Sprinting Towards Better Machinery Design

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weeding Out Yield Losses in South Asia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Scientists Trained to Fight Wheat Blast in South Asia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sales Boost Seed Sector Growth in Nepal

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

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

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

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

Follow-up Funding

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

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

Replacing Old Varieties

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

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

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

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

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

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

Partnering with Government Propels CSISA’s Efforts in Odisha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ensuring Access to Finance for Faster Technology Adoption in Northern Bangladesh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Innovative Partnerships to Expand Technology Adoption

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Expanding High Value and Premium Quality Rice in Bangladesh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Geospatial Technology Holds Potential to Revolutionize Agricultural Interventions

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

gis-cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How CSISA Uses Geospatial Technology

  • image-1
  • imag-2
  • imag-3
  • imag-4
  • imag-5
  • imag-6
  • CSISA used MODIS satellite data from the last 14 years to evaluate the trend of wheat sowing in Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh. By using satellite images and vegetation indices to understand the growth curve of crops, CSISA generated an algorithm to derive sowing dates. The resultant wheat sowing map indicates that wheat is generally sown earlier in the central and northwestern parts of the study area.
  • CSISA monitored field vacating dates after kharif harvesting using the same methodology. The resulting analysis helped CSISA identify which areas had the greatest potential for early sowing of wheat. This figure indicates that fields in the southwestern and north-central study area (the districts of Ara and Buxar) is usually harvested late and becomes available later for wheat sowing. These areas thus have the greatest potential for technologies that would enable early sowing.
  • Monitoring also facilitated CSISA’s efforts to convince farmers to sow wheat early in Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh. The encircled areas mark those targeted by CSISA, where early sowing has now been adopted.
  • CSISA also used GIS to identify kharif fallows in Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh. CSISA used MODIS images followed by vegetation indices and rigorous ‘ground truthing’ to define a specific threshold, below which one could identify the non-cropped areas. This data was cross-checked with previous years’ data to evaluate whether or not these were permanently fallowed lands. This figure shows that while some fallows shifted across the year, those in south-central Bihar were relatively fallowed throughout, possibly due to insufficient irrigation or other associated factors.
  • GIS and remote sensing also enabled CSISA to identify which areas in Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh had topographical limitations or other adverse characteristics that would undermine interventions on certain technologies. CSISA used digital elevation models, thermal bands and vegetation indices to generate a spatial model for identifying such areas. Analysis revealed that one of the challenges for early sowing of wheat in Bihar and eastern UP was the late drainage of water from rice fields. Farmers in these areas were opting for longer duration rice crops, meaning that early wheat sowing would not be feasible. The reason behind late drainage was primarily topographic. This figure depicts areas in the southwest that are usually drained late across years. These were identified as areas that were either low lying or where clay soils were responsible for water retention.
  • In coastal Odisha, CSISA supports the dissemination of direct seeded rice (DSR) technology, which would not be successful in waterlogged areas. CSISA needed to identify coastal areas prone to flooding during the monsoon. An in-season time series analysis helped identify these areas. This figure shows that with the onset of the monsoon in July, the north central areas were most severely affected – especially between the last week of July and early August – and that the water receded only after the last week of August, thereby making it unsuitable for DSR.

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

Healthy Rice Seedlings for Improved Livelihoods

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

bangladesh-1

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

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

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

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

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

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

bangladesh-2

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

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

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

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

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

Towards Large-scale Adoption of Zero Tillage in Bihar

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

zero-tillage-wheat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pulse Cultivation Boosts Farm Income in Fallows of Nepal

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

nepal-2

Low-risk mungbean expands through public-private partnerships.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Modern Machinery Opens Up Markets in Nepal

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

nepal-1

Efficient and affordable mini-tillers save farmers’ costs and improve rural employment in the earthquake-affected districts of Nepal

Mitra Shrestha is a farmer from Nuwakot, one of Nepal’s severe earthquake-affected districts. Like many farmers, Shrestha faced many challenges after the 2015 earthquakes. Due to the huge loss of draft animals and ongoing outmigration of agricultural labor, she has significant difficulty cultivating her agricultural land, which already suffers chronic low productivity.

Mini-tillers came to her rescue. Mini-tillers are small cultivators that can quickly prepare soil for agricultural production and seed sowing. With not relying on bullocks and hired labor for cultivation, she feels mechanization has saved her time, cost and drudgery.

“Keeping bullocks is costly and tedious because they need feed and fodder throughout the year, even when they are not in use. Whereas, the mini-tiller needs fuel only when it is being used. Besides, in one hour the machine can cultivate an area that would require a pair of bullocks to work an entire day” Shrestha said.

With the mini-tiller, Shrestha was able to prepare her rice field mechanically, instead of by using bullocks. She prepared a 0.3 ha rice field in a day at a cost of US$ 36, which would otherwise have required six paired-bullocks-days, costing US$ 90. She thus saved US$ 54 and five person-days.

Importantly, Shrestha could plant rice on time, despite a huge labor scarcity since most of the farmers plant rice at the same time. Mitra uses her new surplus time for vegetable farming and other household chores. “In fact, I now also use the mini-tiller for land preparation of potatoes, since it can till deeper and make ridges with attachments.”

Shrestha is a member of the Kisan Agricultural Cooperative, which procured a subsidized mini-tiller through CSISA’s Earthquake Recovery Support Program this year. The introduction of scale-appropriate machinery, including mini-tillers, are helping farmers cultivate their land on time and are opening up job opportunities for those who would otherwise migrate in search of work. Mini-tillers can also be operated by women, who are responsible for a wide variety of activities, helping to reduce their drudgery.

Unfortunately, modern machines like tillers still remain inaccessible to many smallholder farmers in the hills of Nepal as they may not have money to buy them or may lack knowledge about how to use and maintain them.

In coordination with the Ministry of Agricultural Development, CSISA distributed 500 mini-tillers and attachments (e.g., seeder, reaper, thresher, water-pump) in eight districts. However, to achieve the full suite of benefits, agricultural machinery need to be used effectively and efficiently, and maintained to prolong the life of the machines. Frequently, the unavailability of repair workshops for machines at the local level is one of the most challenging factors in the sustained adoption of scale-appropriate machinery, especially in the rural hills of Nepal.  CSISA has addressed this by training local mechanics in mini-tiller repair, and providing the appropriate types of spare parts to these mechanics.

Involving Rural Youth

Rabi Paudel, 18, operates a mini-tiller repair workshop in Galchi, Nuwakot district. “Basic training on repair and maintenance provided by CSISA provided me a jumpstart to becoming a mini-tiller mechanic. Refresher training further sharpened my skills and knowledge in the mechanics field,” said Paudel. “Operating only a mini-tiller repair shop will not be a sustainable enterprise, since this repair is mostly seasonal (June – July), so I am providing other services like repair of electric water pumps, power tillers, tractors, threshers, and generators.”

In Paudel’s command area there are 37 mini-tillers for which he is providing repair services, mostly through farm visits, responding to calls from owners and traveling as far as 52 km to repair a min-tiller. On average, Paudel’s costs to repair a mini-tiller can range from US$ 50 to US$ 150 per machine, but he can still make a net profit of about 20-30 percent.

Paudel is now also a sales agent for SK Trader, a major supplier of mini-tillers and attachments in the Earthquake Recovery Support Program, and has sold 24 mini-tillers, earning US$ 20 to US$ 50 per minitiller. Paudel said, “Once the farmers till their land by mini-tiller no one would like to plow by bullocks; many farmers have already sold their bullocks.”

CSISA, in coordination with the Department of Agriculture, Nepal Agricultural Research Council and mini-tiller suppliers, provided mini-tiller repair and maintenance training to 81 local mechanics and help establish mini-tiller repair workshops by providing spare parts worth US$ 12,800 in remote rural areas of eight project districts. This initiative has the potential to significantly contribute to the government’s agriculture machinery promotion program.

CSISA, in coordination with the Department of Agriculture, Nepal Agricultural Research Council and mini-tiller suppliers, provided mini-tiller repair and maintenance training to 81 local mechanics and helped establish mini-tiller repair workshops by providing spare parts worth US$ 12,800 in rural areas of the eight project districts. This initiative has the added benefit of contributing to the government’s agriculture machinery promotion program.

Another rural youth, 27-year old Mina Nath Rimal, from Khadka Bhyanjyang, Nuwakot, was able to harvest 1.85 ha rice within 3 days with his walk-behind reaper that he accessed through CSISA, and now provides reaper services to other farmers.

He could easily harvest 0.05 ha rice field in 30 minutes and earn a gross income US$ 4. The same crop would have previously been harvested by two people, their labor costing US$ 8. At this rate, Rimal could earn a gross income US$ 64 per day. The reaper works for multiple crops, so he could also provide services in the rice and wheat seasons.

“I am always interested to learn new kinds of agricultural machinery that reduce human drudgery, and save time and money. Now I am more than happy getting opportunities to operate this reaper,” Rimal said. “No rural youth will go abroad if such opportunities are available at the local level.”

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

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

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

kisan-sakhis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bringing Fallows into Cultivation in Southern Bangladesh

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

Surface irrigation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Farmers in Nepal Benefit from Earthquake Recovery Support

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

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

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

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

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

*Final figures may vary as data collection activities are ongoing

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

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

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

Catalyzing Change in South Asia’s Rice-Based Systems

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

Rice catalyze

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enabling Environment

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

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

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

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

Mitigating Wheat Blast in Bangladesh

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

Wheat Blast or Magnaporthe oryzae, pathotype Triticum (synonym Pyricularia oryzae) is a potentially devastating fungal disease that reduces yields by shriveling grain or by leaving spikes completely empty. Better known as a pathogen of rice, where it attacks the leaves, the fungus strikes also the heads of wheat, which are difficult for fungicides to reach. First sighted in Brazil in 1985, the disease is widespread in South American wheat fields, affecting as many as 3 million hectares in the early 1990s and seriously limiting the potential for wheat cropping on the region’s vast savannas.

Photo: Etienne Duveiller/CIMMYT

Photo: Etienne Duveiller/CIMMYT

Blast was reported in Bangladesh during the winter cropping season of 2015-16, shortly after crop flowering. This marks the first time it has been observed in South Asia. The disease appears to have spread because of high base temperatures with sudden rain events and associated wind patterns that favored spore distribution. Over the past season, it has reportedly affected more than 15,000 hectares – roughly 16 percent of the country’s wheat area – resulting in a yield reduction of approximately 30 percent in the country’s Feed the Future (FtF) zone.

Thirty years of research in Latin America has resulted in some wheat cultivars that are tolerant to blast, but little tolerance has been observed in currently-grown South Asian wheat varieties. With the emergence of wheat blast in Bangladesh, and adjacent areas in India and Nepal similarly experiencing relatively warm and wet winters, wheat researchers must identify sources of resistance and develop resistant varieties, elucidate the epidemiology of the disease and find optimal control practices.

Control Measures

The CIMMYT-led Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) has been quick to respond to the threat in Bangladesh, assisting government partners to first identify blast in farmers’ fields and conducting risk assessment exercises with NARES partners to more accurately gauge the nature and extent of the threat.

Working with the Wheat Research Center (WRC) of the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute, diseased wheat plants were collected at the early onset of the disease. Samples sent to the Foreign Disease-Weed Science Research Unit laboratory in the US for characterization confirmed Magnaporthe oryzae by molecular analysis.

Outbreaks of diseases are a function of having a susceptible host (in this case wheat), the pathogen and a conducive climatic environment. “Wheat blast is not a new disease. This means we can use past experience and knowledge from Latin America to prevent further damage in Bangladesh and the region,” says Arun K. Joshi, CIMMYT India Country Representative. In collaboration with the Bangladesh University of Engineering Technology, CSISA is using applied research to investigate the potential threat for the spread of blast given available climatic data from the Bangladesh Meteorological Service.

Initial efforts have resulted in an index that can be used to predict the risk of blast outbreak for areas where wheat is grown. CSISA is now further strengthening this analysis using gridded data from global atmospheric circulation models and historical weather data to create a robust decision support tool to assess the risk for continued blast infection.

While this vulnerability analysis will inform policy and government actions in support of wheat farmers coping with blast, CSISA is simultaneously working with WRC to develop scalable agronomic management interventions that can be easily deployed to suppress blast. Planned activities, commencing in the 2016-17 rabi wheat season, include:

  1. Spatially explicit crop cuts in farmers’ fields to better understand farmers’ management practices and monitor the status of seed infection.
  2. Trials examining genotype by environment by management effects on yield and blast infection with advanced lines expected to provide the best control against blast.
  3. Trials validating the performance of seed treatments and fungicides.
  4. Surveys of non-crop refugium (non-crop host grasses) outside of farmers’ fields to assess options for management of non-rabi season blast refugia.
Regional Consultation on Wheat Blast

In collaboration with the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council, Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute and Wheat Research Center, CIMMYT organized a two-day regional consultation workshop mitigating the threat of wheat blast in Bangladesh and beyond. The consultation brought together leading research scientists from South Asia, Latin America, Europe and the US to discuss findings of the Bangladesh Emergency Task Force and develop a shared roadmap to best address the threat. It was supported by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research and the U.S. Agency for International Development and was held in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Recommended Reading: CIMMYT Briefing on Wheat Blast

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

Agreement Signed with ICAR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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