machines like the mini tiller and the jab planter, which helped women to prepare and cultivate land, making them more self-sufficient, saving their time and helping them to adapt better to labor shortages. Women in Littri Gaun are not allowed to plough land with bullocks, as it is considered to be men’s work. Saru Khadka, a lady member of Ugratara group, said, “By using minitiller for preparing our fields, we don’t have to depend on men for labor and bullocks.” Participation in Ugratara has helped the group’s women members to feel empowered. Khadka acknowledged that women in Ugratara have learned to confidently express their views and problems to relevant authorities and they feel more capable and assertive now.

This article is authored by A.P. Regmi, Agronomist, CIMMYT.

Locally-Designed Thresher Meets Farmers’ Needs in Bihar

Posted on India-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, March 31, 2015

Open drum thresher demonstrationIn India, farmers with large landholdings from prosperous agricultural states like Punjab can often buy expensive and sophisticated machines for their farm operations. However, resource-poor farmers from states such as Bihar and Odisha may not be able to afford the same machines or services and, given that their landholdings may be considerably smaller, may have different needs. Farmers all along the spectrum of landholdings need to be able to access differently priced appropriate machinery based on their specific requirements. Machinery for mechanized threshing is one such example.

For rice, mechanized threshing offers many advantages over manual threshing in terms of increased efficiency, reduced drudgery, cost and labor savings. Until recently, farmers in Bihar only had two options to choose from – the very large axial flow thresher that can cost up to Rs. 170,000 (US$ 2,700) after subsidy or the compact pedal-powered open drum thresher that has very low capacity and is difficult to operate for extended periods of time by women farmers, who are responsible for most threshing activities in India. The only medium-sized option was an electric motor powered open drum thresher available from other states, which was not effective as many farms in Bihar do not have reliable access to electricity.

“Farmers clearly needed a medium-sized, affordable, efficient and portable mechanical paddy thresher,” said Suryakanta Khandai, Postharvest Specialist, IRRI, who works for CSISA in Bihar. For most manufacturers and retailers in Bihar, however, importing such machines did not offer enough margin for profit. Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) approached local fabricators in Bihar to assemble and sell these threshers.

Khandai added, “We wanted to build a locally-relevant product so understanding the shortcomings of the existing options was important. The pedal-powered open drum thresher, for example, was prone to accidents with most users complaining that their clothes would often get caught in the exposed mechanism. The existing models also lacked winnowing or bagging functions, which were included in the new design. Besides giving it wheels, we also decided to use a diesel engine to power the machine to allow for threshing in the field immediately upon cutting, which would help reduce losses.”

The result was the diesel engine powered open drum thresher, which was assembled in collaboration with the local fabricator Durga Engineering Works. CSISA provided them the technical specifications and also gave advice on developing a profitable business model around it.

“It was a work in progress so we also had to make modifications along the way. For instance, we found that the 4.5 hp diesel engine was scattering the grains too far so we had to attach an additional covering plate. This not only reduces the scattering loss but also made the machine safer to operate,” informed Khandai.

In the end though, the effort was worth it as both the fabricator and farmers can now reap its benefits. “Threshing with this machine saves me time and money. Labor is both expensive and unreliable. Hiring one person for a day costs Rs. 200 (US$ 3.2) and in this time one laborer can only manage threshing 3 katha of rice,” says Pawan Kumar Singh, a smallholder farmer and user of the machine from Samastipur, Bihar. “But with this machine, one person can thresh 5 katha in an hour at just Rs. 150 per hour (US$ 2.4).” Katha is a local unit of area where 22 katha equals approximately 1 acre. This means it costs Rs. 1,500 (US$ 24) to hire one person to manually thresh 1 acre of rice in 7 days. Using the diesel engine powered open drum thresher, however, the same area could be covered in just over four hours with a total cost of Rs. 660 (US$ 10.5).

Singh also highlights the fact that mechanical threshing can prevent substantial postharvest losses. “Manual threshing of rice involves repeatedly beating the bundle to separate the grain from the chaff. This results in unnecessary losses since the grain gets scattered everywhere. Further, if the bundle is not thoroughly threshed, farmers can suffer losses of nearly 2 to 4 kg of rice. But with the machine, your output is 100 percent.”

Durga Engineering Works sells the diesel engine powered open drum thresher for Rs. 30,000 (US$ 483) at an estimated profit of Rs. 11,000 per machine (US$ 177). They have already sold 15 pieces and are looking to expand distribution into other parts of India as well. The machine was recently certified by the Farm Machinery Training and Testing Institute (FMTTI) in Jharkand, which is a prerequisite for a machine to be subsidized by the government.

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

CSISA Rolls Out a New Round of Field Studies

Posted on India-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, March 26, 2015

IFPRI Field Studies

CSISA’s research team from IFPRI are deep into the design, data collection and initial analysis phases as they start work on three major studies rolling out during the kharif (monsoon) rice season. These studies will provide new insights on how farmers perceive different CSISA-supported technologies, and how these perceptions vary across different types of farmers. This helps CSISA and, more importantly, extension agencies and NGOs, to have a better understanding of what works, where and why.

The latest study will explore farmers’ valuation of – and returns to – the use of mechanical rice transplanters (MRTs) in Bihar. Another study examines farmers’ preferences for – and uptake of – new stress-tolerant rice cultivars coupled with a weather index insurance product in Odisha. Both studies take their cues from prior IFPRI studies: the former on farmers’ willingness to pay for laser land levelers in eastern Uttar Pradesh and the latter on farmers’ preferences for a similar cultivar and insurance product in Bogra, Rajshahi division, Bangladesh.

Each study combines exercises that explore respondents’ perceptions of new agricultural products and services before actually providing them. For example, the study in Bihar uses experimental games with farmers to discern differences in male and female demand for MRTs and the potential labor savings it might offer. The studies in Bogra and Odisha use similar exercises to understand how farmers perceive the probability of a drought during kharif and the costs and benefits of somehow insuring themselves against that risk, with weather index insurance and/or drought-tolerant rice varieties.

With a better sense of farmers’ preferences, these studies will then introduce novel products and services for use during the upcoming kharif season. In Bihar, selected farmers will receive (and pay for) mechanical transplanting services. In Odisha, selected farmers will receive (and pay for) a drought-tolerant rice cultivar and/or a weather index insurance policy.

At this moment, several of these experiments – accompanied by village and household surveys followed by distribution of products and services – are underway and in the field. The team is working with local partners for these studies – Gram Unnayan Karma (GUK) in Bogra, Balasore Social Service Society in Odisha, HopUp for survey management and implementation in Bihar. And with collaborators from the University of California, Davis and the University of Georgia, these studies will provide critical insights for CSISA and its wide range of stakeholders. And with these insights, IFPRI and CSISA are better able to advise policymakers on the types of policies and investments they might make to affect evidence-based solutions that encourage inclusive technological change across South Asia’s rural economy.

This article is authored by David Spielman, Senior Research Fellow, IFPRI.

Livestock Feeding Made Easy for Women Farmers in Odisha

Posted on India-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, March 26, 2015

Pravati Behera

Pravati Prabha Behera is a member and secretary of the Kapila Muni Milk Society under Orissa State Cooperative Milk Producers’ Federation (OMFED) in Barandua village, Bhadrak district. She owns 7 cows that produce 15 liters of milk per day. Three of these are crossbred, which produce more milk than a local breed. She is responsible for the maintenance of the straw chopping machine, the only one in their village. The machine is kept at the village trading square, where women members of the Kapila Milk Society come to get their straw chopped.

Feeding livestock is often a challenge in Barandua. The plots of land are small and mostly devoted to growth of paddy during the rainy season and to some extent vegetables during winter. The cattle are fed at home until harvest is over, when they are allowed to feed on the remaining straw in the rice fields. They are also fed on the broken rice and bran from the market and they do home-based feeding. Historically, farmers have used a home-based hand cutter for chopping the straw, which is tedious and time consuming.

Through CSISA, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) has introduced crop residue-based animal feeding strategies and provided the chopping machine in Behera’s village, and farmers like her are now seeing the benefits.

Women farmers find the machine useful as it can chop straw in less time than the hand cutter can. Farmers are also chopping and soaking the straw that helps to increase its digestibility and intake. So they are using less straw and less concentrate than previously and are getting more milk yield. They feed the chopped straw to the animal in a bowl, which reduces chances of contamination, as a result cattle health is improving. The saved rice straw can be fed to cattle over 4-5 months, helping reduce expenses.

“The animals are also adapting to the new taste of soaked fodder,” Behera observes. “Once they have tasted the green fodder and the chopped and soaked straw, they no longer want to eat the dry straw.”

Women in Barandua have learnt to organize their week around the machine – often cutting the straw two to three times in a week and storing it in gunny bags. The milk society pays for the maintenance costs of the machine and sometimes Behera collects some money from the society members.  Neighboring villagers have also started adopting the technology after seeing the benefits.

As a mother, Behera considers the food security of her family, and others’, very important. She teaches other mothers in her village to give their children milk before the remainder is sold. “Milk helps us guard against the effects of crop failure and it improves our nutrition. Every day, we have milk to drink even when it is too little to sell.”

This article is authored by Jane Wanjiku Gitau, Communications Specialist, ILRI.

Spreading Innovation: New Partnerships Drive Change in Odisha

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

Video Screening OdishaThe gap between research and the application of new technologies or management practices on farmers’ fields often results because farmers do not receive timely information about emerging research outputs, technologies or improved practices. Innovative new methods of linking research, products, practices and farming communities must be explored and developed.

Sajit Kumar Mohanty, a farmer from Kansapal village in Mayurbhanj district, Odisha, used a traditional method of rice planting – manually uprooting and transplanting rice seedlings. He was introduced to the benefits of mechanical rice transplanting by his local Krishi Vigyan Kendra (farm science center, the local agricultural extension hub) but he wasn’t convinced. “I found the technology useful but nobody really knew how to properly prepare the mat nursery or operate the machine,” said Mohanty. This sentiment is common among other smallholder farmers in his village, who often require more hands-on support on using a new technology.

More than 83 percent of the total farming population in Odisha is comprised of smallholder and marginal farmers, who have limited resources and rely mostly on the state for access to agricultural information. Presently, farmers like Mohanty receive information primarily by two means: Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK), which is aligned with the Odisha University of Agriculture and Technology (OUAT), and Department of Agriculture (DOA), Government of Odisha. Both KVK and DOA work directly with individual farmers to provide field-level technical inputs, create awareness about improved technologies and provide information on entitlements under government programs.

Old Meets New

“The Odisha state government and OUAT recognized the need to strengthen their capacity to transfer suitable technologies to small-scale farmers in ways that were faster, more efficient and more timely,” said Sudhir Yadav, IRRI Irrigated Systems Agronomist and the CSISA Odisha Hub Manager. “The innovative use of ICT tools such as the use of video for outreach can be part of the solution to strengthen the existing system.”

It is with this vision that Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) collaborated with Digital Green (DG), the DOA, Government of Odisha, KVKs and OUAT for a pilot project to integrate ICT based video-led information dissemination models with the current state system.

How the pilot works: Digital Green trains and builds the skills of the state agents to shoot and create videos with farmers on improved farming practices and then screens those videos to small groups of farmers, using small-sized, low-cost, battery-run pico projectors. CSISA provides its technical inputs in video topic selection, content planning and story boarding. During the video screening, state agents keep track of the questions asked and have follow-up meetings with the farmers to check on the adoption.

The Digital Green system of information dissemination benefits from the trust that emerges when they see their fellow villagers demonstrating new technologies in their language and in their village, and from the group setting that allows information to reach multiple people using a relatively low level of resources.

“We aim at both increasing the participation of the community into extension and making a two-way flow between research and extension,” said Rikin Gandhi, CEO, Digital Green, presenting at the Borlaug 100 event organized by CIMMYT, reaffirming Digital Green’s mission to establish an exchange between research and extension leveraging technology.

Implemented in 20 villages of Puri district in Odisha, this CSISA–DG initiative has begun producing videos on 10 technical themes based on the needs of the local farming community. The topics included the demonstration of new paddy, post-harvest and livestock management technologies and highlighting relevant successes by local farmers. So far, six videos in Odiya have been produced, featuring CSISA-promoted technologies. The videos were shown 91 times through group screenings and nearly 500 farmers in Puri district have attended at least one of the video screenings. “Each video requires good planning, a good script and technical understanding of the subject,” Yadav said. Synergy between partners is therefore very important, he added.

Local Farmer is the Star

These videos are generating interest among farmers to learn about and adopt new technologies and management practices. The video on the benefits of chopped straw as fodder in dairy management has helped farmers to enhance milk production, commented Suresh Parida, a farmer from one of the pilot villages. Farmers have also found it easier to identify pests and diseases in their crop after seeing the images in the video of pest and disease management in paddy.

“As the actors in the video are local farmers from the local area, it generates trust among the viewers to adopt a demonstrated practice,” said Avinash Upadhaya, Regional Manager of Digital Green for Odisha at a recent participatory stakeholders workshop in Puri.

Farmers, mediators (KVK staff) and project co-ordination staff (including from DOA, CSISA and Digital Green) came together to discuss the changes that the ICT model has brought and the challenges in integrating the ICT model with the traditional training method.

Talking about the advantages of the DG approach, Ashok Lakra, the village agricultural worker of a pilot village highlighted, “At a demonstration, we might miss some important information but these videos deliver the entire package and cover all the points.” One of the suggestions from the meeting was to distribute leaflets about the technique to the farmers at the end of the video screening for future reference.

“The best language that the farmer understands is the language of other farmers. This works as a good communication model to help in creating awareness and dissemination of improved technologies,” said Yadav.

The article is authored by Anuradha Dhar, Communication Specialist, Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia.

Sharing Lessons on Sustainable Intensification

Posted on News - Homepage, News & Announcements, February 8, 2015

 

Photo 5

The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) organized a cross-learning tour on sustainable intensification (SI) for a multi-institutional group of 13 representatives from USAID, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Africa RISING, USAID’s Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab and the Innovation Lab for Small-scale Irrigation to share perspectives on SI in African and South Asian contexts from 28 January to 4 February.

Sustainable intensification of mixed crop-livestock systems is key to achieving better food security and improved livelihoods while minimizing negative impacts on the environment. The tour was designed to enable knowledge sharing among the flagship SI investments of USAID.

The group started with a full-day event in Delhi to discuss ways to build a global community of practice for SI, followed by a week-long tour of CSISA sites in Bihar and Odisha. “This cross-learning trip helped to showcase how we’ve built the CSISA program in South Asia so that lessons and insights with global resonance can be shared with other initiatives,” said Andy McDonald, Project Leader, CSISA.

Developing a global ‘community of practice’ for sustainable intensification (SI) and the need to define indicators for measuring SI activities were highlighted by the participants at the cross-learning SI event. The workshop looked at the approaches taken by the SI projects of CSISA and Africa RISING, collaborative research opportunities by the Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab and the Innovation Lab for Small-scale Irrigation and the perspectives of the donors that fund SI projects.

“We need broad systems programs to make impacts truly happen,” said Thomas Lumpkin, Director General, CIMMYT, talking about CSISA’s cropping systems approach at the start of the event. He added, “We should get more value chains involved and need to look at regional and global levels to extract maximum value from our R4D projects.”

The field tour helped the team from Africa RISING to understand the commonalities as well as diverging points between CSISA and Africa RISING activities. “It was very promising to see that some of the mechanization components and technologies CSISA is promoting in South Asia may be adaptable to some contexts in Southern African countries where Africa RISING is working. Certainly a fruitful and much-needed learning experience,” said Carlo Azzarri, Research Fellow, IFPRI-Africa RISING.

The Africa RISING team saw the use of affordable and feasible mechanization options for smallholder farm activities in CSISA, which can be introduced in Africa, such as the use of two-wheel tractors for line sowing and fertilizer application, fodder choppers and axial flow pumps.

Talking about CSISA’s model of supporting service providers for the dissemination of different technologies, P.V. Vara Prasad, Director, Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab, said, “The model of using service providers and government organization to reach out to larger communities of farmers was novel and seems to be working well.”

Neville Clarke, Director, Innovation Lab for Small-scale Irrigation, highlighted that the active approach to engage women farmers and the value chain approach being used by CSISA provides some overarching examples of how the Innovation Lab might better address their programs in small-scale irrigation.

“It was extremely informative to join our colleagues from Africa RISING and USAID to better understand the approaches they are taking and the common issues and differences not only between the project approaches but also in the differences in the needs of farmers in South Asia and Africa. BMGF focuses its agricultural development work in these two geographical areas and the chance to contrast and compare was very valuable,” said Tony Cavalieri, Senior Program Officer, Agricultural Development, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Related Stories

Women’s Micro-Credit Loans Help Popularize Scale- and Gender-Appropriate Agricultural Mechanization

Posted on Nepal-news, News - Homepage, February 5, 2015

In mid-2013, after overhearing several conversations about CSISA-Nepal’s promotion of new scale-appropriate agricultural machinery with farmers in the Far West, Sumitra Manandhar-Gurung, CEO of Mahila Sahayatra Micro Finance Bittya Sanstha approached CSISA about whether its agricultural mechanization program might have something to offer her bank’s clients – women farmers who live mainly in the hill regions of Nepal.

Goats and Machines

Gurung asked, “Isn’t there something out there that I can give loans for besides goats? Can’t you show us some small powered machine, tractor or a small mill in the market that our women could take a loan for and provide services to their neighbors while earning a livelihood?”

In March 2014, CSISA Nepal placed an engineer, Sumana Parui, as an intern with Gurung’s bank, to explore the possibility of making micro-credit loans for small, powered and manually powered machinery to Mahila Sahayatra’s members. Parui spent two months in Chitlang village in Makwanpur district and two months in Holeri village in Rolpa district, where she provided several technical and business (local service provider) development trainings to women members and bank staff, a mechanics’ repair training as well as several farmer field days with machinery demonstrations.

Early Successes

Clockwise from top left: Machinery orientation and training in Chitlang; Demonstration of brush cutter in Holeri; Local mechanics’ training on the repair of the mini tiller and other machinery in Chitlang; Training on the use of the mini tiller for land preparation in Holeri.

Clockwise from top left: Machinery orientation and training in Chitlang; Demonstration of brush cutter in Holeri; Local mechanics’ training on the repair of the mini tiller and other machinery in Chitlang; Training on the use of the mini tiller for land preparation in Holeri.

Early on, the outcomes of these trainings were mixed. In Chitlang Valley, the first buyers of a mini-tiller, (a small rotavator-plow, powered by a 4.5 HP diesel engine) were Gyani (58 years old) and Saligram Manandhar (68 years old), who told CSISA how proud they were that they were able to take turns preparing their own land (nearly a hectare) for vegetables and rice, while their sons were working far away in Kathmandu. Manandhar related that in the last few years the few bullock plowmen remaining in the village were charging very high prices for their services and that by using the mini tiller in late spring and summer he saved nearly $200 (NPR 20,000) – half the price of the mini-tiller.

Since Manadhar purchased her machine in April 2014, five additional households, including a disabled woman bank member took a loan from Mahila Sahayatra to purchase the machine. Other equipment such as the powered brush-cutter (for the harvesting of wheat, rice fodder crops, etc.), pedaled (manual) open drum rice thresher and other implements for the mini-tiller such as cage wheels and furrow makers have also been sold. CSISA trained the local motorcycle mechanic in mini tiller repair and now he even stocks some spare parts.

Holeri Village in Rolpa District is different from Chitlang. Holeri lies in what was the epicenter of the Maoist Revolution and is much poorer and more remote. Parui arrived there in August 2014 and reported how difficult it was working there, not only due to the remoteness but because many farmers were negative about the machinery she was demonstrating. Leaving Holeri in October, she was dejected that not a single machine had been sold.

However, in December 2014 she started receiving phone calls from bank staff and women farmers who were interested in purchasing the small ½ HP electric-powered maize sheller. Bank staff sold it that week and then more farmers called, saying there were four or five more women interested in immediately purchasing maize shellers. Parui is currently in discussion with CSISA’s private sector collaborators (agro-vets and machinery agents) on how they could supply machinery to farmers in Holeri, for example by setting up a sales agency there.

Machinery Catalog

Parui is currently in the process of finishing her report as well as preparing a catalog of scale- and gender-appropriate agricultural machinery, a document that will include photos, descriptions, prices and locations where they can be purchased in Nepal. Mahila Sahayatra requested the catalog for use across their locations.

CSISA and Mahila Sahayatra now agree that this initial experiment in marrying scale- and gender-appropriate agricultural machinery with a micro-credit institution has shown initial success and needs to be further formalized, including through formal tie-ups between Mahila Sahayatra and private sector machinery providers that would supply not only the machinery but also training and servicing of the machinery (e.g., repair, spare parts). Discussions about the partnership’s next steps and how to fund them are ongoing.

Q&A with Mugalodi Ramesha: Developing Better Rice

Posted on News - Homepage, News & Announcements, December 22, 2014

Better riceMugalodi Ramesha is Irrigated Rice Breeder, IRRI and CSISA Objective 3 Leader. He has more than two decades of experience developing high yielding varieties with better grain quality, resistance to biotic stresses, better adaptability to puddle transplanted and dry direct seeded conditions in South Asia. He has developed and released two rice hybrids and three varieties for different states of India, published more than 60 research papers and been recognized through multiple awards.
 
In this article, he offers his personal insights on some of the most pressing issues concerning rice breeding today:

How does rice breeding help ensure food security in South Asia?

Sustainable, more profitable and viable methods of rice cultivation can help ensure food security in Asia. Degradation of natural resources, decreasing availability of labor and water, deteriorating soil health and water quality, ever-changing climatic conditions, reduced profitability of rice cultivation, lack of interest in agriculture by the rural youth, inadequate minimum support price and inefficient procurement of the produce are some of the major constraints for improving rice productivity and production in South Asia. Rice breeding helps produce improved varieties and hybrids with high yield potential, region-specific grain quality traits, biotic and abiotic stress-tolerance and suitability for different cropping systems. When coupled with better management practices, rice breeding can significantly improve the profitability of rice cultivation for farmers.

What are some of the key challenges for development and use of hybrid rice in India?

There is no doubt that hybrid rice can boost yield and enhance efforts to achieve food security. One of the key challenges is a moderate level (12 to 15 percent) of heterosis in present day hybrids. Achieving only moderate levels of outbreeding enhancement is not sufficient to make it attractive for farmers and hence, the magnitude of heterosis must be enhanced to at least 25 percent. Other challenges include development of region-specific long-duration hybrids with abiotic- and biotic-stress-tolerance and desirable grain quality traits as per consumer preference in different market segments. We must also work towards reducing the cost of hybrid seeds by increasing the seed-yield in hybrid rice seed production plots.

How does CSISA’s work on rice breeding address these challenges?

Mugalodi Ramesha

Mugalodi Ramesha

CSISA’s work on development of parental lines of hybrids, new varieties, the popularization of private-bred hybrids and varieties for different methods of crop establishment under various cropping systems have all resulted in enhanced system productivity, thereby increasing the profitability of various agricultural enterprises for farmers in South Asia.

How can new improved varieties reach farmers more quickly?

The answer to expediting the current lengthy process of variety release lies not in changing one particular aspect alone but in addressing a variety of factors together. First, the breeding programs need to be market-driven and should be accelerated through the careful blending of molecular and conventional breeding tools; second, by efficient and quick product testing and release policies; third, through aggressive seed production and distribution systems; and finally, in effective technology transfer by various stakeholders. A combined improvement on all these fronts is essential to reduce the time taken between the official release of a new variety and its eventual adoption by farmers.

Can you highlight some outcomes of CSISA’s rice breeding work?

CSISA has developed an array of new breeding lines with high genetic yield potential, region-specific grain quality traits, adaptability to water-saving technologies, improved plant-type features suitable for different methods of crop establishment, biotic-stress-tolerance and reproductive-stage heat-tolerance. These have been shared with the national agriculture research and extension systems (NARES) and many of these elite breeding lines are currently in advanced stages of testing in multi-location trials at state and national levels. The genetic yield potential of four elite varieties (NSIC Rc82, NSIC Rc158, NSIC Rc222, and NSIC Rc238) and three mega varieties of India (Swarna, Samba Mahsuri and MTU1010) is being enhanced by incorporating three cloned genes, for high grain number (Gn1a), bigger panicle size (Spl14) and strong culm (SCM2). Many promising entries for direct-seeded rice have been identified in Nepal and Bangladesh. Out of 60 rice entries tested during the 2014 dry season under machine-sown dry direct-seeded rice, 15 entries recorded more than 7.5 tons/ha. Besides assisting the strengthening of NARES breeding programs for accelerated product development, CSISA has also contributed to their regular breeding programs with new breeding lines with novel traits such as phosphorous uptake, anaerobic germination, and better plant architecture.

Read the Q&A with Arun Joshi on Developing Better Wheat

Q&A with Arun Joshi: Developing Better Wheat

Posted on News - Homepage, News & Announcements, December 22, 2014

CISSA-MI_Barisal

Arun Kumar Joshi is Principal Scientist, Global Wheat Program, CIMMYT and CSISA Objective 4 Leader. Based in Kathmandu, Nepal, he is a Fellow of the Indian National Science Academy (INSA) and also of DAAD Germany. He has facilitated development of around three dozen wheat varieties and made numerous contributions to disease resistance, heat and drought tolerance and biofortification in South Asia. He has been awarded the Jeanie Borlaug Laube Women in Triticum Mentor Award 2014 from Borlaug Global Rust Initiative, Cornell, USA.
 
In this article, he offers his personal insights on some of the most pressing issues concerning wheat breeding today:

How does wheat breeding help ensure food security in South Asia? 

South Asia faces multiple challenges in future wheat production, including heat stress, dwindling water supplies for irrigation, changes in urbanization patterns and a growing threat of increased virulent diseases such as wheat rusts (yellow, brown and black) and leaf blight.

Wheat breeding has played a major role in ensuring food security and combating these challenges by developing agronomically superior cultivars with good quality traits and genetic resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses. The Green Revolution came about due to the release of dwarf, photo-insensitive, nitrogen-responsive varieties and some of the most important gains have been sustained by the continued release of improved varieties and the associated support of agronomy, policy and socio-economic factors.

While many smallholders throughout South Asia benefited from the introduction of first-generation Green Revolution cultivars that replaced lower-yielding landraces, the adoption of second and third-generation cultivars has led to ongoing improvements in wheat production. Wheat production in India in the last five years (2009-14) increased from 80 to 96 million tons, in Pakistan from 21 to 25 million tons, in Nepal from 1.3 to 1.9 million tons and in Bangladesh from 0.84 to 1.37 million tons.

What is Ug99? Can you put into perspective the magnitude of the challenge stem rust diseases pose for food security? 

Ug99 is a race of stem or black rust caused by Puccinia graminis f. sp. Tritici. It was first identified in Uganda in 1999 and has since spread to other countries in East Africa and to Sudan, Yemen and Iran. At the time of discovery, nearly 80-90 percent of wheat cultivars in the world were susceptible to this race. Thanks to strong collaborative work with the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative, the International Wheat and Maize Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and various national agricultural research systems (NARS), wheat breeders and other relevant stakeholders managed to develop and disseminate Ug99-resistant wheat varieties, keeping the disease in check.

However, there is no scope for complacency. Given certain conditions, Ug99 threatens to spread to other wheat-producing regions of Africa and Asia and potentially the entire world. The threat is particularly acute in South Asia, which produces 20 percent of the world’s wheat. Other rusts are also equally potent. Recently, for example, yellow rust has become extremely threatening for India, Pakistan and Nepal.

Stem rust has been known to be a constant threat causing severe losses to wheat production worldwide. It has remained in control for the last three decades only through the use of genetic resistance in semidwarf cultivars. This is a significant reason why resistance-breeding programs must continue.

Arun Joshi

Arun Joshi

How can wheat breeding help smallholder farmers in South Asia mitigate the effects of problems such as scanty rainfall, increasing temperatures, salt-affected soils and increasing incidence of diseases?

A critical factor in the Green Revolution’s success was that new varieties were broadly adapted to the resource-poor environments prevalent in South Asia and they performed well under abiotic stresses such as heat, drought (exacerbated by limited irrigation) and variable fertilizer doses. An aggressive strategy to develop and disseminate stress-tolerant cultivars in farmers’ fields is an important response to abiotic stress in South Asia as resource-poor farmers cannot afford to use many other control measures. Stress-tolerant varieties combat multiple problems and hence can be very useful for farmers.

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 and are often considered by commercial producers as the most environment-friendly and profitable responses to disease as well. 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, farmer can save this cost as the rust resistance in wheat is embedded in the seed.

How can new improved varieties reach farmers more quickly?

Two systems of germplasm dissemination and adoption are found in South Asia – formal (organized) and informal (unorganized). Modern crop varieties are the backbone of the formal seed industry, which is almost equally shared by public and private sectors. The private sector takes more interest in cross-pollinated and low-bulk crops, in which hybrids are common. NARS plays a major role in germplasm conservation, variety development and in generating appropriate technologies to utilize the yield potential of new varieties. New varieties are passed through a series of evaluation and release tests before farmers can access them.

Although new improved varieties developed by NARS should be multiplied and made available to farmers in the shortest possible time so they can realize the benefits, in practice, weak extension and seed distribution systems often slow the distribution of new varieties to farmers. As a result, more than 80 percent of all seed in South Asia is saved by farmers and it can be even higher for self-pollinating crops such as wheat. In some regions such as the eastern Indo-Gangetic Plains of India, the availability of experienced seed growers, supported by either the public or private sector, is far lower than in the north-western plains.

The options for improving germplasm dissemination and adoption in India include: strengthening the public and private sectors through vigorous policy planning and implementation and promoting participatory research. Indian research centers already work on this model with partners (including CIMMYT) and it has so far proven quite successful. Anticipating the advantages of working in a participatory mode, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research made it mandatory for all research centers receiving support under the National Seeds Project to actively engage in participatory seed production since 2003. This path can be used effectively for quick dissemination of superior varieties in areas characterized by weaker linkages.

Another approach being used for rapid multiplication and distribution include pre-release seed multiplication whilst candidate resistant lines are being tested in national evaluation trials and farmers’ participatory selection approaches. This pre-release multiplication was successfully used in Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan for faster dissemination of Ug99-resistant varieties as part of a US Agency for International Development seed project from 2009-2012.

Can you tell us more about CSISA’s work on wheat breeding?

One of CSISA’s objectives is to develop high-yielding, heat and water-stress-tolerant and disease-resistant wheat varieties for current and future cereal and mixed crop-livestock systems. To this end, we have produced a series of new varieties and ensure their multiplication and dissemination. For instance, in the last year alone, 12 wheat varieties were released for different environments and management conditions of South Asia. In addition, 10 varieties were identified for release in different environments of South Asia. Seed growers and farmers’ groups continued seed dissemination of superior lines produced by CSISA over the last five years and as a result, according to breeder seed indent and production figures, CSISA-bred lines now cover 18 percent of the wheat production area in India, 24 percent in Nepal and 34 percent in Bangladesh.

Can you highlight additional impacts of CSISA’s wheat breeding work?

Considerable spillover effects have also been achieved on account of CSISA’s work on wheat breeding. One of the most tangible spillover output of our wheat breeding work occurred on August 13 this year, when the Government of Bhutan officially released two new improved wheat varieties (Bajosokhaka and Gumasokhaka) from CIMMYT. This is the first release of any wheat variety in Bhutan in two decades. On average, both varieties yielded 50 percent higher than the most popular variety (Sonalika) in three years of multi-location testing in Bhutan. Both varieties are believed to have water-stress-tolerance and good resistance to yellow rust.

Further, two wheat varieties from Punjab (PBW 621, PBW 644) that were released for the northwestern plains zone have been widely adopted Bihar. Also, CSISA-bred wheat varieties in Bangladesh have spread to new areas in southern Bangladesh, benefitting nearly 10,000 farm families.

Read the Q&A with Mugalodi Ramesha on Developing Better Rice

Big Business in Mechanizing Small Farms

Posted on India-news, News - Homepage, December 22, 2014

IMG_1362Barsaprasad Hembram, a maize farmer from Mayurbhanj district, Odisha, purchased a variety of modern farm machines this year by participating in a government scheme that gives farmers a 50 percent subsidy on tractors and seven auxiliary implements such as the seed drill. Today, Hembram uses his new farm equipment to provide agricultural custom-hire services to other like-minded farmers, charging $14.35 (Rs. 910) per hour for the tiller and $15.78 (Rs. 1,000) per hour for the Mould Board plow.

Not only does this service give Hembram additional income, it helps other smaller farmers who can’t afford to buy machines to reap the benefits of modern farming technologies. Hembram says, “Word got around about the success of my maize crop and more and more people became interested in using technologies such as the seed drill. Availability of labor is a huge challenge for all the farmers here so naturally they’re interested. I already have requests from five farmers to help with their fields next year.”

Hembram is a CSISA-supported service provider — or ‘change agent intermediary.’ By offering custom-hire agricultural machinery at relatively affordable rates, these service providers are bringing the benefits of modern agricultural mechanization even to the smallest farmers – in addition to serving as an important source of information on better-bet agronomic management. CSISA supports a network of more than 1,700 mechanized service providers across India.

Expanding Mechanization

With an increasing agricultural labor shortage in India, shifting to mechanical power seems like a logical response. Not only does mechanization support the optimal utilization of resources (e.g., land, labor, water) and expensive farm inputs, it also helps farmers save valuable time in completing a variety of operations. The judicious use of time, labor and resources can help facilitate sustainable intensification (e.g., multi-cropping) and the timely of planting of crops, which can give crops more time to mature and increase productivity. The use of scale-appropriate machinery can also help reduce drudgery.

The shortage of labor in Mayurbhanj is a challenge that farmer Sajit Kumar Mohanty is familiar with as well. He shares, “Most of the local labor is employed by brick kilns, making it nearly impossible for me to find the 20–30 people it would take to manually uproot and transplant rice seedlings for my field. Thanks to the machine transplanter, I can now manage the same task with just four people.” Farmer and service provider Kishore Kinkar Padiari says that in Bhadrak, Odisha, “Not only is labor expensive and hard to find, there is also no assurance that they will come exactly when you need them to, which can be of critical importance with the changing climate and shifting planting windows.”. Thanks to Padiari’s custom hire services farmers in his village now manage to plant more than 1 acre per day (0.40 hectare) with just three people using the machine transplanter for rice instead of the 20 people they previously needed at a cost of $3.47 (Rs. 220) per person. “Using this technology farmers also save nearly 10–15 kg seed per acre.”

Benefits for Smallholders

India has a large number of smallholder farmers who have landholdings of less than 2 hectares. The role of change agent intermediaries like Hembram and Padiari becomes even more significant in eastern India, where the average landholding size is decreasing and the procurement of machines individual farmers is often not economically feasible.

From this year, Padiari has also started renting out his laser land leveler and has already received requests to service more than 30 hectares. Sharing insights on the business of service provision, he adds, “I’m only charging Rs. 400–600 ($6.30–9.50) initially to build demand and in some cases I’ve only asked for the cost of the diesel. A lot of the farmers don’t know about these technologies so they are apprehensive in the beginning. But when they see results they’ll come back and even be willing to pay more.”

For technologies such as zero tillage (ZT), service providers provide crop establishment services to more than 20 households each — a core example of CSISA’s strategy for achieving sustainable intensification at scale through change agent intermediaries. Across Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh, over 50,000 hectares of ZT wheat were sown by CSISA-supported service providers in 2013–14, reflecting an area increase of 42% over the previous year.

But the business of service provision is not for everyone, warns Vijay Kumar Singh from Vaishali, Bihar. “Most people with tractors don’t want to buy ZT machines because they can only make money from it once per field. The plow in comparison will be needed at least five to six times. I only bought the ZT machine because I have enough land of my own to use it on and not because I was dependent on using it as a source of income,” he explains. And perhaps rice farmer Tushar Ranjan Biswal from Bhadrak would agree.

Biswal approached CSISA to learn about technologies that could help him cultivate his 8.09 hectares of hereditary land that were lying fallow. “I’m ambitious and wanted to earn some money. I was told about the option of becoming a service provider and earning an extra income by renting out my machines to other farmers in the area. But I realized that I could make much more money by simply leasing their farms instead and am hence now cultivating a total area of nearly 80 acres (32.37 hectares).” Biswal does, however, invite farmers from neighboring villages to showcase the benefits of using more modern agricultural practices. He admits, “If it wasn’t for this technology, I could never have cultivated such a large piece of land.”

Another challenge according to Parmanand Pandey from Samastipur, Bihar is that parts for machines aren’t always readily available, which means that if a machine needs to be repaired, it will become unavailable for that entire cropping season. But why, then, did he become a service provider with the zero tillage machine for wheat, bed planter for maize and machine transplanter for rice? “You cannot always think in terms of cost and profit. Mechanization is also about risk mitigation. With a single machine I can cover 35 acres (14.16 hectares) while with a plow I cannot. More and more people are realizing this every year and so every year my business is increasing.”

Partnering for Progress

Posted on News - Homepage, News & Announcements, December 15, 2014

 

601814_2866010629163_1615225722_nOne of the biggest challenges for women farmers in Odisha is to gain recognition as farmers and not just laborers. For most development agencies working in the state’s agriculture sector, the word farmer is synonymous with a man. Women farmers, especially those in the state’s tribal regions, remain unnoticed. Flying under the radar, women miss out on valuable opportunities to use and learn new technologies that can help reduce their drudgery. Besides, most agricultural machines are designed with the assumption that men will be the end users, so even when women access to these machines, they sometimes find the machines cumbersome or unusable. Numerous complementary schemes introduced to benefit farmers also often fail to recognize women’s needs and circumstances; the Kisan Credit Card, for example, is allotted based on land patta (legal record of rights), but women mostly do not have land in their name.

Fostering Community Support

Against this backdrop, PRADAN is working with women to make collectives or self-help groups (SHGs) that foster the unity and support of their peers to address different life and livelihood issues such as gender, sanitation and agriculture. Besides sharing relevant success stories and examples, the group also helps women prepare seasonal agricultural plans; understand the importance of different inputs like seed, fertilizer and irrigation; access loans from the SHG/bank; connect with different government departments and provide the necessary knowledge and skills to be successful.

PRADAN also helps women identify the major drudgery-prone agricultural activities and gain access to relevant drudgery-reducing technologies, as well as access improved technologies to store their produce and establish the necessary market linkages to sell it. The objective is to involve women from the start of planning to the sale of the crop.

To achieve this goal PRADAN partners with local women’s federations, such as Sampurna and Swayamsiddha, who serve as the main grassroots-level partners who facilitate the actual social mobilization and technology adoption process among community members. Eventually, PRADAN will remove itself from this equation after having equipped the women with the tools to have greater control over their own agricultural decisions, activities and investments.

A Common Goal

As an example, PRADAN has been working with 37 households and three women’s SHGs in the remote forested village of Kanthikana in Jashipur block for the last six years. The major livelihood activities in the village, which is dominated by the Santhal tribe, are the collection of non-timber forest products and agriculture. This year, while planning their agriculture and other livelihood-supporting activities in their respective SHGs, it emerged that women had expanded the area under agriculture and had introduced new crops into their cropping systems. The SHGs provided financial credit to the women but they needed proper technological support in order to manage larger-scale cropping.

With support from PRADAN and CSISA, the women’s groups planted maize using garden seeders on 10 acres, undertook line sowing of rice in 5 acres, introduced sahbhagi dhan (a rice variety) to all families in the SHGs and facilitated three families to use manual spreaders for seed and fertilizer application. These interventions also allowed women to take up off-season vegetables like tomatoes and other creepers on 6 acres of land. As a result, all 37 families learnt new technologies and women were able to lead on these efforts, receiving direct training and sharing their knowledge with family members.

This collaboration is an example of how PRADAN and CSISA, together with local federations, are supporting women in agriculture by introducing relevant innovative technologies and practices and educating women on modern practices like zero tillage, seed-cum-fertilizer drills, timely application of herbicides and appropriate-scale mechanization. Participating women attained higher yields, reduced their drudgery and established themselves as successful farmers.

The article is authored by Satish Patnaik, Team Coordinator (Mayurbhanj, Odisha) for PRADAN, a national level Civil Society Organization working in seven Indian states with around 3,00,000 women (where each woman represents one family) with a vision of a just and equitable society with change in human conditions. In Odisha, PRADAN through its 52 executives, is working in six districts – namely Kandhamal, Rayagada, Koraput, Kalahandi, Keonjhar and Mayurbhanj – with 55,000 poor families.

Breaking Ground – Women Farmers in the Hills of Nepal Benefit from Scale-Appropriate Mechanization

Posted on Nepal-news, News - Homepage, December 11, 2014

Laxmi Khadka is a progressive farmer based in Nepal’s Dadeldhura district. She lives with her husband, two sons and daughter. Their farm is a mixed crop – livestock enterprise where they cultivate upland rice, wheat, maize and vegetables. In the mid-hills of Nepal, seasonal and semi-permanent male outmigration occurs at one of the highest rates in the world, which creates labor bottlenecks that erode profitability and compromise the timing of key agricultural operations.

Learning How to operate Minitiller_GangaAt present, Laxmi spends most of her time tending to her agricultural fields and livestock and struggles to balance her farm work with the needs of her family. Across the mid-hills, the burden of farm management is falling increasingly on women household members like Laxmi who stay behind. Further, the number of bullocks has declined precipitously, which also delays key farm operations like ploughing. For both reasons, the niche for scale-appropriate mechanization is strong but beyond the reach and current experience of most farmers.

In Laxmi’s community, CSISA introduced the mini tiller as a low-cost option for rural traction and identified a group-based service provision model to recoup costs and share the technology across the village. Although initially apprehensive, community members quickly realized that the mini tiller saves time and money and Laxmi observed she was able to plant her maize with the onset of spring rains as she didn’t need to wait to hire labor or bullocks.

“From now on, we will not have to depend on the men for ploughing,” said Laxmi.

Farmers observed that it can be difficult to carry the mini tiller from one terrace to another, especially when terraces are at different heights and separated by bunds. These small problems have been solved through the collective action of the group with 2–3 farmers coordinating planting and machinery transportation from field-to-field. Farmers have also learned that operation of the mini tiller is relatively easy with most women trained in the technology by CSISA expressing and demonstrating confidence in its operation.

With timely planting assured with the mini tiller, Laxmi was also eager to evaluate additional productivity-enhancing technologies and planted maize hybrids for the first time in 2014. Her productivity levels tripled from 2013 and she produced a marketable surplus (30% of production) that was an important source of income for her family.

A Bottomless Basket or a Basket of Food?

Posted on Bangladesh-news, News - Homepage, December 11, 2014

The US Ambassador to Bangladesh, Dan Mozena, noted that Bangladesh has left behind the label of a bottomless basket – as former US National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger once called it – and is showing improvement in many aspects, especially in the field of agriculture. He was impressed to see the change in harvesting methods among farmers of Fulbaria village in Mirpur upazila (sub-district) of Kushtia, Bangladesh.

CSISA MIInvited by the Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE) in May to visit the Go Green Project of Hridoye Maati o Manush Program (soil and men in heart), Ambassador Mozena made use of the occasion to also visit the CSISA-Mechanization and Irrigation (CSISA-MI) project, which is partnered with DAE. At the CSISA-MI project site in Fulbaria village, Ambassador Mozena witnessed a demonstration of one of the newest agri-technologies in Bangladesh – the reaper machine. As part of the CSISA-MI promoted agri-machineries, the reaper allows rapid harvesting and subsequent replanting of the next crop within the recommended planting window. It also allows farmers to save money on labor, the prices of which tend to increase drastically during harvest season, while freeing up time for other activities. In addition to DAEas the public sector partner, CSISA-MI has also partnered with machine manufacturer ACI to import and sell the reaper in Bangladesh.

The ambassador was pleased to see that farmer Abdur Rahman hired the services of Md. Rabiul Islam, a local service provider (LSP) to use the reaper for harvesting his rice field. Rabiul informed Ambassador Mozena that the cost of the ACI reaper is BDT 1,85,000 (US$ 2,370), adding that the utilization of the machine has proven to be profitable. “Earlier, I had to engage four day-laborers at a price of BDT 1,200 (US$ 15.49) per bigha (0.06 hectares) of land, but now with the reaper I only spend BDT 600 (US$ 7.74) per bigha.”

Responding to the ambassador’s query on how much he was charging farmers for the services of his reaper, Rabiul said, “I charge BDT 600 (US$7.74) per bigha and my cost to run the machine is only BDT 100 (US$ 1.29).” The reaper now provides Rabiul a valuable additional source of income to supplement his earnings from the power tiller, pump and small amount of land.

The ambassador noted that the use of the reaper has reduced the harvesting cost for the farmers and also benefits the service providers. Congratulating CSISA-MI for its efforts in promoting modern agricultural technologies, hesaid, “The farmers are changing their practices and along with them the country is changing and advancing. This Bangladesh is not a bottomless basket; this is a basket overflowing with food.”

Launched in Bangladesh in 2013 under US President Obama’s Feed the Future Initiative, 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.

Improved Hybrid Maize Cultivation Enhances Productivity and Food Security for Tribal Farmers in Odisha

Posted on News - Homepage, News & Announcements, December 9, 2014

Hybrid maize

Of the 437,000 hectares of cultivated land in Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district, nearly 50 percent is classified as upland area. The district’s plateau region, which holds the major share of this upland area remains fallow throughout the year. Some farmers grow short duration paddy during the rainy season every alternate year, but the output remains very low. The tribal farmers growing maize have also met with little success. Without the proper support and guidance on good agronomic practices, the yields are as low as 1.5 tons to 2 tons per hectare.

The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) has been working with tribal farmers to help them overcome these challenges by promoting adoption of low-cost, best-bet agronomic practices that increase productivity and reduce cost of cultivation besides also establishing market linkages with appropriate buyers to help increase their net profit.

Chaitanya majhi (1)

Chaitanya Majhi

Exponential gains
For the last 10 years, 41-year-old Chaitanya Majhi, a physically disadvantaged tribal farmer from Kasipal village, has grown maize on 1.5 acres of land using traditional agricultural practices. Last year, Majhi only managed to earn a net profit of Rs. 13,000 (US$ 210) having invested Rs. 8,000 (US$ 129). Majhi’s field had poor plant population since he used a country plow for sowing, did not account for appropriate spacing, practiced poor nutrient management and wasn’t aware of proper weed management techniques.

This year, however, he received training and assistance from CSISA to cultivate hybrid maize on the same patch of land using modern agronomic practices. He sowed in a line using a seed drill and at the right time, used herbicides and applied fertilizers at the right time and in the right amount. Instead of the standard 1 ton per acre that he was accustomed to, Majhi’s field this year produced 2.2 tons per acre. So, with an investment of Rs. 15,750 (US$ 254) he was able to earn a net profit of Rs. 56,800 (US$ 917) – by doubling his investment he has more than quadrupled his income. Majhi is definitely convinced but seeing his success other farmers in his village are also keen to adopt modern maize cultivation practices next season.

Recognizing potential
In a village not too far from Majhi’s, a women’s self-help group (SHG) is also convinced.

The 12 women that comprise the Jay Maa Ambica SHG from Nua-Deogaon village used to rely on work through an intermediary for the local Anganwadi center (government run pre-schools) to supplement their existing incomes. But when that intermediary left, the group lost this valuable source of additional income with which they could more effectively support their families.

Initially when CSISA suggested that they try collective maize farming on the 5 acres of land that their members owned they weren’t entirely convinced – not least because this land had not been cultivated in the last five years. But with a little motivation, and a lot of their own determination, they agreed. After land preparation using a tractor, they purchased 40 kg of hybrid maize seed from the state’s Department of Agriculture, which they sowed in a line using a seed drill provided by CSISA.

Today, it’s hard for them to imagine how they could ever have been apprehensive. Their investment of Rs. 34,000 (US$ 549) has been already recovered from the sale of 35 quintals of green cob. They’re looking now to earn an extra Rs. 60,000 (US$ 969) by selling 50 quintals of dry grain. And that’s not even their total produce. Beside the financial gains they have achieved, their families have also consumed nearly 5 quintals of the maize during the rainy season – an especially critical time in the region when food security is threatened. Further, these women farmers have also utilized the maize straw as feed for their cattle.

It’s not surprising that other women SHGs and their fellow villagers are now asking them a lot of questions on how they too could practice collective maize farming next season.

Mahfuza Finds New Respect from Her Family and Community

Posted on Bangladesh-news, News - Homepage, July 21, 2014

Mahfuza transformed her underutilized homestead pond and dike into a productive and profitable farm. Now her husband and village community see her with new respect.

“I was never seen as an income earner; rather, I was thought to be a person who loves to look after her family, cook food and take care of livestock, which amounted to my prime responsibilities,” says Mahfuza Rahman, a farmer from Akain village in Faridpur district, Bangladesh. “Now I feel proud of my success in aquaculture and vegetable production in my homestead and pond dike.”Photo-Mahfuza-Faridpur

Mahfuza’s story began when she met with WorldFish staff working in her village for the USAID funded CSISA in Bangladesh in 2012. The project was offering training on household based pond aquaculture and vegetable farming for homestead gardens and pond dikes. Knowing she had the resources within her reach, Mahfuza was interested  in the project training to help improve the productivity of the 15 decimal pond attached to her homestead.

Mahfuza’s husband is involved in other agricultural activities and is a painter in the town. He accepted her desire to improve the productivity of their homestead pond, but with some scepticism. “My husband initially did not really trust my ability, but now he is very delighted in my efforts and outcomes,” she explained. With his support, she registered with the CSISA-BD project and began attending training sessions with 24 women from her village.

During the training she learned new farming and pond management techniques including the importance of producing nutrient-rich foods, such as orange sweet potatoes and mola, a nutritious small fish. The women learned how to cultivate mola together with carp, and how to grow orange sweet potatoes with a wide range of other vegetables along the banks of their ponds.

After applying these new technologies for 10 months, with the help of her husband (who mainly supported her with finance, input access and marketing), Mahfuza produced 223 kilograms (kg) of carp and 26 kg of mola. The yield was enough to both feed her family of five and fetch BDT 15,700 (USD 204) in sales at the local market.

“I never generated more than 165kg of fish from this pond for the last five years, but she almost doubled the production within a year,” said Mahfuza’s husband, Ershadur Rahman. “In the past, we had to consume fish irregularly – no more than – once a week, and that too was mainly bought from the local market. However, this year, raising mola facilitated frequent consumption from our own pond,” he adds.

Mahfuza’s involvement in a non-traditional job outside of her role as a housewife helped to boost her confidence and her husband’s belief in her.

“Despite my impressive success, my husband wouldn’t allow me to join a workshop alone in the district and accompanied me,” explains Mahfuza. “However, when I explained my experience with full proficiency to an audience of about 150 at a farmers’ field day, he was very impressed. Since then, he never insists on accompanying me to any meetings or workshops,” she said.

Mahfuza’s success has been recognized throughout the community, and many people, especially women, often come to her and request her support.

Story by: Rupan Kumar Basak, Md. Ershadul Islam and Afrina Choudhury

Read more success stories of women farmers in Bangladesh

Watch Video: Fish for food, food for fish

 

CSISA Promotes Maize Triple Cropping in Nepal

Posted on Nepal-news, News - Homepage, June 11, 2014

Nepali woman farmer in her maize fieldIn the western Terai plain of Nepal, farmers typically grow no more than two crops per year and there is a spring fallow period in between winter crop harvesting and rice planting that remains fallow. This fallow period is particularly long in areas where potato is cultivated.

At places where irrigation water is available and timely harvest of the winter crop takes place, maize can be grown and marketed either as ‘green cob’ for the fresh market or, in some cases, grown to maturity to produce dry grain. Since no crops are displaced when a farmer transitions from double to triple cropping systems, the income generated by this third season is purely profit. Nevertheless, cropping in this period is uncommon and better-bet management recommendations for promising crops like maize are lacking.

Starting in 2013, CSISA-Nepal initiated a series of participatory research trials in farmer’s fields to determine optimum management practices for maize in order to encourage triple cropping and to generate income. On-farm trials demonstrate that spring maize can be immensely remunerative, with returns exceeding $1,000/ha.

However, profitability is highly dependent on irrigation investments and farmers can incur losses with excess application of irrigation water. Returns are also highly dependent on the selection of the right cultivar, with maximum profits declining to less than $50/ha with open-pollinated varieties.

In addition to sound agronomic advice, expansion of spring maize area in the Nepali Terai will be bolstered by closer linkages between maize processing mills and small famers as well as the introduction of labor saving technologies such as maize shellers to reduce drudgery. CSISA is working with the KISAN project to commercialize small-scale machinery and to improve linkages between farmers and markets.

 

Best Bets for the Wheat Season in Bihar and Eastern Uttar Pradesh

Posted on News - Homepage, News & Announcements, June 11, 2014

At the end of the Rabi 2013-14 wheat season, CSISA’s hubs in Bihar and Eastern Uttar Pradesh demonstrated the impact of better agronomy Public Harvestingmanagement by organising public wheat harvesting events to showcase the yield advantages of early wheat sowing in combination with zero tillage and new wheat varieties.

Most of these events were organised from 4- 11April and were attended by farmers and officials from the Departments of Agriculture (DoA) in Bihar and Eastern UP. Wheat was harvested from large plot sizes ranging between 1 and 3 acres. These events help in engaging grassroots workers such as block agriculture officers, subject matter specialists and farm advisors (Krishi Salahakars), to show them the virtues of better bet agronomy. They also help to persuade the district agriculture officers and joint directors of agriculture to make the case to policymakers that early sowing and zero tillage of wheat should be accelerated.

Wheat yields harvested from five sites in Eastern UP (Harpur, Pokharbinda, East Champaran, Hasanpur Pipra and Devpokhar) were 6.0, 6.5, 6.5, 6.0 and 6.7tonnes/ha, respectively. The impressive yields from wheat harvested from six sites in Bihar (Begahi, Matlupur, Manda, Naola, Hanspur and Rajapur villages) were 6.4, 5.8, 6.2, 6.8, 5.7 and 6.0 tonnes/ha, respectively. Out of 11 public harvesting events, the grain yield with best management averaged around 6.0 tonnes/ha. All fields where these events were organised were sown between 31st October and 15th November, were planted using zero tillage technology and long duration varieties were planted, with focus on HD 2967, which is a newly released variety. Better bet agronomic management was followed.

After watching the crop harvest taking place in Rajapur village (Buxor, Bihar), farmers said “this crop is as good as in Punjab.” After completing the harvest in Naola village (Begusarai, Bihar), the combine harvester operator described it as “the best field he ever harvested in the area.”

Wheat crops sown early appear to hold advantages in the number of tillers and number of grains per ear head, and were physiologically mature at the start of terminal heat. The crop seemed to withstand the adverse effect of a sudden rise in temperature starting from 27th March this year. CSISA’s experience is that even if the grain yield stays statistically similar, the sowing done after 15 November is vulnerable to the vagaries of terminal heat.

CSISA is aiming to develop consensus among extension agencies around the need for early wheat sowing under zero tillage, which could be the engine of yield growth in Bihar and Eastern UP. With consistently higher yields under these management practices than under conventional (late sowing) practices, CSISA believes that the area under early sowing and zero tillage will keep rising and farmers and their wheat yields will benefit.

India’s Rural Employment Guarantee Act: Taking Stock, Looking Ahead

Posted on News - Homepage, News & Announcements, May 22, 2014

India’s Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) is an influential law passed in 2006 to guarantee any rural Beushani (2)household up to 100 days per year of public works employment within 15 kilometers of their residence paid at state-level minimum wages. Introduced with the aim of increasing rural incomes, helping villages to accumulate assets and strengthening local government institutions, NREGA is now in its ninth year of implementation. But with national elections now completed and new governments taking office at the federal and state levels, there are new concerns about whether or how NREGA can continue to evolve in playing a role in India’s efforts to reduce rural poverty.

The potential for NREGA to catalyze change in rural India remains significant, particularly in the risk-prone agro-ecologies covered by CSISA. NREGA was thus the focus of a major policy conference convened in Mumbai on 26-28 March by the Indira Gandhi Institute for Development Research, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and Cornell University, with funding from the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie). The specific aim of the conference was to evaluate the state of knowledge about NREGA’s impacts, achievements and shortcomings, while also exploring how NREGA might renew its focus or adapt to changing realities moving forward.

CSISA was represented at this conference by P.K. Joshi, IFPRI’s director for South Asia, and by Anil K. Bhargava, a collaborator from the University of California Davis who has been working closely with IFPRI and CSISA since 2011. Bhargava’s paper, “The Impact of India’s Rural Employment Guarantee on Demand for Agricultural Technology,” focused on how small and marginal farmers in India are impacted by NREGA.

The paper suggests that, because the program focuses on employing the poorest rural workers on (mostly) irrigation-related infrastructure, the price of unskilled labor may have increased to the point where some farmers shift production practices towards labor-saving inputs and technologies and away from water-related ones, at least in the short run. To the extent that these inputs and technologies increase agricultural productivity, rural laborers may eventually see more skilled agricultural work available in the long-run at higher wages, provided workers are able to increase their education and develop their skills.

Collaborating with other NREGA researchers from the conference, Bhargava will be evaluating new data on production, technology and labor markets to demonstrate long-run impacts of NREGA. Joshi, Bhargava and other researchers who attended the conference discussed the metrics on which NREGA should be evaluated, as well as evidence centering on NREGA’s implementation, impact and unintended consequences.

The conference also included presentations from beneficiaries who shared individual stories of empowerment, respect and gender equality outcomes from the program that are hard to capture in broad, data-driven analyses. Program administrators and social auditors presented their state-level experiences, successes and challenges liaising between beneficiaries and government institutions, including ideas for moving forward with NREGA on state-specific strengths. The conference closed with a synthesis of perspective on NREGA’s achievements and shortcomings.

Looking forward, many participants — including NREGA’s own architects and implementers — agreed that much more had been accomplished since inception than the program is often given credit for, although there is still much to be done.

Written by Anil K. Bhargava, University of California, Davis and David J. Spielman, IFPRI


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