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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How CSISA Uses Geospatial Technology

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

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

Healthy Rice Seedlings for Improved Livelihoods

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

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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.

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pulse Cultivation Boosts Farm Income in Fallows of Nepal

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

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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

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Accelerating Adoption of Direct Seeded Rice in Bangladesh and Nepal

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

Promoting DSR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Targeting Early Adopters

Karka Pun implementing DSR on his field.

Kharka Pun implementing DSR on his field.

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

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

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

Scaling Nutrient Management in South Asian Cereal Systems

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

PNM Meeting

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

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

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

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

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

Policy Reforms

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

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

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

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

Launch of New Geo-Informatics Tool

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video Project in Bangladesh Wins Award for Effective Farmer Communication

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

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

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

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

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

Greater Extension for Impact

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The award-winning film can be viewed online here.

Seeder Sales Rise Sharply in Bangladesh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Precision Broadcasters: Innovations in Fertilizer Application

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

Bardiya Earthway Spreader

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

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

Purna Bahadur Sahi using the spreader for fertilizer application.

Purna Bahadur Sahi using the spreader for fertilizer application.

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

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

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

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

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