Taken together, digital monitoring and readily available data on the status of groundwater resources provide a critical foundation for sustainable irrigation development. While much is known about surface water resources and hydrological and meteorological linkages between the Terai, Mid-Hills and Himalaya regions of the country, Nepal currently lacks a comprehensive system for groundwater resource monitoring.
To respond to this crucial information gap, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and International Water Management Institute (IWMI) are partnering with the Government of Nepal’s Groundwater Resources Development Board to conduct a pilot which will develop and test a potential groundwater monitoring system with the goal of identifying an approach which can be gradually scaled out after project completion.
Once a world leading lentil producer, Nepal is now having to import them as farmers struggle with low productivity and warmer, wetter weather. This could have serious implications in a country where lentils provide an important source of protein, especially for poor families.
Groundwater irrigation plays a critical role in supporting food security, rural livelihoods and economic development in South Asia. However, in Eastern Indo-Gangetic Plains (EIGP) region (including Nepal, Bangladesh and Eastern India) many farmers lack access to affordable groundwater supply. Inability to fully exploit available groundwater resources contributes to the vulnerability of smallholder farmers to monsoon variability and dry spells, leading to crop failures and chronic low agricultural productivity in the region. To tackle this challenge, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the University of Manchester are working together to address the root causes of inefficiencies within existing groundwater irrigation systems and develop systematic solutions to support irrigation intensification and climate change adaptation.
Women in Odisha, India, successfully shoulder responsibility in leading their families through the COVID-19 crisis.
Sashimoni Lohar, a fifty-three-year-old from Badbil village, in Odisha, is like any other woman you would encounter in India’s rural heartlands. Her life is mostly confined within the boundaries of her home and farm.
The COVID-19 lockdown has been hard on people across India, but particularly agonizing for families like Lohar’s. Both her sons lost their jobs as laborers, one in a town near home, and the other in a city in a different state. Her younger son Debodutta, a migrant laborer stuck in the southern Indian city of Bengaluru when the midnight lockdown was announced, managed to survive and returned home two months later, aggrieved and penniless. Her husband remained the only earning family member, though on a meager salary, and the family dreaded not only the virus but hunger, as the small reserve of income and rations they had was coming to an end.
Lohar was the only one who refused to give up hope. With support from her village self-help group (SHG), she cultivated two acres of hybrid maize this year. The income generated through selling the crop at a roadside stall next to her farm ensured the wellbeing of her family in this critical period. For a brief time, along with her husband’s small income, she became the provider for the family with seven mouths to feed during the lockdown.
Lohar did worry for her jobless sons’ futures but believed that as a successful maize farmer with the skills acquired in the last few years, she can do even better. “Maize farming has supported us during this low-income and very critical period. I shall continue maize cultivation and hope to increase our lease in land next year,” said a visibly triumphant Lohar.
Investing in maize
Today, along with her husband and a new-found entrepreneurial spirit, she hopes to keep Debodutta and her older son closer to home. After lockdown restriction were eased, she invested about Rs.12,000 (roughly US$165) into maize cultivation and set up two stalls by the national highway next to the farm to sell green maize cobs again alongside her family. They made back almost double their investment from less than one acre and she plans to keep the excess as dry grain for the poultry feed mill. A budding entrepreneur full of confidence, Lohar now plans to start a small grocery shop with a loan in the coming months.
A few years ago, many women from these tribal areas in Odisha did not even step out of their houses and villages. They were reluctant to go to the market or the bank – anywhere away from the familiarity of their home. Today, through the opportunities afforded by government economic development programs and collaborations such as the one with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center’s (CIMMYT) Cereal Systems Initiatives for South Asia project (CSISA) these women have established themselves as successful maize farmers and entrepreneurs.
Lohar is just one of many women in the rural villages of Odisha — particularly in Mayurbhanj district where COVID-19 has left many male family members jobless — who either individually or in groups erected about 27 small stalls adjacent to their maize fields to sell green cobs to travelers on the highway. Many are very confident and determined to support and lead their families through this difficult time.
Engaging tribal groups
Mayurbhanj is a district in Odisha where nearly 58.7 percent of the population are from tribal groups. During the kharif — autumn, monsoon and cultivation — season, thousands of hectares of upland are left fallow, due to lack of education and knowledge and tribal farmers’ low risk-bearing capacity. CSISA began working in the district in 2013, improving farming systems for higher yields and providing sustainable livelihood options for tribal farmers.
From 2013 to 2020, CSISA, in collaboration with the State Department of Agriculture, Department of Horticulture, NGO partners, private seed companies, women SHG federations and the Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA), helped develop maize cultivation as an important part of the tribal people’s livelihoods. Thousands of hectares of fallow lands are now being converted to cultivate maize, focusing on sustainable agriculture and livelihoods, predominantly involving women as most men were occupied or engaged in migrant jobs. This year alone, more than 100 tribal women from Badbil village have cultivated approximately 120 acres of commercial hybrid maize.
CSISA supports the farmers all the way from sowing to crop harvesting. To strengthen dry grain marketing and to avail the benefits of different schemes under the government of Odisha’s support for farmer producer groups (FPGs), CSISA has formed two women’s FPGs in Badbil alone. Some of the SHGs working with CSISA on maize cultivation in the region in the last four-five years include Maa Jagat Janani, Johar Jaher Aya, Biswa Jay Maa Tarini, Maa Saraswati, Subha Patni, and Maa Brundabati.
The women from the villages in Mayurbhanj have become well-known, both within and outside the district, for their good quality green cobs and marketing intelligence. These women had the courage to change their circumstances and lifted their families out of situations of uncertainty and hardship. The rows of industrious rural women selling maize by the national highway became national news, and many of the state’s media channels that come to cover this story hailed their determination and capacity for income generation, even in a pandemic, as symbols of women’s empowerment in the tribal community.
Agriculture scientists and researchers study the possible impact to agricultural productivity due to COVID-19 disruptions and the increasing threat of pollution due to stubble burning in northern india. Emerging evidence supports the intuitive link between chronic health conditions associated with air pollution and the vulnerability of individuals and communities to COVID-19. Poor air quality already imposes a highly significant public health burden in Northwest India, with pollution levels spiking to hazardous levels in November and early December when rice crop residues are burned. The urgency of curtailing the COVID-19 pandemic and mitigating a potential resurgence later in the year provides even more justification for accelerating efforts to dramatically reduce open agricultural burning in India.
The COVID-19 crisis presents a unique opportunity for policymakers to prioritize productive & environmental-friendly farming practices as long-term solutions, assert researchers.
Bihar Convergence Platform for agriculture since being established in October 2019, is consistently working to accelerate the interventions in improving the lives and capacity of small and marginal farmers in the state.
The Convergence Platform chaired by the Vice Chancellor Bihar Agriculture University, with key members from Bihar Rural Livelihood Promotion Society known as Jeevika, Bihar Agriculture University, Dr Rajendra Prasad Central Agriculture University, Agriculture Technology Application Resource Institute, ICAR-RCER, Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) along with private groups like IFFCO, Bayer, and ITC, is a synergistic partnership to innovate and initiate targeted interventions that help farmers to have informed choices with proven scientific recommendations.
Data Ecosystem: Out of the many activities jointly implemented by the platform, “Data Ecosystem” is the key arena where the platform works together in strengthening the impact of data, and incorporating them in accelerating quality interventions for farmers.
Recently, a six-day virtual interactive training for convergence members on the theme ‘creating impact through wider data sharing’ was hosted by CSISA in association with CAB-International and ODI in September (16-23 September). The thematic areas of the training aimed at strengthening technical expertise of the participants; creating an enabling environment to unlock the benefits of data sharing and developing space for participants to discuss, brainstorm and co-design initiatives to be implemented together by the convergence platform members in coming days.
23 participants attended the training from Bihar Agriculture University, Jeevika, Dr Rajendra Prasad Central Agriculture University, ICAR-RCER, Agriculture Technology Application Resource Institute and IFFCO. On the first day, sharing the objective of the training with participants Dr Ram Kanwar Malik, Senior Scientist and Sugandha Munshi, Senior Specialist, from CSISA emphasised on the need and importance of sharing data for larger benefits to farmers. Dr David Torrent from Open Data Institute led the training, with Arun Jadhav from CABI and CSISA team coordinating the proceedings of the day.
The training was divided into six sub-themes – 1) Data sharing: Strategies for change and barriers to succeed; 2) Building data sharing agreements; 3) Dealing with personal data; 4) Minimising harmful impacts from data; 5) Improving the quality and interoperability of data and, 6) Building healthy data ecosystems. During each of the sessions under the six sub-themes participants engaged in a series of interactive discussions and group activities focused on shared goal and partnerships.
On the sixth day, the training came to an end with a common understanding about the challenges and constraints in agriculture existing due to the data being in silos. Furthermore to accelerate the pace of development in agriculture in the state, the participants mutually agreed on the need to relook at the existing data with a broader lens. Sharing the data under set norms with standardised licensing could act as a catalyst to increase the benefits for smallholder farmers, expressed participants.
To deal with the challenges in agriculture constructively and together, the platform members stressed strongly on the need to start seeing and analysing existing data from a wider perspective and on sharing data as the key for designing fact-based interventions for larger good and impact.
Farmers are turning to two-wheeled tractor-mounted reaper-harvesters to make up for the lack of farm labor caused by a significant number of rural Nepalese — especially men and youth — migrating out in search of employment opportunities.
Over 4,000 mechanized reapers have been sold in Nepal with more than 50 percent in far and mid-west Nepal since researchers first introduced the technology five years ago. The successful adoption — which is now led by agricultural machinery dealers that were established or improved with CSISA’s support — has led nearly 24,000 farmers to have regular access to affordable crop harvesting services, said CIMMYT agricultural economist Gokul Paudel.
CSISA project suggests pathways to remove barriers inhibiting full use of groundwater irrigation infrastructure.
Inconsistent rainfall has repeatedly damaged paddy crops in Nepal over the last years, even though most agricultural lands are equipped with groundwater wells, contributing to missed national policy targets of food self-sufficiency and slow growth in cereal productivity. In a recently published article, Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) researchers explore the drivers of smallholder farmers’ underuse of groundwater wells to combat in-season drought during the monsoon rice season in Nepal’s breadbasket — the Terai.
The study finds that several barriers inhibit full use of the groundwater irrigation infrastructure and proposes support pathways based on existing technologies.
A key issue is farmers’ tendency to schedule irrigation very late in an effort to save the crops when in-season drought occurs. By this time, rice crops have already been damaged by lack of water and yields will be decreased. High irrigation costs, especially when pumping equipment is rented at monopolistic rental rates, are a major factor of this investment aversion. In addition, private irrigation is a relatively new technology for many farmers making productive water use decisions.
After deciding to irrigate, queuing for pumpsets, tubewells, and repairs and maintenance further increase irrigation delays. Some villages have only a handful of pumpsets or tubewells shared between all households, so it can take up to two weeks for everybody to irrigate.
CSISA provides three suggestions for three spatially nested support pathways to address these issues and support farmers in combatting monsoon season drought.
Raising awareness on the importance of timely irrigation
To avoid yield penalties and improve operational efficiency through better matched pumpsets, CSISA has raised awareness through agricultural FM radio broadcasts on the strong relationship between water stress and yield penalties. Messages highlight the function of the plough pan to keep infiltration rates low and encourage farmers to improve irrigation scheduling. Anecdotal evidence suggests that improved pump selection may decrease irrigation cost by up to 50%, and CSISA has initiated follow-up studies to develop recommendations for farmers.
In addition, timely irrigation often requires social interaction in purchasing fuel, transporting and installing pumps or shared use of irrigation equipment. These activities pose risks of COVID-19 exposure and transmission and therefore require farmers to follow safety and hygiene practices, which may cause further delays to irrigation. Raising awareness about the importance of timely irrigation therefore needs to go hand in hand with safe and hygienic irrigation practices. This information has been streamlined into the CSISA ongoing partnerships and FM broadcasts
2. Improving community-level water markets through increased focus on drought preparedness and overcoming liquidity constraints
Farmers can save time by taking an anticipatory approach to terms and conditions of rentals, instead of negotiating them when cracks in the soil are already large. Many pump renters also reported that pump owners are reluctant to rent out pumpsets if renters cannot pay up front. Given the seasonality of cash flows in agricultural, pro-poor and low interest credit provisions are likely to further smoothen community-level water markets.
3. Regional investment prioritization
Selectively targeting support and promotion programs in areas experiencing delays in access to pumpsets and groundwater wells can help farmers in combating monsoon season droughts.
Furthermore, the study shows that these delay factors differ across districts and that selectively targeted interventions will be most useful to provide high returns to investments. For example, farmers in Kailali reported that land access issues due to use of large bullock carts to transport pumpsets and fuel shortages constitute a barrier for 10% and 39% of the farmers, while in Rupandehi maintenance and tubewell availability were reported to be of greater importance.
As drought is increasingly threatening paddy production in Nepal’s Terai region, CSISA’s research shows that several support pathways exist to support farmers in combatting droughts. Sustainable water use can only be brought up to a scale where it benefits most farmers if all available tools including electrification, solar pumps and improved water level monitoring are deployed to provide benefits to a wide range of farmers.
Read the full article in Water International:
Anton Urfels, Andrew J. McDonald, Timothy J. Krupnik & Pieter R. van Oel (2020) Drivers of groundwater utilization in water-limited rice production systems in Nepal, Water International, 45:1, 39-59, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/02508060.2019.1708172
CSISA, JEEViKA and the Bihar Agriculture University are catalysing sustainable solutions for farmers, which are empowering them (small and marginal farmers including women) to secure more prosperous lives.
Between November and December 2019, through the ‘Single Agro -Advisory Window’ set up under this convergence platform, 1,055,000 farmers were reached with agro advisories, through text and voice messages and printed advisories; wherein 400,000 farmers were reached through the Bihar Agricultural University and 655,000 through Jeevika’s dissemination platforms.
According to Narayan Khanal, a researcher who works with the Cereal Systems Initiatives for South Asia (CSISA), growing evidence indicates mung beans planted between rice and wheat rotations improves soil fertility and rice productivity by as much as 25 percent.
Rice-wheat rotation is the dominant cropping pattern in many regions of Nepal. With wheat harvest in March followed by rice transplanting in July, a substantial amount of land remains fallow for about 90 to 100 days. Since 2014, CSISA researchers have worked to fill the gap by bringing value chain actors together to promote the use of disease-tolerant and high-yielding mung bean varieties, conservation agriculture techniques, and agricultural mechanization such as direct seeders.
“Over the years our research has included market mapping with value chain actors, testing mung bean varieties in the private sector by engaging seed companies and millers, as well as building the capacity of farmers to grow demand,” says Khanal. “The legume provides a cash crop for farmers with its stable, high market price and demand across Asia.”
An annual vine with yellow flowers and fuzzy brown pods, mung bean crops usually trade at $1 per kilo in rural Nepal.
Khanal also adds that the long-term results show mung bean crop residue provides fodder to feed live-stock and improve soil fertility as it is incorporated into the field to be used as fertilizer as part of conservation agriculture practices.
Read the full article published in Agrilinks here.
An online news portal in Nepal issued a short article about direct-seeded rice (DSR) promoted by CSISA in Kailali District, Sudurpashchim Province in Nepal.
The article highlights the introduction of DSR six years back by CSISA and how it has expanded throughout the district. Khagendra Sharma, Spokesperson of Ministry of Land Management, Agriculture & Cooperative of Sudurpaschim Province, mentions that DSR is more profitable than conventional rice farming, hence farmers are attracted to this technology as it reduces labor and fuel.
Scientific Animations Without Borders (SWABO) uses animations to communicate timely information of emerging global problems that impact farmers locally. One video is helping farmers in Bangladesh fight against Fall Armyworm.
Public and private partners join forces to mitigate voracious pest.
Hundreds of agricultural professionals in Bangladesh were trained in the latest fall armyworm management strategies as part of a new project that will strengthen efforts against this threat to farmers’ income, food security, and health. The new project, Fighting Back Against Fall Armyworm, is supported by USAID and the University of Michigan.
As part of the project, last November over 450 representatives from government, nonprofits and the private sector participated in three-day training to learn how to identify, monitor and apply integrated pest management approaches.
Fall armyworm presents an important threat to farmers’ income, food security and livelihoods as it continues to spread across the country, in addition to health risks if toxic insecticides are indiscriminately used, said Tim Krupnik, senior scientist and agronomist at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). It is anticipated the course participants will pass on knowledge about the pest and appropriate control practices to around 30,000 farmers in their respective localities.
“Participants were selected for their ability to reliably extend the strategies that can be sustainably implemented by maize farmers across the country,” explained Krupnik. “The immersive training saw participants on their hands and knees learning how to scout, monitor and collect data on fall armyworm,” he said. “They were also trained in alternatives to toxic chemical pesticides, and how and when to make decisions on biological control with parasitoids, bio-pesticides, and low-toxicity chemical pesticide use.”
Following its ferocious spread across Africa from the Americas, fall armyworm first attacked farms in Bangladesh during the winter 2018-2019 season. Combined with highly apparent damage to leaves, its resilience to most chemical control methods has panicked farmers and led researchers to promote integrated pest management strategies.
In this context, the 22-month Fighting Back Against Fall Armyworm project will build the capacity of the public and private sector for effective fall armyworm mitigation.
The hungry caterpillar feeds on more than 80 plant species, but its preferred host is maize — a crop whose acreage is expanding faster than any other cereal in Bangladesh. The pest presents a peculiar challenge as it can disperse over 200 kilometers during its adult stage, laying thousands of eggs along its way.
Once settled on a plant, larvae burrow inside maize whorls or hide under leaves, where they are partially protected from pesticides. In a bid to limit fall armyworm damage, farmers’ indiscriminate application of highly toxic and inappropriate insecticides can encourage the pest to develop resistance, while also presenting important risks to beneficial insects, farmers, and the environment.
Reaching every corner of the country
As part of the project, CIMMYT researchers supported Bangladesh’s national Fall Armyworm Task Force to develop an online resource to map the spread of fall armyworm. Scientists are working with the Ministry of Agriculture to digitally collect real-time incidents of its spread to build evidence and gain further insight into the pest.
“Working with farmers and agricultural agencies to collect information on pest population and incidence will assist agricultural development planners, extension agents, and farmers to make informed management decisions,” said Krupnik, who is leading the project.
A key objective is to support national partners to develop educational strategies to facilitate sustainable pest control while also addressing institutional issues needed for efficient response.
“In particular, the Government of Bangladesh has been extremely responsive about the fall armyworm infestation and outbreak. It developed and distributed two fact sheets — the first of which was done before fall armyworm arrived — in addition to arranging workshops throughout the country. Initiatives have been taken for quick registration of microbial pesticides and seed treatments,” commented Syed Nurul Alam, Entomologist and Senior Consultant with CIMMYT.
“It is imperative that governmental extension agents are educated on sustainable ways to control the pest. In general, it is important to advise against the indiscriminate use of pesticides without first implementing alternative control measures, as this pest can build a resistance rendering many chemicals poorly effective,” Krupnik pointed out.
To this end, the project also consciously engages members of the private sector — including pesticide and seed companies as well as agricultural dealers — to ensure they are able to best advise farmers on the nature of the pest and suggest sustainable and long-term solutions. To date, the project has advised over 755 agricultural dealers operating in impacted areas of Bangladesh, with another 1,000 being trained in January 2020.
Project researchers are also working alongside the private sector to trial seed treatment and biologically-based methods of pest control. Biocontrol sees researchers identify, release, and manage natural predators and parasitoids to the fall armyworm, while targeted and biologically-based pesticides are significantly less of a health risk for farmers, while also being effective.
The 22-month project, funded by USAID, has 6 key objectives:
Develop educational materials to aid in reaching audiences with information to improve understanding and management of fall armyworm.
Assist the Department of Agricultural Extension in deploying awareness raising and training campaigns.
Prepare the private sector for appropriate fall armyworm response.
Standing task force supported.
Generate data and evidence to guide integrated fall armyworm management.
The Fighting Back Against Fall Armyworm in Bangladesh project is aligned with Michigan State University’s Borlaug Higher Education for Agricultural Research and Development (BHEARD) program, which supports the long-term training of agricultural researchers in USAID’s Feed the Future priority countries.
To achieve synergies and scale, the project will also be supported in part by in-kind staff time and activities, through linkages to the third phase of the USAID-supported Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT). CSISA and CIMMYT staff work very closely with Bangladesh’s Department of Agricultural Extension and the Bangladesh Maize and Wheat Research Institute (BWMRI) in addition to other partners under the Ministry of Agriculture.
the last few decades, deteriorating soil fertility has been linked to
decreasing agricultural yields in South Asia, a region marked by inequities in
food and nutritional security.
the demand for fertilizers grow, researchers are working with government and
business to promote balanced nutrient management and the appropriate use of
organic amendments among smallholder farmers. A new policy brief outlining opportunities
for innovation in the region has been published by the Cereal Systems
Initiative for South Asia (CSISA).
all living organisms, crops need access to the right amount of nutrients for
optimal growth. Plants get nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium,
in addition to other crucially important micronutrients from soils and carbon,
hydrogen, oxygen from the air and water. When existing soil nutrients are not
sufficient to sustain good crop yields, additional nutrients must be added
through fertilizers or manures, compost or cop residues. When this is not done,
farmers effectively mine the soil of fertility, producing short-term gains, but
undermining long-term sustainability.
management involves using crop nutrients as efficiently as possible to improve
productivity while reducing costs for farmers, and also protecting the
environment by limiting greenhouse gas emissions and water quality
contamination. The key behind nutrient management is appropriately balancing
soil nutrient inputs – which can be enhanced when combined with appropriate
soil organic matter management – with crop requirements. When the right
quantities are applied at the right times, added nutrients help crops yields
flourish. On the other hand, applying too little will limit yield and applying
too much can harm the environment, while also compromising farmers’ ability to
feed themselves or turn profits from the crops they grow.
Smallholder farmers in
South Asia commonly practice poor nutrition management with a heavy reliance on
nitrogenous fertilizer and a lack of balanced inputs and micronutrients.
Declining soil fertility, improperly designed policy and nutrient management
guidelines, and weak fertilizer marketing and distribution problems are among
the reasons farmers fail to improve fertility on their farms. This is why it’s
imperative to support efforts to improve soil organic matter management and
foster innovation in the fertilizer industry, and find innovative ways to
target farmers, provide extension services and communicate messages on cost
effective and more sustainable strategies for matching high yields with
appropriate nutrient management.
Cross-country learning reveals opportunities for improved nutrient management.
policy brief is based on outcomes from a cross-country dialogue facilitated by
CSISA earlier this year in Kathmandu. The meeting saw researchers, government
and business stakeholders from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka discuss
challenges and opportunities to improving farmer knowledge and access to
sufficient nutrients. Several key outcomes for policy makers and
representatives of the agricultural development sector were identified during
the workshop, which included in the brief.
Extension services as an effective way to encourage a more balanced use of fertilizers among smallholder farmers.
There is a need to build the capacity of extension to educate smallholders on a plant’s nutritional needs and proper fertilization. It also details how farmers’ needs assessments and human-centered design approaches need to be integrated while developing and delivering nutrient application recommendations and extension materials.
Nutrient subsidies must be reviewed to ensure they balance micro and macro-nutrients.
Cross-country learning and evidence sharing on policies and subsidies to promote balanced nutrient application are discussed in the brief, as is theneed to balance micro and macro-nutrient subsidies, in addition to the organization of subsidy programs in ways that assure farmers get access the right nutrients when and where they are needed the most. The brief also suggests additional research and evidence are needed to identify ways to assure that farmers’ behaviour changes in response to subsidy programs.
Market, policy, and product innovations in the fertilizer industry must be encouraged.
It describes the need for blended fertilizer products and programs to support them. A blend is made by mixing two or more fertilizer materials. For example, particles of nitrogen, phosphate and small amounts of secondary nutrients and micronutrients mixed together. Experience with blended products are uneven in the region, and markets for blends are nascent in Bangladesh and Nepal in particular. Cross-country technical support on how to develop blending factories and markets could be leveraged to accelerate blended fertilizer markets and to identify ways to ensure equitable access to these potentially beneficial products for smallholder farmers.
Farmers around the world face consistent threat from crop pests, such as wheat blast disease that attacks maturing grains causing them to shrivel and reduce farmers’ yields. But new advances in technology and modeling are making it easier to identify, prevent and control these diseases.
Outbreaks of wheat blast in South Asia – a region where people consume over 100 million tons of wheat each year – have an enhanced impact on food stability and income security. In 2016, wheat blast struck South Asia unexpectedly, with crop losses in Bangladesh averaging 25 to 30 percent, threatening progress in the region’s food security efforts. Estimates are that blast could reduce wheat production by up to 85 million tons in Bangladesh, equivalent to $13 million in foregone farmers’ profits each year when outbreak occurs.
there’s optimism from farmers and scientists alike about a new digital early
warning system that integrates mathematical models that, when combined with weather
forecasts, can simulate disease growth and risks to forewarn against potential
wheat blast outbreaks. With three years of data recorded, the system, which was
originally piloted in Brazil where wheat blast has been a concern for several
decades, is now being rolled out across Bangladesh to deliver real-time disease
updates to extension workers and smallholder farmers via SMS and voice message.
collaborative research we have established a model to identify areas at risk of
wheat blast infection with five days advanced warning,” said Timothy J.
Krupnik, senior scientist and systems agronomist at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT). “It can provide
Bangladesh’s 1.2 million wheat farmers a head start against this disease.”
early warning system analyzes environmental conditions for potential disease
development in crucial wheat growing areas of Bangladesh and Brazil. Through
this information, the system generates forecast maps and automatic advice for
farmers of where and when infection is most likely to strike.
“The model was
originally developed in Brazil, but we have worked closely with collaborators
from Brazil and the Bangladesh Meteorological Department (BMD) and Department
of Agricultural Extension to develop a warning system positioned for use by
extension workers and farmers,” Krupnik said.
farmers are advised to apply fungicides on a calendar-based preventative basis.
This is costly and can have negative environmental effects. Instead, the early
warning system pushes advice to extension agents and farmers, indicating when
disease control is really needed.
“Our hope is that
it will help reduce unnecessary fungicide use while assuring that farmers can
implement cost-effective and resilient practices to overcome wheat blast risks”
The importance of collaboration
With limited information on wheat blast, Krupnik initiated a collaboration with agricultural researchers in Brazil – where the disease originated in 1985. Professor Jose Mauricio Fernandes, a crop pathologist from Embrapa, and Mr. Felipe de Vargas, a computer scientist, with Universidade de Passo Fundo, were familiar with wheat blast and had already developed an initial mathematical model of disease development. The team collaborated to transfer the model to South Asia and build it into a more comprehensive and location-explicit early warning system.
“We improved preliminary modelling framework to manage
data requirements to predict the time and location of blast outbreaks in
Bangladesh, Brazil, and beyond,” Fernandes said. “I am excited to see how it
increases farmers’ resilience to disease risks in Bangladesh.”
The team plan to adapt the system to help manage other pests threatening farmers in Feed the Future countries, including initial efforts in Nepal where a complementary UK Aid investment through the Asia Regional Resilience to a Changing Climate (ARRCC) is supporting CIMMYT to scale-out the model and to include wheat rust disease early warnings.
CSISA in Nepal organized a three-day traveling seminar on
“Scale-appropriate machinery for cereal crop harvesting in South Asia” on March
25–29, 2019. In Nepal, the adoption of agricultural mechanization has increased
slowly over time. While small, regional markets for combine harvesters have
existed in Nepal for the last 20 years, the major rise in sales has occurred in
the last 10 years, both for combines and, more recently, for two-wheel
tractor-based reaper-harvesters. Farmers have used machinery to cope with labor
shortages and increasing wage rates.
Over 40 delegates, including international experts, private
sector scaling partners and dignitaries such as the Director General of Nepal’s
Department of Agriculture and Chief of the Prime Minister Agriculture
Modernization Project attended the event. Participants visited a variety of
CSISA sites and project partners across Nepal’s Terai. Field visits,
demonstrations and discussions with farmers and service providers began in
Rupandehi district and proceeded to Kailali district, with several in-between
Delegates observed technologies being used in farmers’
fields and discussed progress-to-date to mechanize cereal production in Nepal
and more broadly across Asia. Participants saw Nepal’s scale-appropriate,
private sector-led mechanization in farmers’ fields, including the use of large
combine harvesters and self-propelled reapers in Rupandehi and the recent
spread of thousands of two-wheel tractor reapers in Banke, Bardiya and Kailali.
Delegates discussed issues with farmers who use the services of machinery
service providers, service providers themselves, machinery importers and sales
On the last day of the traveling seminar, delegates from China, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Vietnam shared their views on how different types of farm machines are spreading in their countries. These discussions and presentations included private and public sector representatives interested in finding sustainable, equitable, and productive solutions to grain harvesting challenges for all farm sizes and farmers across the region. Professor Ding Qishuo, College of Engineering, Nanjing Agricultural University, recalled his experience in southern China 20–30 years ago and found similarities with Nepal’s Terai, where “a huge gap in rural manual labor may need to be filled by machinery”. Prof. Ding stated that there is a large opportunity for promoting mechanized harvesting in the region; however, there is still much left to do to document and quantify local farming systems. According to Prof. Ding, “many lessons can be learned from other Asian countries and applied to Nepal’s farming systems”.
Stemphylium blight is one of the most damaging diseases that plagues lentil fields in South Asia, causing plants to shed leaves and loose twigs, ultimately leading to grain loss. In severe cases, yield losses as high as 90% have been reported in Bangladesh and other countries. Lentil production is an integral part of many nutrition-sensitive farming systems in the region, so Stemphylium blight is a threat to smallholder farmers’ livelihoods in Bangladesh, India and Nepal.
Disease severity is conditioned by cloudy weather, relative humidity, and temperature and precipitation regimes. It may vary between locations within a growing season and also between seasons within a location. If foliar fungicides are carefully used in combination with a suite of integrated pest management practices, the disease can be controlled. However, farmers often find it difficult to determine the timing, frequency and amount of fungicide they should use. This requires special consideration because fungicides can affect yield and have negative environmental consequences if used improperly. The Stempedia model, a weather-based model used to assess the risks of Stemphylium blight disease, is being processed to help farmers decide when and how much fungicide to use to appropriately control Stemphylium blight.
The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) has entered into a collaboration with the Climate Services for Resilient Development (CSRD) project, both supported by USAID/Washington, to enable national scientists and extension officers in Bangladesh, India and Nepal to test the Stempedia model and assess the regional and seasonal risks of Stemphylium blight occurring. Partner scientists and officers collect data in farmers’ fields, assess the severity of the problem and pass those data to CSRD for Stempedia model testing and calibration. The huge task of collecting field data would have been impossible without the collaboration between CSISA and CSRD. CSISA and CSRD mobilized national partners and collected data on the incidence and severity of Stemphylium blight during the 2017-18 growing season from 480 farmers’ fields in three countries: in Bangladesh with support from the Department of Agricultural Extension, in India with the help of Bihar Agricultural University, and in Nepal with the support of Nepal Agricultural Research Council’s National Grain Legume Research Program.
The status of Stemphylium blight was assessed before harvest and the results indicated that it was more prevalent in the Bangladesh and Nepal sites than in the India sites. Relevant weather data, available from five sites, were used to run the Stempedia model, and preliminary results showed that the model had the potential to mimic the status of the disease observed in the fields.
The Stempedia model is currently being calibrated to achieve prediction accuracy, and more data from a similar number of fields in the three countries are being collected in the 2018-19 growing season for comprehensive model refinement. The ultimate goal is to set up the model to analyze weather forecasts and train national extension partners to use Stempedia so they can better advise farmers.
Speaking about the Stempedia model, Dr. Anurag Kumar of CSISA, Bihar, India, said, “Farmers in Bihar had no clue how to control the disease and had been blindly using chemicals for controlling Stemphylium blight. This model will guide farmers on when to use fungicides or whether to use them at all.” Once it is successfully calibrated and refined, the Stempedia model will be used to provide weekly early warnings on the risk of the disease. Based on the forecasts, national extension agencies will develop relevant advisories and extend them to farmers.
Authors: M. Shahidul Haque Khan, CIMMYT and Sultana Jahan, CIMMYT
Wheat blast is a fast-acting and devastating fungal disease that threatens food safety and security in the Americas and South Asia.
First officially identified in Brazil in 1984, the disease is widespread in South American wheat fields, affecting as much as 3 million hectares in the early 1990s.
In 2016, it crossed the Atlantic Ocean, and Bangladesh suffered a severe outbreak. Bangladesh released a blast-resistant wheat variety—developed with breeding lines from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT)—in 2017, but the country and region remain extremely vulnerable.
The continued spread of blast in South Asia—where more than 100 million tons of wheat are consumed each year—could be devastating.
Researchers with the CIMMYT-led and USAID-supported Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) and Climate Services for Resilient Development (CSRD) projects partner with national researchers and meteorological agencies on ways to work towards solutions to mitigate the threat of wheat blast and increase the resilience of smallholder farmers in the region. These include agronomic methods and early warning systems so farmers can prepare for and reduce the impact of wheat blast.
This series of infographics shows how wheat blast spreads, its potential effect on wheat production in South Asia and ways farmers can manage it.
Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), in collaboration with the Bangladeshi
NGO Agricultural Advisory Society (AAS), recently conducted video showings of yield-enhancing
practices such as healthy rice seedling production and early wheat sowing
throughout southern Bangladesh. Early wheat sowing and healthy rice seedlings
are both key sustainable intensification practices in Bangladesh as early
sowing helps wheat avoid terminal heat, which decreases yield, and the use of
healthy seedlings ensures the rice crop has a strong start.
shows were watched by a total of 110,825 farmers in 16 districts, including
Jashore, Faridpur and Barishal, between October and December 2018.
had used video-based messaging as a tool to increase uptake of sustainable
intensification practices, and it proved to be a reliable extension tool. A
follow-up study of CSISA’s 2012 and 2015 screenings of agricultural production
videos showed that of the 17,736 farmers who attended the video shows and
training sessions, approximately 51% continued to use better-bet agronomic
management techniques to grow healthy rice seedlings on 4,700 hectares in the
winter (boro) season.Many of the farmers also carried
forward the practices they learned from the video shows into the 2018 monsoon (aman) season, which resulted in 9,616
hectares being brought under healthy rice seedling practices.
results showed that adoption of healthy rice seedling growing techniques can be
sustained if they are easily implemented, effective and productivity enhancing. At least 99% of the farmers who took
part in the survey continued to use at least one practice, and others continued
to implement a combination of new healthy rice seedling practices.
video screenings, audiences participated in question and answer sessions. During
these interactions, farmers asked the organizers to clarify points that were
unclear or to describe the benefits and costs of adopting new methods.
Participants also shared other opinions or ideas that would increase the
overall yield of rice and wheat.
The videos will be uploaded on CSISA’s website and those of its local partners, as well as on social media. This will help farmers who were unable to participate in the screenings easily access the videos through their mobile phones from anywhere in Bangladesh. Similar video showings are planned for the coming rabi season of 2019/20 to achieve an even wider reach.
Authors: Sultana Jahan, Mustafa Kamal, Harun-Ar-Rashid and M. Shahidul Haque Khan (CIMMYT)