Developing the Next Breed of Scientists

Posted on India-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, August 12, 2015

One of the most essential resources in agriculture is water. For instance, it takes 2,497 liters of water to produce one kilogram of rice. With climate change, water supply of farmlands will be greatly affected. By 2025, around 15–20 million hectares of irrigated rice will suffer from some degree of water scarcity. Given this adverse scenario, managing water resources will be a tough challenge and improved water management through water-saving practices will be vital in safeguarding agricultural production in the future.

Empowering young people to be catalysts of change can help solve many challenges in the future. Young scientists must play a leading role in such efforts to help shape a new image for modern agriculture.

Bibhu-Prasad

Bibhu Prasad’s interest in working with farmers grew upon moving to the rice belt of Sambalpur in Odisha.

Bibhu Prasad: A Passion for Working with Odisha’s Farmers
Born in the coastal Puri District of Odisha, Bibhu Prasad was introduced to agriculture early on in life. His father worked in an agricultural company marketing pesticides. Driven by his ambition to serve people in farming communities through rural development, Prasad received his bachelor’s degree in agriculture at Orissa University of Agriculture and Technology (OUAT). His interest in working with farmers in rural areas grew upon moving to the rice belt of Sambalpur in Odisha after graduation. He is currently pursuing his master’s degree in extension education from the same university.

Prasad is one of the nine students who received a research grant under the collaborative research activities of the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) and OUAT. Funded by USAID and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, CSISA makes use of strategic partnerships, participatory technology development, future-oriented cropping systems, research, and capacity building to catalyze locally appropriate, sustainable change in rural communities within and across South Asia. In 2013, the university sought support for capacity building of young scientists who will conduct their research and catalyze its delivery process.

Since January 2014, Prasad has been studying the adoption behavior of rice farmers toward alternate wetting and drying (AWD) technology in Puri. “AWD is a new technology for Odisha. It’s interesting as it is a very simple and low-cost technology,” Prasad beams. “It is beneficial for Odisha’s farmers during the rabi season when irrigation is a major constraint.”

His goal is to advance research on AWD in Odisha and develop extension models for dissemination of the technology. “We are trying to disseminate the AWD technology to the farmers and study their adoption behavior in terms of their knowledge and attitudes, as well as constraints in adopting AWD. Along with this, we will observe the operational efficiency of the technology for the microfarming situation in Odisha,” he adds.

Farmers were exposed to the technology through awareness meetings, field days, information materials (fact sheets), and face-to-face interaction. Prasad is also conducting a survey to assess some socioeconomic parameters.

“After working with CSISA for more than a year through this scholarship program, I became familiar with new technologies, experienced hands-on training and was exposed to research,” he said. “I get an opportunity to work directly with the grassroots farmers. I am confident that this experience will help me in the future to solve some problems of rice consumers and producers. I am now aware of different resource conservation technologies, which will help the lives of poor and smallholder farmers.”

Ipsita Kar wants to help overcome poverty through rice science.

Ipsita Kar wants to help overcome poverty through rice science.

Ipsita Kar: Overcoming Poverty through Rice Science
Ipsita Kar finished her schooling in Delhi Public School, Nalco and pursued her bachelor’s degree at OUAT. She moved to Meghalaya for her master’s degree at Central Agricultural University. Now, she is pursuing a PhD in Agronomy from OUAT under the CSISA-OUAT collaborative project. “Working with CSISA has opened up my mind and broadened my view toward practical research, which would help people,” Kar shares.

In 2014, the scholarship program gave her the opportunity to attend the ‘Rice Research to Production’ training course at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) headquarters in the Philippines. “The qualitative work being done at IRRI motivated me to give more insight about my research,” she says. Her research on water management aims to minimize water use without yield loss. “When I become a rice scientist, I will use what I’ve learned from my training and visits to advance agricultural research, which will help overcome poverty.”

The article is authored by Gladys Ebron, Public Relations Officer at IRRI. It was originally published in Rice Today, an international magazine dedicated to the world of rice.

Improving Crop Management through Remote Sensing

Posted on India-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, July 16, 2015

Satellite technology provides invaluable data that allows scientists to observe growth trends, study yield gaps and target technology and inputs to increase agricultural productivity. A collaboration between CSISA and Stanford University, U.S., is exploring how remote sensing-based information can help increase wheat yields in the eastern Indo-Gangetic Plains (IGP).

Wheat is a staple crop in northern India, providing approximately 20 percent of household calories. India’s ability to provide enough wheat for its growing population over the coming decades, however, is uncertain given that wheat yields have stagnated and are predicted to decrease due to warming temperatures. Yet, farmers may be able to improve yields by altering their management strategies, like shifting sowing dates or more appropriately targeting inputs. Doing this may help narrow the existing yield gap; some studies estimate that wheat yields are approximately 50 percent of what could be achieved with optimal management practices.

David and Meha

In early March, David Lobell (first from right) and Meha Jain (third from right) from Stanford University, US, visited CSISA sites in Bihar. Stanford is acquiring high resolution remote sensing data for some CSISA sites to validate their yield prediction algorithm and CSISA is helping them acquire ground level data through crop cuts.

With the aim of improving agronomic management practices, Stanford University is working with CSISA to use satellite imagery to better understand the causes and spatial patterns of yield gaps across the eastern IGP and target and assess the impact of CSISA’s different intervention strategies, like the introduction of zero-till machinery and precision broadcasting of fertilizer.

Satellite imagery provides a wealth of data, with which can be used to map the characteristics of farmers’ fields, like crop type, sowing date and yield across space and time. The benefit of using remote sensing of satellite images instead of conventional data collection methods (like social surveys) is that it is a low-cost way to collect information over thousands of farmers’ fields over multiple years. This data can give a historical perspective of farming practices and insight into the heterogeneity among management practices and yields across a given landscape.

As the average size of fields in the region (approximately 0.3 ha) are typically smaller than the resolution of readily-available satellite imagery, like MODIS (250 m) and Landsat (30 m), it has been difficult to map field-level characteristics of smallholder farms in the eastern IGP. To overcome this challenge, Stanford is partnering with satellite companies like Skybox and Planet Labs, which are producing and providing high-resolution data (1–5 m). These high-resolution images will be used to map characteristics of individual farmers’ fields, as well as within-field heterogeneity. Field data from CSISA has been instrumental in testing and validating the models, which researchers at Stanford are currently using to estimate sowing dates and yields using satellite imagery.

Additionally this research will use the information provided by satellite data to help understand yield trends, identify where intervention strategies may best be targeted and measure the impact of various intervention strategies through time. Specifically, it aims to map the yield of wheat across northern India and assess what factors (such as weather, seed variety, sowing date) are responsible for changes in yield through time.

This partnership will also explore the use of satellite data to map key biophysical parameters of the agricultural landscape, which can lead to effective targeting of appropriate interventions. For example, a set of villages that are persistently low yielding compared to their neighbors can be provided with appropriate inputs to help close the yield gap and enhance the production of smallholder farmers.

Written by David Lobell, Associate Professor at Stanford University in Earth System Science, Deputy Director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment and Meha Jain, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Stanford University in Earth System Science.

Public Harvesting Boosts Farmers’ Confidence in Modern Agricultural Practices in Bihar, India

Posted on India-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, July 15, 2015

Public harvestingBased on studies conducted by CSISA in Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh, early sowing of wheat – between 1 and 15 November – in combination with zero tillage and improved wheat varieties can help combat the negative impacts of terminal heat during the wheat maturing stage and increase yields. To demonstrate the benefits of early wheat sowing, CSISA in collaboration with the Bihar and Uttar Pradesh Departments of Agriculture organized public wheat harvesting events this year in Buxar and Sant Kabir Nagar districts, respectively.

“Such demonstrations help create confidence not only among farmers but also among scientists, many of whom still hesitate to change previous recommendations and adopt new practices,” says R.K. Malik, CIMMYT Senior Agronomist and CSISA Objective 1 leader. Traditionally, farmers in this region have been planting wheat after 15 November, or even in early December, which makes the crop vulnerable to rising temperatures. CSISA studies have shown that productivity progressively declines from >5.0 to less than 2.5 t/ha when planting is shifted from the first half of November to the last half of December.

In 2013, Bihar Department of Agriculture modified its official advisory to farmers to promote early wheat sowing and zero tillage technology based on evidence-based advocacy by CSISA. “It’s important to show the profitability and advantages of early sowing at the field-level in order to accelerate its adoption rate,” Malik added. CSISA’s field survey in 2013-14 indicated that more than 120,000 ha of wheat now benefit from timely planting in Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh.

In Buxar, the public harvest was organized in Kanouli village, on a plot where wheat was sown on 4 November last year using zero tillage technology. The grain yield of wheat recorded from this plot was 6.25 t/ha, which participating farmers noted was the highest wheat yield they have ever seen. Similarly, the plot in Daryiabad village of Sant Kabir Nagar, sown on 13 November, also recorded a high yield of 6.12 t/ha, prompting farmers to share that average yields recorded under conventional tillage technologies have only been 4-4.5 t/ha.

Ram Awadh Chaudhary, a 50-year-old farmer and service provider from Pokharbinda village, Maharajganj district in eastern Uttar Pradesh achieved yields of 6.5 t/ha last year and 6.0 t/ha this year after adopting early sowing and zero tillage. These yields are comparable to those of Punjab and Haryana and help reinforce farmers’ belief in new methods to improve productivity, according to Chaudhary.

With support from CSISA, Chaudhary has expanded his custom hire services into zero tillage, rotavating, laser land leveling, straw reaping and rice shelling. Across Bihar and EUP in 2013-14, an estimated 50,000 hectares of zero tillage wheat was sown by CSISA-supported service providers, reflecting an area increase of 42 percent over 2012-13.

“I Did Not Imagine This Land Could Produce More”

Posted on Bangladesh-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, July 13, 2015

Farmers in Laharhat, the riverine char (islands formed from sedimentation) of Barisal district in southern Bangladesh, are witnessing a change to their traditional agricultural practices. Soon after the monsoon rains last year, farmers grew Aman rice, which has been a traditional practice in this region for many years. Last year, however, they followed the rice crop with wheat, which was new for this area.

“We thought one crop was enough for Laharhat. We had limited knowledge and resources to grow a second crop here,” says farmer Enayat Hawlader. “This year we saw a miracle. I did not even imagine that this land could produce more. And, wheat grew well here,” shares Nantu Hawlader, another farmer.

Photo: Md. Washiq Faisal

Photo: Md. Washiq Faisal

Earlier, farmers used to grow only one crop in this char during the Aman (September to November) season. The rest of the year the vast land would remain fallow. “We used to think this char had no capacity to grow more,’ says farmer Habib Mollik.

During 2011-12, Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) started adaptive trials of wheat in a limited area in Laharhat. In winter 2013, CSISA-Mechanization and Irrigation (CSISA-MI) started to work initially with 12 farmers to practice mechanization for improving yields. CSISA-MI introduced PTOS (power tiller operated seeder) in the demonstration plots, which resulted in better profits and attracted new farmers to grow wheat using PTOS.

Md. Washiq Faisal, Agriculture and Machinery Development Officer, CSISA-MI, says, “This year we proved that the vast char land of Laharhat could be properly utilized to produce crops.” In February 2015, during the harvesting of wheat with a reaper, enthusiastic farmers came to see the results. They were amazed to see that the yield had reached 3.71 tons per hectare. “The farmers who visited to see the harvesting of wheat with multi-crop reaper wished to cultivate their fields in coming seasons,” adds Faisal. In the dry season this year, about 30 percent of Laharhat, that used to remain fallow earlier, has been brought under wheat cultivation after paddy harvesting.

According to Yunus Hawlader, the local service provider (LSP), there is opportunity for more LSPs to provide services in the next season as it is not possible for him to support the huge number of farmers in Laharhat alone.

Monirul Alam, District Training Officer, Department of Agricultural Extension, Government of Bangladesh, says, “I am so happy to see the smiling Laharhat farmers and next year, wish to see the whole Laharhat producing wheat after Aman rice. The land is appropriate for wheat as a second crop.”

According to Alam, in a few cases where farmers used to grow lentil as a second crop, farmers have switched to wheat as it gives more profits. Farmers have also adopted new technologies like PTOS, axial flow pumps and reapers for better yields. “Laharhat will no longer be considered fallow in future,” he added.

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

Farmers Get Quick Wins from Laser Leveling

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

Loknath Behera
Farmer Anam Behera from Malikpali village in Odisha has been growing rice for the last 10 years. Increasing labor scarcity, however, has steadily driven up his costs of cultivation in recent years. The undulating topography of his land leads to uneven water distribution, resulting in a high density of grass and other weeds, which are costly and labor intensive to eradicate.

“To level my 4 acre field, I used to stand on a plank attached to a tractor as it went around the field. This wasn’t very effective in levelling my field, hence giving rise to excess grass. Ultimately, I had to hire 15 laborers for weeding, which cost me Rs. 3,000 (US$ 47),” says Behera.

This year, Behera used a laser land leveler to level his field, bringing down his labor requirement for weeding to just 2 laborers. Laser leveling is a laser-assisted precision leveling technique used for achieving a high level of land smoothness as compared to traditional methods of land leveling, which are both labor-intensive and imprecise. Laser leveling helps increase water application efficiency and consequently reduces costs and can increase crop yield. Numerous studies have proven that laser land leveling helps to even out the distribution of soluble salts in salt-affected soils, increases cultivable land area due to reduction in bunds and channels in the field, reduces weed intensity and increases fertilizer-use efficiency.

The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) is promoting laser leveling in Odisha by demonstrating its benefits to farmers and service providers. In Puri district, where Behera is based, CSISA loaned a laser land leveler to three service providers during the 2014-15 winter (rabi) cropping season. Behera hired one of these service providers to level his field at a cost of Rs. 500 (US$ 7) per hour for a total of 5 hours. This one-time investment will benefit Behera, who grows rice and moong, for the next three to four years.

Besides reducing labor and weeds, the leveler offers other benefits as well. As farmer Lakhinder Barik from neighboring Kulalasekhar Patatna village shares, “When my land wasn’t level, each irrigation took nearly 7 hours, not to mention the time and effort it took me to create small bunds all across the field.” After using the leveler, he saves more than 4 hours for each irrigation. Additionally, he no longer needs to create bunds, which saves him valuable time and effort and marginally increases his cultivable land.

By contrast, farmer Arjun Jena’s field is full of grass. Jena, whose field adjoins that of Barik, did not adopt laser land leveling this year. He admits, “I can see that the other (Barik’s) field is level while mine has pockets of deep water. My crop has too much grass due to this and I’ve already had to spend Rs. 2,000 (US$ 31) for weeding. Next time I’ll definitely use the laser land leveler.”

Encouraged by this response from farmers, the three service providers from Puri have purchased their own machines for the monsoon (kharif) cropping season.

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

Cross-Learning to Strengthen Agricultural Extension in South Asia

Posted on Bangladesh-news, India-news, Nepal-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, July 8, 2015

MEAS Group PhotoIn June, CSISA led a 10-member delegation of senior officials from National Agriculture Research and Extension Systems (NARES) from Bangladesh, India and Nepal to Washington, DC for a meeting with the Modernizing Extension and Advisory Services (MEAS), followed by a workshop entitled, ‘Strengthening Agricultural Research, Extension, and Input Markets in South Asia: Evidence from Regional and Global Practice,’ organized by International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). MEAS, a USAID-funded initiative, helps to define and disseminate good practice strategies and approaches to establishing efficient, effective and financially sustainable rural extension and advisory service systems in selected countries.

The visit provided an opportunity to all the participants, working in close collaboration with National Agricultural Research Systems and International Agricultural Research Systems (IARS), to exchange ideas based on their diverse experiences of implementing extension services in different parts of the world. The theory of change model was highlighted during the deliberations for improving the performance of workforces in research-for-development in South Asia.

The workshop looked at addressing multiple questions that will help improve extension systems in South Asia. Are extension programs cost-effective in South Asia? Can new approaches empower smallholder farmers, particularly women? What performance indicators can researchers use to determine whether programs are successful? How can policies encourage farmers to adopt new technologies and practices without exhausting limited development funds?

Among a variety of other topics, participants discussed the effectiveness of subsidies to promote farmers’ adoption of agricultural inputs. Madhur Gautam, lead economist in Agriculture Global Practice at the World Bank, noted that the purported benefits only accrue under certain circumstances. Subsidies often remain in place long after their positive impacts have diminished, diverting scarce resources from other potential investments that may yield greater long-term returns, such as agricultural R&D and rural infrastructure.

In South Asia, subsidies were largely successful at addressing market failures during the early days of the Green Revolution. Yet market conditions in the region have improved considerably, and policymakers need to adapt their policies and investments accordingly.

Based on the discussions during the visit, specific issues were identified for further action and brainstorming to streamline research in the delivery process of agricultural technologies in South Asia. These issues included:

  • IFPRI workshopThe organization and structure of extension systems, as well as the constraints to their functioning, and changes needed to create improved and market-focused extension services by Krishi Vigyan Kendras (agriculture science center) in India and other extension agencies in South Asia
  • The capacity of extension agencies to conduct trainings in a participatory manner with local contextual training material
  • Ways to improve implementation monitoring and impact evaluation
  • How local service providers could be strengthened through better linkages and communication in order to provide decentralized extension services
  • How to make systems more equitable by linking gender and nutrition across extension programs and organizations.

Further, participants and their respective organizations from each country (Bangladesh, India and Nepal) will work with CSISA partners to focus on local research agendas in extension and innovations.

A team of seven participants from India was led by Dr. Ashok Kumar Singh, Deputy Director General (Agriculture Extension), Indian Council of Agriculture Research. Bangladesh was represented by Dr. Mohammad Zakir Hasnat, Agriculture Information Service and Sheikh Md. Nazim Uddin from Department of Agriculture Extension. From Nepal, Dr. Rajendra Adhikari, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Agricultural Development, participated.

In addition, the delegation toured the US Capitol building and met with Senator Mark Warner, head of the Indian Caucus in the US Senate.

Source: Excerpts from the summary of the workshop are posted on the IFPRI website. To read the full summary of the workshop, click here.

Nepalese and Indian Seed Associations Sign MoU to Strengthen Seed Sector Development

Posted on India-news, Nepal-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, July 1, 2015

20150603_112959 (1)A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the National Seed Association of India (NSAI) and Seed Entrepreneurs Association of Nepal (SEAN) on 3 June 2015, to foster better future collaboration between seed companies from both countries, during visit of Nepalese seed entrepreneurs’ delegation to India.

The visit of Nepalese entrepreneurs and the signing of MoU was facilitated by the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA). Andrew McDonald, Project Leader, CSISA said, “India and Nepal have similar agro-climatic conditions and farmers from both countries suffer from lack of availability and accessibility to quality seeds. Knowledge sharing and cooperation between the seed associations of India and Nepal will help farmers get new, improved varieties faster.”

NSAI, which is the apex organization representing the seed industry in India and SEAN, the apex organization representing individual entrepreneurs and companies engaged in the seed industry in Nepal, have agreed to share country-specific seed industry information including market development, government policies and regulations and information on trade.

The MoU will help create an enabling environment for increased trade and knowledge sharing between governmental agencies and research institutions, for joint development and release of seeds in both countries and to harmonize seed policies and seed certification procedures.

Both associations will also work together to promote and exchange new varieties, promote production, processing and marketing of high quality seeds by the private seed entrepreneurs and to facilitate increased participation of the private sector in import and export of seeds.

Participants compare cob size of different hybrid maize varieties at Bioseed company in Hyderabad.

Participants compare cob size of different hybrid maize varieties at Bioseed company in Hyderabad.

Visit Fosters Collaboration

According to Arun Joshi, Country Liaison Officer, CIMMYT Nepal, Nepalese seed enterprises are in their initial growth phase. They are constrained by the lack of research and development component, low business volume, limited seed processing and storage facilities and low seed capital. CSISA Nepal (CSISA-NP) has recently initiated a business mentoring initiative to build the capacity of small and medium seed enterprises engaged in wheat and maize based systems.

A team of experts of CSISA-NP assessed the potential and challenges of Nepalese seed enterprises and established a good relationship with them through a series of interactions. “After the assessment, 15 Nepalese cereal seed production entrepreneurs representing hills and Terai (plains) were identified for a 10-day exposure visit to India,” highlighted Dilli KC, Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist, CIMMYT Nepal.

During the visit, the Nepalese group observed many components of Indian seed business including research and development programs, seed processing facilities and government farms at four major seed enterprise centers – Delhi, Kashipur, Hyderabad and Elluru.

The entrepreneurs received first-hand information on ways to link contract farmers with private companies, how to set-up backward linkages for hybrid seed production, the process of enhancing maize seed germination through cob drying facility and marketing. “We have to establish demos of our products and maintain good relations with seed producers and consumers,” said entrepreneur Tikaram Rijal, Managing Director, GATE Nepal.

The participants also understood how smaller seed companies that work with open-pollinated varieties maintain seed quality and market their brand. “R&D activity should be promoted even in open-pollinated seeds for our growth and sustainability,” highlighted one of the participants, Subhas Upadhaya, Chairperson, Lumbini Company.

The Indian private sector shared insights on strategies they had adopted to manage challenges during their growth period and showed willingness to help build the capacity of the Nepalese seed enterprises through internships, short-term trainings and collaborative research.

“The exposure visit and the interactions with Indian seed companies helped them to realize the importance of having a clear strategy both for SEAN and their individual businesses in order to be more successful,” added Joshi. According to McDonald, CSISA-NP will continue to strengthen its collaboration with seed enterprises and will guide them in developing their business plans.

Focus Group Discussions Highlight Success of Gender Program

Posted on India-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, June 28, 2015

FGDLast month, several rounds of focus group discussions (FGDs) and plenary exercises were carried out with various stakeholders of CSISA’s gender program in Odisha and Bihar. The participatory evaluation was aimed at providing documentary evidence of community feedback on the technologies and model of partnership, prior to any further planning and convergence.

In the town of Jashipur in Mayurbhanj district, Odisha, a total of seven FGDs were conducted from 12-14 May. Six for different technology adopter/farmers groups and one for stakeholder/scaling agent groups. These covered several aspects surrounding the technologies adopted by women farmers such as selection criteria, extension methods, impact on livelihood, financial analysis, etc. The discussions highlighted a different perspective through the lens of women farmers.

Recounting her experience with direct seeded rice (DSR), one woman shared that most villagers seeing her try DSR on her field for first time cautioned, “Budhi khaibu kete, banchibu kete,” a sharp disapproval of the crop establishment method saying that she would go hungry considering the very low seed rate of rice applied. But once the crop was harvested, she said, “It was well beyond what my family and I could eat. In fact, now I can even feed those who worried I would go hungry.”

A similar three-day exercise was also organized in Bihar later in the month for a group of 110 women farmers from Muzzafarpur, Munger and Samastipur districts. According to Sugandha Munshi, Gender Specialist, IRRI, “In Bihar, the intervention with women farmers was streamlined with the inception of their identity as Kisan Sakhi, which means ‘woman farmer friend’ and works on the four pillars of identity, knowledge, leadership and economic empowerment of women in agriculture.”

A farmer from Bandra block, Sumitra, shared, “I have been working in the field since ages but, being a woman, I was never recognized as a farmer. Today, as a Kisan Sakhi, I am finally given due recognition. Participating in this workshop helped me reflect and review my financial positioning through a cost-benefit analysis. It has increased my confidence substantially. I am happy.”

From just 248 women farmers in early 2014, Kisan Sakhi has now become an identity for 2,100 women farmers across 181 self-help groups (SHGs). Through workshops and other technical capacity building programs, on and off the field, CSISA provided these women farmers direct access to modern agricultural practices and machinery to help them realize their full potential. Woman farmer Anupa shared, “This was the first workshop where Kisan Sakhi participated as a group to analyze its achievement. Thanks to CSISA, I am now able to explore new methods and techniques of farming. I am also capable of training other women and men farmers as trainers.”

Kisan Sakhi Kiran Devi, whose husband has to travel outside the village for work, added, “Earlier, my husband used to return for a month during kharif (monsoon) season to take care of the farmland because he thought as a woman I was not capable of handling the nitty-gritties of agriculture. But, this kharif season he does not have to travel back since he recognizes that I am empowered enough to manage on my own. This has also helped us increase our income.”

The discussions also served as an opportunity to plan for scaling-up in cooperation with local NGOs. A joint-report based on the evaluations carried out in both states is currently being prepared.

Improving Incomes, Nutrition and Equality in Bangladesh

Posted on Bangladesh-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, June 24, 2015

Urmila and other women farmers in the communityIn Bangladesh, women usually do not work on agricultural tasks such as preparing seedbeds, transplanting seedlings, weeding and applying fertilizer. They do, however, manage approximately 80 percent of all postharvest activities. They also manage pond fish culture in their homestead area, a practice that has become increasingly popular. Nearly every household in southern Bangladesh today has a small pond, but few are optimally managed.

One of the objectives of the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia in Bangladesh (CSISA-BD) is to increase women’s participation in agriculture to reduce the gender gap and enable women and men farmers to innovate and adopt improved technologies and varieties. In 2012, Urmila Shil joined one of the 25 women fi­sh-farming groups created by CSISA-BD. Shil lives in a remote village in West Kirthipasha, Jhalakathi sub-district, Southern Bangladesh, with her husband and three children. Over the year, she received training and support on household-based pond aquaculture and horticulture for income and nutrition organized by WorldFish.

In 2013, Shil harvested a total of 496 kg ­fish from a 20 decimal (247 decimal = 1 hectare) homestead pond that was valued at BDT 67,456 (US$ 865). She earned another BDT 3,380 (US$ 43) from dike cropping. “Earlier we could barely afford to buy ­fish once a week. Now we can have fresh fi­sh and vegetables every day,” she says.Urmila Shil Table

Shil with her award for 'Best Fish Farmer'

Shil with her award for ‘Best Fish Farmer’

Shil was named ‘Best Fish Farmer’ during National Fish Week 2014 and is one of the 63 award-winning farmers working with CSISA-BD. Many women living in her village have been inspired by her success. They too have undertaken initiatives to improve their family income through aquaculture and homestead gardening. Shil regularly shares her knowledge and experience with them so that they can replicate her success.

About the Project

The USAID-funded CSISA-BD is a fi­ve year initiative implemented through a collaboration between three CGIAR centers, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and WorldFish. It works to increase productivity by increasing women farmers’ access to suitable technologies, information and markets.

To know more, visit the CSISA Bangladesh page.

Improving the Livelihoods of Smallholder Farmers in Dadeldhura

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Research Highlights Solutions for Groundwater Management in Bangladesh

Posted on Bangladesh-news, News & Announcements, April 15, 2015

CISSA-MI_Barisal

A recent research report ‘Groundwater Management in Bangladesh: An Analysis of Problems and Opportunities’, published by the USAID Feed the Future Funded Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia – Mechanization and Irrigation (CSISA-MI) project, highlights that the policy focus in Bangladesh so far has been largely on ‘resource development’ and not sufficiently on ‘resource management.’ This has resulted in drawdown of aquifers in intensively irrigated areas and high expenditure on subsidies to support the energy costs of pumping water for dry season irrigation. Unless water use efficiency practices and policies are adapted and adopted, these challenges in groundwater irrigation can become a serious threat to sustain agricultural growth in Bangladesh.

“Dry season rice production using irrigation helped Bangladesh to increase its total rice production from 18 million tons in 1991 to 33.8 million tons in 2013. However, this dramatic increase in rice production comes with costs – namely the high energy requirements needed to extract groundwater by pumps, which is a concern giving mounting fuel and electricity prices in South Asia” said Timothy Krupnik, CIMMYT Agronomist and co-author in this study.

Diesel pumps consume about 4.6 billion litres of diesel every year to pump groundwater for dry season rice production, costing USD 4.0 billion. This cost is in addition to USD 1.4 billion of yearly energy subsidies supplied by the Government of Bangladesh (GoB) to maintain groundwater irrigation. Such considerable investments add to the energy cost burden, and may not be financially sustainable in the long-term, the report says. This conclusion is underscored by the GoB’s interest to reduce energy subsidies and shift from ground to surface water irrigation, which is energy-wise less expensive.

The report highlights several supply- and demand-side solutions for sustainable groundwater management. Improving water use efficiencies through the adoption of resource conserving crop management practices such as direct-seeded rice and bed planting could help in reducing groundwater demand for agriculture. In surface water irrigated areas, use of more fuel efficient axial flow pumps that the CSISA-MI project is working with the private sector to scale out, is also crucial.

Water demand for irrigation can also be reduced by rationalizing cropping patterns – specifically by shifting from rice to more profitable crops like maize, and to other food security cereals like rice, in areas where groundwater is a concern. Involvement of water users, investments in improved water and agricultural technologies, and providing extra support for farmers making transition to less water demanding crops is needed.

Since the concept of ‘more water-more yield’ is still prevalent among farmers, the report also highlights the need for policy to focus more on awareness raising through educational programs aimed at wise water use and volumetric water pricing. In addition to technical solutions, strong linkages and improved communications between different organizations involved in the management of groundwater resources will also be required to shift to a more water productive, and less costly, agricultural production system in Bangladesh.

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

Low-Cost Innovations to Benefit Smallholder Farmers in Nepal

Posted on Nepal-news, News & Announcements, April 14, 2015

A new investment by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia in Nepal (CSISA-NP) was launched on 10 April, 2015 at a public event in Kathmandu. The investment by USAID India and USAID Washington, totalling US$ 4 million over four years, aims to work with the private and public sectors to benefit smallholder farmers by integrating scale-appropriate mechanization technologies with resource conservation and management best practices.

“For a country where 75 percent of the population makes its livelihoods in agriculture, these partnerships are absolutely important. Agriculture development, as we know, is one of the surest routes out of poverty,” remarked Beth Dunford, Mission Director, USAID Nepal at the launch. Eight million Nepalis still live in extreme poverty and almost 3 million Nepalis live in recurring food insecurity. “We also know that growth tied to gains in agricultural productivity is up to three times more effective at raising the incomes of the poor than growth from any other sector,” Dunford added.

Beth Dunford

Beth Dunford, Mission Director, USAID Nepal.

The new phase of CSISA-NP, an initiative led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), will build on successes and lessons learned from the ongoing work of CSISA Nepal, currently funded by USAID Nepal, and will continue to focus on districts in the mid-West and far-West regions of Nepal. It will complement USAID’s Feed the Future program, KISAN, which works to improve agricultural productivity and incomes for over one million Nepalis.

The new work plan will be implemented in close collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Nepal Agricultural Research Council, to strengthen seed value chains for timely access to improved varieties by farmers, promote sustainable intensification of agricultural systems through increasing lentil cultivation and better-bet management, increase wheat productivity using new technologies and better farming practices and facilitate precise and effective use of nutrients to increase crop yield.

A specific component of the new investment is designed to support and build the capacity of change agents like medium-sized seed companies, agro‐dealers and mechanized service providers. “Building on its success of working with the Indian private sector, CSISA will expand the program in Nepal to facilitate application of specialized, commercially-viable equipment for small and marginal farmers,” highlighted Bahiru Duguma, Director, Food Security Office, USAID India.

“CSISA supports more than 1,600 service providers in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in India and we want to replicate that success in Nepal of working with local entrepreneurs to help reach farmers with mechanized technologies,” said Andrew McDonald, CSISA Project Leader.

Rajendra Prasad Adhikari, Joint Secretary, Policy and International Cooperation Co-ordination Division, Ministry of Agricultural Development, Government of Nepal, welcomed this initiative and said that this launch is very timely as the agricultural ministry has just developed and endorsed an agricultural mechanization promotion policy and the Nepal Agricultural Development Strategy is in its final shape.

The launch was attended by representatives from the Nepal Ministry of Agriculture, Nepal Agricultural Research Council, Agriculture and Forestry University and USAID officials and received positive media coverage in Nepal.

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

Locally-Designed Thresher Meets Farmers’ Needs in Bihar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections on Sustainable Intensification Cross-learning Tour

Posted on News & Announcements, March 29, 2015

DSC_0244As part of a multi-institutional group of representatives, Kindu Mekonnen and Peter Thorne from Africa RISING-ILRI, visited CSISA in India on a cross-learning tour. They reflect on the week spent in India and highlight the contrasts between the two projects on sustainable intensification.

Read the full blog from Africa RISING here. Please find below some excerpts from their blog.

CSISA started from a higher baseline. The systems in eastern India are already more intensified than those of the Ethiopian Highlands. Our colleagues in India are looking at mechanisation with 4-wheel tractors while in Ethiopia we are considering lower cost approaches to reducing labour demand and drudgery. Africa RISING in the Ethiopian Highlands is taking a more holistic approach to intensification, reflecting perhaps a more integrated nature of the systems in our agro-ecologies. CSISA has a much larger on-station research component than Africa RISING and most activities appear to be under quite strong researcher control. In the short time available, we did not get a clear picture of how the linkages to innovation at the individual farm level were achieved.

CSISA has worked very effectively to stimulate and support local service providers; progressive farmers who are able to deliver specific services (e.g. zero tillage, three times a year cropping, compound feeds) to their neighbours. We felt that this model could potentially be adapted to the situation in the Ethiopian Highlands (e.g. input supply, contract spraying, post harvest facilities) and we will explore this further in our imminent scaling activities.

We saw some very interesting and encouraging activities operating through NGO-supported self-help groups for women. These were operating effectively in parallel with the government delivery system to meet the needs of members more directly. We need to make this kind of activity more visible in the Ethiopian project.

ILRI’s contribution to CSISA in terms of funding received is small but the achievements are significant. We saw real evidence of adoption of ILRI-sponsored innovations around basal diet processing (chopping), compound feed production and mineral supplementation. These are all technologies that are relevant to the Ethiopian highlands and we look forward to further experience sharing with the ILRI team in India.

 

Sustainable Intensification Optimizes the Production of Farming Systems Per Unit Area Per Unit Time: Q&A with Vara Prasad

Posted on News & Announcements, March 29, 2015

IMG_1491As the use of the term ‘Sustainable Intensification (SI)’ becomes more common in today’s agricultural and scientific forums, we talk to Dr. P.V. Vara Prasad, Director of the Feed the Future Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab, to understand the meaning of SI and its benefits for farmers and food security.

How would you define sustainable intensification and why is it so important today?

The challenge of increasing food production to meet the demand from a growing population and diminishing resources has brought sustainable intensification (SI) at the forefront today.

Historically, to meet the demand of a growing population, we were able to increase global food production by bringing more land into agriculture through conversion of forests and grasslands, increased use of inputs and the introduction of cultivars that were more responsive to these inputs. Such actions over decades without proper guiding principles led to environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services, greater negative impacts of climate change and slowed productivity gains in major food crops. The increases in crop productivity, too, were often accompanied by large negative impacts on the natural resource base, proving that such methods were not sustainable in the long run.

Sustainable intensification (SI) is broadly defined as the process and means to simultaneously improve productivity and environmental performance from agricultural land. The goal of SI is to increase food production from existing farmland while minimizing negative impacts on the environment. These practices optimize the production of farming systems per unit area per unit time. The combination of the terms “sustainable” and “intensification” indicates that desirable outcomes around both more food and improved environmental goods and services can be achieved by multiple means using a systems approach. While this is challenging, it can be achieved through innovations in science, capacity building and knowledge sharing through collaborative research programs.

How can smallholder farmers benefit from SI?

Firstly, projections show that the world will have 9.2 billion people by 2050 and most of this population increase will occur in less developed or developing countries – particularly in Africa and Asia. That means these countries would have to increase agricultural production by 100% to meet food demand alone. Secondly, there will also be more competing demand from other products such as feedstock for animals and bioenergy. And third, 70 percent of the world’s farmers are classified as smallholders or farmers with less than 1 hectare of land. They not only manage 80% of an estimated 500 million small farms, but also provide over 80% of the food consumed in the developing world.

A focus on SI among smallholder farmers hence becomes critical to food security, particularly in Africa and Asia where there is little or no option of expanding arable land. There is clear evidence suggesting benefits from investments in agricultural research can lead to sustainable increases in farm productivity.

Some of the specific proven examples of SI practices include: introduction of short duration grain legumes in cereal-based cropping systems by making adjustments to planting dates, selection of crop varieties of appropriate durations, integrating livestock (small and large animals including poultry) and aquaculture (fish and shrimp) into farming systems; increasing diversity of crops and livestock; integrated soil, water and pest management practices; inclusion of vegetables, fruits and agroforestry systems for diversity and nutritious diets.

How different are challenges faced by farmers in developing countries compared to their counterparts in developed countries?

Issues related to increasing farm productivity and income, limited resources and environmental constraints are similar for most producers around the world. But the scale and context are different. For example, a smallholder farmer in developing countries has 0.5 to 10 ha of land, while a smallholder farmer in developed countries has 100 to 200 ha. The goal of farmers across the globe remains the same – to increase net income – only the methods they use to achieve them would be different.

In developing countries, most of the losses in food production occur during production, harvesting and storage, while in developed countries losses occur later during processing, transport and consumption. The majority of smallholder famers in developing counties lack access to inputs such as capital, fertilizers and equipment. There the focus is more on achieving food security through integrated soil and nutrient management, cropping systems and appropriate scale technologies. Whereas producers in developed countries who have access to inputs are generally focused on judicious use of these inputs and focus more on saving fuel, optimizing farm size for mechanization and ensuring soil health to increase trade and income.

Technologies used to overcome such challenges are appropriate for all farmers but at different scales based on farm size and typology.

How will your work help address these challenges?

The Feed the Future (FtF) Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab (SIIL) is a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funded program that supports research, knowledge sharing and capacity building activities aimed at sustainably transforming farming systems of smallholder farmers.

We aim to develop research and capacity-building portfolios in collaboration with US universities, international and national organizations to sustainably increase agricultural productivity and income that provides food and nutritional security to smallholder farmers in Africa and Asia while maintaining a strong focus on an integrated farming systems research. We will be supported by the Geospatial and Farming Systems Research Consortium and the Appropriate Scale Mechanization Consortium. The primary focus countries in this phase of SIIL are Senegal, Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Cambodia.

SIIL will also fund research sub-awards totaling up to US$ 9 million in specific focus areas over the next five years. We plan to release the request for applications from research and capacity building institutions by June.

I feel privileged to have the opportunity to lead and serve SIIL. I look forward to actively collaborate with SI flagship programs on providing food and nutritional security to smallholder farmers across the globe.

Any potential areas for future collaboration between SIIL and CSISA?

There will be a lot of opportunities for collaboration between the two programs. Both focus on SI using a systems approach where emphasis is on total farming or agricultural systems rather than a single commodity. There is also an overlap in CSISA’s existing geographies and SIIL’s focus countries. Therefore, opportunities exist for cross-learning and filling the gaps in research and capacity-building needs. We can build on existing knowledge and scale up and scale out certain proven interventions in Asia (Bangladesh and Cambodia) and potentially also in East and West Africa.

Specific areas for collaboration can include:

  1. Farming Systems Research: Between SIIL and other SI flagship programs of USAID, we can build and provide local farm and field-level solutions that can be scaled to landscapes and regions. Some of the proven technologies or interventions and networks from CSISA can be scaled through programs of SIIL in regions with similar typologies and resources. Looking at CSISA’s genetic intensification work and SIIL’s ecological intensification focus, there could also be possibilities for testing genotypes under various farming systems for SI.
  2. Gender Appropriate and Nutrition Sensitive Technologies: Both programs are focused on development and dissemination of gender appropriate technologies and targeting nutrition. We can learn and enhance collaboration on such interventions.
  3. Geospatial Tools and Scale Appropriate Innovations: SIIL is supported by two consortia bringing together vast expertise. These platforms will be available for collaboration with CSISA and other SI flagship programs of USAID. Further, the scale-appropriate machinery being tested and disseminated by CSISA can be scaled out in SIIL’s new geographies.
  4. Capacity Building: The focus of innovation labs is two-fold: first is innovation in research and second is human capacity building. I can foresee opportunities in both; to use the research sites of CSISA for graduate education by researchers of SIIL and vice versa, and; to collaboratively conduct training programs.
  5. Knowledge Management and Sharing: Scientific knowledge on SI is constantly changing and growing but is not always easily available or accessible. There will be opportunities for collaboration with all SI flagship programs funded by USAID to develop common knowledge platforms that could serve as a one-stop-shop for comprehensive information and literature on SI.

P.V. Vara Prasad is the Director of the Feed the Future Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab. He is also Professor of Crop Ecophysiology in the Department of Agronomy at Kansas State University. His research focuses on understanding responses of crops to changing environments and developing crop, water and soil management strategies for efficient use of inputs and improving crop yields. He is internationally recognized for his research on environmental stress physiology and has published more 120 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters.

CSISA Rolls Out a New Round of Field Studies

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

IFPRI Field Studies

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

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

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

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

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

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

Livestock Feeding Made Easy for Women Farmers in Odisha

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

Pravati Behera

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strengthening the Role of Agro-dealers and Traders to Increase Machinery Adoption in Nepal

Posted on Nepal-news, News & Announcements, February 13, 2015

Agro-dealers meeting NepalCereal Systems Initiative for South Asia-Nepal (CSISA-NP) is improving business linkages, developing technical capacity and business acumen of agro-dealers to increase up-take of new technology by farmers.

To enhance agri-mechanization in the Western and Far Western Development Regions of Nepal, CSISA organized an interaction meeting of the agro-dealers/agents, with the help of USAID’s KISAN project, on 22 December 2014 in Dhangadhi, Kailali.

Various agro-dealers and traders mostly from Kailali and Kanchanpur districts participated in the meeting. In addition, Senior District Agriculture Development Officers from Kailali and Kanchapur districts, the Chief Custom’s Officer from Dhangadhi Custom Office, and District representatives from USAID’s KISAN Project also participated.

Dr. AP Regmi, CSISA-NP’s ARTC Manager of the Far West region welcomed the participants and explained briefly about the history of CSISA NP and its objectives for promoting scale appropriate agricultural mechanization in the Western Development Regions.  Scott Justice, CIMMYT Mechanization and irrigation Specialist in South Asia, further highlighted the objectives of creating a regional platform or association that will strengthen and develop the agro-machinery dealers technical capacity and will accelerate fair and equitable spread and use of targeted technologies by the Far West Farmers.

Tika Ram Thapa, Senior Agriculture officer from District Agriculture Development Office (DADO) Kanchanpur highlighted the importance of agro-mechanization in Far West. “Far western region is at infant stage regarding agro- machineries, it needs to establish strong network among all the institutions related to agricultural machinery including private sector,” said Thapa. “Agro dealers, who are also the change agents, should have strong network with the DADOs, as the farmers are in direct touch with us,” explained Thapa.

Similarly, Yuvraj Pandey, Senior Agriculture Development Officer, Kailali highlighted the need to attract youth towards new technology and mechanization in the context of labour scarcity and increasing out-migration of youth for employment.  Custom challenges were raised by the dealers in importing the agricultural machine and the parts. Shiva Bhandari, Chief Customs Officer, Dhangadhi addressed to this concern and talked about the tax charges to agricultural machinery.

After the interaction, the dealers observed the new machinery brought by CSISA at the research site of CSISA. The group saw: self-propelled reaper, 2-wheel tractor reaper, precision fertilizer and seed broadcaster, pedaled rice thresher, 4-wheel tractor 11 row zero till seed cum fertilizer drill,  mini-tiller 4 row seed drill,  seed cum fertilizer drill for 2-wheel tractor, mechanical and electric ½ HP  single cob maize sheller. The team also visited the demonstration and experimental fields of CSISA to look at the zero tillage wheat and strip till lentil planted by the new machinery. The dealers appreciated and showed keen interest in buying or marketing these new technologies.

CSISA will continue to organize more regional meetings to help familiarize dealers with new agro-machinery and aims to support the development of Far Western Agro Dealer Association that will increase the business linkages between farmers, dealers, importers and public organizations to increase expansion of appropriate agro-machinery in a sustainable manner.

Spreading Innovation: New Partnerships Drive Change in Odisha

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

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

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

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

Old Meets New

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local Farmer is the Star

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

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

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

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

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

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

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