New video highlights value of mechanization in Nepal

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Author: Cynthia Mathys

Generating accurate and valid scientific results

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overcoming gender gaps in rural mechanization

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CSISA and Bihar Agriculture University launch redesigned Soil Health Card

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mapping Indian soils at scale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Shahidul Haque Khan / December 4, 2017

Check out CSISA’s Data Repository

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sustaining Gains through India’s Agriculture Technology Application Research Institutes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article was authored by Anurag Ajay.

Photo credit: Anurag Ajay/CIMMYT

Engagement with Prime Minister’s Agriculture Modernization Project in Nepal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article was authored by Mina Devkota.

Photo credit: CIMMYT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Boost for Machinery Testing and Training in Nepal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article was authored by Scott Justice.

Photo credit: K. Bhatta/CIMMYT

Dry Direct-Seeded Rice Increases Profitability in Bangladesh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos credit: Md. Khairul Islam Rony

CSISA Launches Collaboration with Government of Odisha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sprinting Towards Better Machinery Design

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weeding Out Yield Losses in South Asia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Scientists Trained to Fight Wheat Blast in South Asia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sales Boost Seed Sector Growth in Nepal

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

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

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

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

Follow-up Funding

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

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

Replacing Old Varieties

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

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

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

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

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

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

Partnering with Government Propels CSISA’s Efforts in Odisha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ensuring Access to Finance for Faster Technology Adoption in Northern Bangladesh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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