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.
Author: Matthew O’Leary
Also available in CIMMYT’s site: https://www.cimmyt.org/news/new-project-strengthens-capacity-to-fight-fall-armyworm-in-bangladesh/
Over 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.
As 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).
Like 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.
Nutrient 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.
The 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.
That’s why 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.
“Through 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.”
This data-driven 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.
Currently, 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” Krupnik said.
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.
Author: Matthew O’Leary, CIMMYT
These efforts were supported by the USAID funded Climate Services for Resilient Development Project (CSRD) in South Asia, the USAID/Feed the Future and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation supported Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), and by the CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture.
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 stops.
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 agents.
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.
CIMMYT and its partners work to mitigate wheat blast through projects supported by U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), CGIAR Research Program on WHEAT, and the CGIAR Platform on Big Data.
See more on wheat blast here: https://www.cimmyt.org/wheat-blast/
The 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.
These shows were watched by a total of 110,825 farmers in 16 districts, including Jashore, Faridpur and Barishal, between October and December 2018.
Earlier CSISA 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.
CSISA’s survey 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.
After the 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)
Mungbean is a relatively new crop in Nepal, so relevant research and development activities are still just emerging. In 2015, the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), supported by USAID, started conducting participatory research and development, including market development activities for mungbean in partnership with the National Grain Legume Research Program, millers and seed companies.
Mungbean, a short-duration crop of 60 to 80 days’ maturity, fits in well in a rice–winter crops–fallow rotation, reaching maturity just before rice transplanting in July. Mungbean is consumed as dal (soup), used as an ingredient for Dalmot (snacks), Bhujiya, sprouts, biscuits and baby food. Its biomass remains green even after the third picking, and rice yield can be increased by 25% if mungbean residue is incorporated into the soil. Unfortunately, cultivation of mungbean as a spring season crop is not widely practiced by farmers in Nepal.
In late 2018, CSISA facilitated a strategic partnership between Poshan Food Product (PFP) Ltd. (a miller), GATE Nepal (a seed company) and local agricultural cooperatives to strengthen the mungbean value chain and market. This partnership has been made possible because of an innovation by the miller in the process of making a baby food called Balbhojan.
Poshan Food Product Ltd. had always prepared Balbhojan by combining wheat, millet and buckwheat. While participating in a CSISA meeting in January 2017, the owner of Poshan Food Product, Mr. Narayan Gnawali, became aware of the health benefits of mungbean and changed the product’s recipe so that it would be composed of 20% mungbean. To fulfill his company’s new demand, he purchased 10 tons of mungbean grain from Banke and Bardiya districts in May 2017.
After changing the 1-kg and 0.5-kg packets of baby food to the new mungbean-containing mix, his company’s monthly demand for mungbean doubled within six months, and was four times higher by December 2018. Now the miller consumes 1.5 tons of mungbean every month, meaning that 18 tons of mungbean grain will be needed every year even if their current baby food business does not grow further.
In a recent CSISA meeting, Mr. Gnawali said, “I can buy up to 100 tons of mungbean if cooperatives or seed companies supply me properly graded products.” Now, GATE Nepal has agreed to provide mungbean-grading services using extra graders within the company. Poshan Food Product Ltd. has also started selling graded whole grain mungbean under the brand “Nepali Mung.” The product is used for sprout production and dal preparation.
Considering the increasing demand for sprouts in local supermarkets, Poshan Food Product Ltd. is also planning to produce mungbean sprouts starting this year. Seeing the success of the strategic partnership, the government of Nepal’s Province 7 has decided to provide extension support (e.g., seed, irrigation, plant protection) for mungbean growers within a 500 ha area under its soil health improvement program. CSISA continues to provide technical support on better-bet agronomy, mechanization and market development to strengthen the partnership and to support the scaling of mungbean cultivation.
Authors: Narayan P. Khanal, CIMMYT, and Dyutiman Choudhary, CIMMYT
The application of fertilizers that do not meet the nutrient requirements (i.e. balanced nutrient application) of target crops is a widespread problem in India. Farmers overuse urea (N) and seldom apply secondary nutrients (Sulphur, Calcium, and Magnesium) and micro-nutrients (like Zinc, Iron, Copper, Boron, Molybdenum and Manganese) in their plots. This imbalanced application of nutrients affects both long-term health of the soil as well as farmers’ own net incomes from agriculture. How do we deploy scientific research, business innovations, and public policies and programs to help promote balanced use of fertilizers in Indian agriculture? As part of the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI) organized a National Dialogue on “Innovations for Promoting Balanced Application of Macro and Micro Nutrient Fertilizers in Indian Agriculture” on December 12, 2018, in New Delhi, India, to discuss practical answers to these questions.
Farmer leaders, representatives from fertilizer cooperatives, private companies and the Fertilizer Association of India (FAI) participated in the dialogue along with state officials, researchers from national research institutions, CG centers, the World Bank and Indian think tanks to share their ideas and experience and explore new strategies. This dialogue initiated conversations on three themes: a) policy changes and other innovations needed to accelerate the development of new fertilizer blends; b) ways to develop a soil intelligence system for India, and c) changes in extension and communication of soil health information to farmers to enable the adoption of scientific recommendations.
The introductory session provided the necessary background and the context for the deliberations that followed. Avinash Kishore of IFPRI presented evidence on the myth of farmers being highly sensitive to changes in fertilizer prices. Using plot-level data from a large nationally representative sample of farmers, he showed that farmers’ demand for DAP and Potash did not change significantly, even after a steep increase in prices after a change in subsidy policy in 2011. Avinash contended that removal or rationalization of subsidies alone will not be enough to promote balanced use of fertilizers. Scientifically informed extension efforts would still be needed.
The Director General of the Fertilizer Association of India (FAI), Shri Satish Chander, pointed out that new-product approvals in India take approximately 800 days. However, he explained, this delay is not the biggest problem facing the sector: other barriers include existing price controls that are highly contingent on political myths.
Andrew McDonald of CIMMYT emphasized the need to develop a soil intelligence system for India and shared CSISA’s ongoing work on developing such a system for Andhra Pradesh and Bihar. In both states, scientists are working to combine the rich data already collected under the Soil Health Cards (SHC) program with spectroscopic measurement of soil properties and remote sensing images to create a rich array of information on soil and plant nutrition requirements customized to the specific needs of farmers and policymakers at a landscape level.
Dr. T. Satyanarayana of IPNI highlighted the importance of micronutrients in promoting balanced fertilization of soils and innovative methods that exist in determining soil health for appropriate action. Mr. Ajay Vir Jakhar, chairman of Punjab Farmers’ Commission, highlighted the need to strengthen the public extension system to bring scientific information to farmers.
Director General of FAI, Shri Satish Chander, averred that while approval of new fertilizer blends in India is slow and cumbersome, it is not the main hurdle to move innovation in India’s fertilizer sector. The Fertilizer Control Order (FCO) has undergone reforms over the years. While more reforms in the FCO will be helpful, price control and heavy subsidy on Urea, a large share of which, he said, goes to international fertilizer companies and not farmers, was the big problem in India’s fertilizer sector.
Other representatives from the fertilizer industry touched upon the need to identify farmer requirements for risk mitigation, labor shortages and site-specific nutrient management needs for custom fertilizer blends. Participants also discussed field evidence related to India’s soil health card scheme. Ultimately, discussions held at the roundtable helped identify relevant policy gaps.
Authors: Vartika Singh, IFPRI, and Vedachalam Dakshinamurthy, CIMMYT
Since 2013, the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) has been sustainably intensifying kharif maize cultivation in a rainfed ecology on the north-central plateau of Odisha, India, in Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar districts. Through the promotion of better-bet agronomy (e.g., suitable hybrids, line planting, nutrient and weed management), maize yields of adopter farmers in Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar can reach 5.4 t/ha, up from an average of 2.5 t/ha.
In collaboration with the Odisha State Department of Agriculture, CSISA scaled up sustainable intensification practices on 5,227 hectares in 2018, from almost zero five years ago. Random cuttings by CSISA over the last three years on farmers’ fields showed that maize yields have consistently improved and become more uniform (as shown in the accompanying violin plot), both of which are required for farmers to strengthen their market linkages. Unfortunately, farmers have not been able to translate their increasing harvests into higher returns due poor linkages with output markets.
Although large institutional grain buyers such as hatcheries and feed mills are located nearby, in the past they were not interested in procuring maize grain locally because farmers produced a relatively small marketable surplus and grain quality was uneven. Efforts had been made earlier to improve maize grain marketing, but these efforts only partially succeeded because some interventions were not equitable and some were not scalable. Private aggregator-based models favored middle marketing agents over farmers because prices at the farm gate were low compared to prices at the industry gate. Models focused on individual farmers generated high transactions costs at the buyers’ end. Therefore, a mechanism was still required that could ensure benefits to farmers but also be convenient for large buyers.
Before the 2018 maize planting season, CSISA held brainstorming sessions with the Odisha State Agriculture Marketing Board and the Department of Agriculture and Farmers’ Empowerment to devise a transparent, farmer-friendly, scalable marketing mechanism that would also be attractive to buyers.
In response to the discussions, CSISA began organizing the maize farmers into groups. The farmers’ groups cultivated maize on a consolidated patch, which helped ensure uniform cultivation practices and standardized postharvest activities. Training sessions and follow-up backstopping encouraged timely harvesting, mechanical threshing and adequate grain drying. These practices were essential for matching grain quality to industrial specifications (less than 14% grain moisture and not more than 1% fungus-infected grains).
The maize-producing groups had committed to selling their harvest together, in bulk. Prior to the maize-harvesting period (Oct. – Nov.), CSISA and the local administration convened a meeting of potential large buyers. At this meeting, buyers agreed to purchase the grain at US$ 240/ton (if grain quality meets standard industrial parameters), the Government of India’s current minimum support price.
In November 2018, Maa Ganga Maize Producer Group, composed of 20 women farmers, sold 22.3 tons of maize grain to the local hatchery and generated a gross revenue of US$ 5,330. Another group of 21 farmers sold 25 tons and made US$ 5,985. These amounts were shared amongt member farmers in proportion to the amount of grain they contributed. Venkateswara Hatcheries Pvt. Ltd., the biggest buyer of maize in the region, alone purchased more than 200 tons during the season. Other buyers then followed suit (information about total production and sales is currently being compiled). In contrast, farmers who had not joined a producer group sold their produce at around US$ 180/ton. CSISA plans to bring all maize growers of this area onto the same platform so that they can also obtain the economic gains that can be generated by adopting sustainable intensification practices.
Author : Ajay Anurag, CIMMYT
The Soil Intelligence System (SIS) for India, a new $2.5 million investment by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will help the states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Odisha rationalize the costs of generating high-quality soil data while building accessible geospatial information systems based on advanced geostatistics. The SIS initiative will rely on prediction, rather than direct measurements, to develop comprehensive soil information at scale. The resulting data systems will embrace FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable, and reproducible) access principles to support better decision-making in agriculture.
The initiative aims to facilitate multi-institutional alliances for soil health management and the application of big data analytics to real-world problems. These alliances will be instrumental for initiating broader discussions at state and national levels about the importance of robust data systems, data integration and the types of progressive access policies related to ‘agronomy at scale’ that can bring India closer to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
SIS is led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in collaboration with numerous partners including the International Food Policy Research Institute, ISRIC – World Soil Information, the state governments and state agriculture universities of Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, and the Andhra Pradesh Space Applications Center. The initiative began in September 2018 and will run until February 2021.
SIS functions as a co-investment in the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) and utilizes two new soil spectroscopy laboratories that were recently set up in Andhra Pradesh and Bihar under CSISA in collaboration with the respective states’ departments of agriculture. One laboratory is now operating at the Regional Agricultural Research Station in Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, the other at Bihar Agricultural University (Sabour) in Bhagalpur, Bihar. Spectroscopy enables precise soil analysis and can help scientists identify appropriate preventive and rehabilitative soil management interventions. The technology is also significantly faster and more cost-effective than wide-scale, wet, chemistry-based soil analysis. The SIS Initiative will also review options for incorporating digital technologies such as route planning and QR coding approaches into the programming of state partners and will assist our partners to adopt digital technologies to enhance soil sampling and analysis operational efficiencies.
Farmers will be the primary beneficiaries of this initiative, as they will receive more reliable soil health management recommendations to increase yields and profits. The initiative will also be useful to state partners, extension and agricultural development institutions, the private sector and other stakeholders who rely on high-quality soil information. Through SIS, scientists and researchers will have an opportunity to receive training in modern soil analytics, and combine mapping outputs with crop response and landscape reconnaissance data through machine-learning analytics to derive precise agronomy decisions at scale.
“The support from CIMMYT through the Gates Foundation will contribute directly to bringing down the cost of providing quality soil health data and agronomic advisory services to farmers in the long run,” said K.V. Naga Madhuri, Principal Scientist for Soil Science at Acharya N. G. Ranga Agricultural University. “We will also be able to generate precise digital soil maps for land use planning. The greatest advantage is to enable future applications like drones to use multi-spectral imagery and analyze rapidly large areas and discern changes in soil characteristics in a fast and reliable manner.”
Authors: Vedachalam Dakshinamurthy, CIMMYT, and Cynthia Mathys, CIMMYT
The Central Government of India has invested US$ 148.74 billion in the fiscal year 2017–18 to support agricultural development in the country. However, these investments are often unable to target the most relevant needy areas or populations due to lack of concrete evidence of their effectiveness. To support the inclusion of scientific evidence in policy-making processes, CSISA discussed with the Government of the state of Odisha the need for co-generating evidence and for its endorsement to launch a policy experiment on rice-fallow intensification and mechanization options during the 2018–19 Rabi season. The policy experiment will entail offering different combinations of incentives for service provision, irrigation facilities and for giving farmers access to credit. These experiments will be supplemented with baseline and endline surveys to gather data on the impacts of the interventions.
Rice-fallow intensification was the first priority raised by the incoming ICAR Director General, Dr. T. Mohapatra, in discussion with the CSISA leadership team in March 2016. A strategic meeting with a team of policy makers and other decision makers at the Department of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, Odisha, held on 24 November 2016, identified behavioral constraints to rice-fallow intensification and mechanization as two core themes for working closely with the department and allied institutions. Since the Odisha Government invests heavily in mechanization (~US$ 50 million in 2017) in the form of direct subsidies and support to agri-service entrepreneurs, CSISA’s engagement with the Government of Odisha aims to capitalize on this opportunity by helping the State Departments of Agriculture sharpen their support programs by better targeting subsidies that do not crowd out private investments but do encourage the development of markets and machinery value chains.
Following up on discussions with the Government, CSISA conducted two behavioral evidence-generating studies in Kharif 2017. First was a participatory cognitive mapping exercise in which farmers and other stakeholders drew a map of their imagined farming systems; at the same time, CSISA sought their perspectives on ways to overcome constraints to double cropping. Second, using the key outcomes from the cognitive mapping exercise, CSISA conducted an experiment to elicit individuals’ investment preferences, as well as their commitment to community funding for key intensification parameters such as irrigation, credit, timely harvesting and marketing, and cropping systems. On the mechanization front, CSISA conducted a survey on potential mechanized services and the entrepreneurial behavior of service providers. Data from this survey were used to analyze the scope for introducing incentivization in local machine service provision.
Findings from these studies were presented to the relevant stakeholders within the Government of Odisha, including the Principal Secretary of the Department of Agriculture. CSISA now plans to design an integrated policy experiment that considers multiple leverage points that encourage farmers to consider double cropping and mechanization (investment options, institutional facilitation and incentivization in service provision) to be piloted during the coming Rabi season in Odisha. This proposed experiment is expected to determine the key factors that make farmers keep fields fallow and the policy incentives required to encourage potential entrepreneurs to become machinery service providers. The opportunity and apparent need for mechanization and cropping intensification in these expansive ecologies is clear, particularly given the diminished yield in the “breadbasket” areas of northwest India, the lack of major genetic breakthroughs that increase the yield potential of staple crops and the prevailing labor constraints.
Lessons from the experiment are expected to help identify the agricultural policy changes at the State Government level that are needed to boost crop production and intensify the cropping systems. This collaborative arrangement between the State Department of Agriculture, Odisha and CSISA is also notable because the State is a key partner in generating evidence as well as in facilitating adoption.
Authors: Prakashan Chellattan Veettil, Vartika Singh and Andrew McDonald
CSISA is collaborating with the Wheat Research Centre (WRC) of the Bangladesh Agriculture Research Institute (BARI) to develop a model for identifying wheat blast resistant varieties and approaches to mitigate the disease. In 2017, a blast resistant, zinc-enriched variety, BARI Gom 33, was released. This variety was validated in last year’s blast-affected farmers’ fields, and field days were organized to demonstrate its resistance to farmers, government organizations, NGOs and private sector companies. Most field day participants indicated that they liked BARI Gom 33, and farmers were advised to preserve its seed.
This important research came about through multi-party collaboration. Activities were supported by CSISA through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Research was facilitated by the USAID Mission in Bangladesh with the support of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research by leveraging the capacity of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) through a project titled “Identification of sources of resistance to wheat blast and their deployment in wheat varieties adapted to Bangladesh.”
The first-ever outbreak of wheat blast outside South America, where it was first reported, was recorded in Bangladesh in February 2016. This is a fearsome fungal disease caused by Magnaporthe oryzae pathotype Triticum (MoT), that now affects over 15,000 hectares in seven southwestern and southern districts of Bangladesh. The estimated average yield loss is 25–30%, but in severely infected fields, total losses have also been observed.
The Ministry of Agriculture of Bangladesh officially announced the presence of wheat blast on 27 March 2016, and formed a technical sub-committee including CIMMYT to create an action plan to mitigate the disease.
An international consultative meeting was held in 2016 in Kathmandu, Nepal, and in 2017 in Dhaka, Bangladesh, to plan short-, medium- and long-term strategies to mitigate the disease. International training courses for wheat scientists from India, Nepal and Bangladesh were organized at the Wheat Research Centre (WRC), Dinajpur, and the Regional Agricultural Research Station (RARS), Jashore, in 2017 and 2018, respectively. Field surveillance was conducted through CSISA in partnership with USAID and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Recommendations were presented to farmers in a factsheet through government, NGO and private sector partners in 2017 and 2018. Recommendations included early seeding to help crops avoid high temperatures and early rains at heading, collection of seeds from blast-free areas, seed treatment, cultivation of resistant varieties, preventive foliar spray at heading and 12–15 days after heading, weed-free cultivation and rotation with non-wheat crops.
Wheat blast-affected areas in 2017 and 2018 shrank to only 22 and 16 ha with low, sporadic infection due to farmers adopting the recommendations and climate conditions that were less favorable for blast spread. However, trace infection was found in three new areas in 2017 and two new areas in 2018, outside districts infected in previous years. This indicates the ongoing spread of the disease and its adaptability to new environments, underscoring the potential for its spread. Symptoms of wheat blast infection were also found on Digitaria, Eleusine indica, and Panicum repens, common weed species found throughout Bangladesh, but research is underway to confirm whether spores from these species can infect wheat and vice versa.
WRC and BARI, in collaboration with CIMMYT, will undertake a seed production program in farmers’ fields in the coming season and will distribute the seed to farmers.
Wheat blast surveillance work was conducted in 2017 and 2018, and laboratory confirmation is underway at WRC/BARI laboratories, with the support of CSISA. Blast mitigation trials have continued in 2018 at a hot spot in RARS, Jashore. Out of 25 advanced lines, 7 were found to be resistant (<10% disease index). Out of 408 germplasm lines, seven (including Borlaug 100) had zero disease index and 164 were resistant (<10% disease index). A seeding experiment showed that there was no disease in six new varieties, including susceptible BARI Gom 26, which were sown on 25 November and 5 December. However, on BARI Gom 26 planted on 4 January, seeding disease severity was >85%. The effectiveness of seed treatments and foliar spray fungicides was confirmed by the 2018 results.
Author: Dr. Dinabandhu Pandit, Sarah Sayeed Gazi and M. Shahidul Haque Khan
In 2015, the Government of Nepal endorsed a new 20-year Agriculture Development Strategy (ADS), which recognizes the need for new science-led innovations, crop diversification options for income generation, strong seed and fertilizer input systems, mechanization to cope with outmigration and an aging agricultural workforce, and enterprise development to create new jobs and extend essential support services to large numbers of farmers. In support of these priorities, CSISA works with partners who can help to rapidly and broadly increase the adoption of sustainable intensification technologies at scale.
The Prime Minister’s Agriculture Modernization Project (PMAMP), launched in 2016 to help implement the ADS, is designed to enhance productivity and commercialization of major cereals, fish, fruits and vegetables over the next decade. The PMAMP has laid out a structure comprised of super zones (commercial areas of more than 1,000 ha), zones (areas over 500 ha), blocks (over 50 ha) and pockets (over 10 ha). These are defined areas across the country that receive government support to produce certain crops intensively.
CSISA has been working closely with PMAMP from its inception by providing technical backstopping at the central and local levels for the wheat, maize, rice and farm mechanization programs. CSISA sees PMAMP as a key mechanism for scaling up sustainable intensification technologies in Nepal. CSISA has helped PMAMP form working groups and hold forums to facilitate discussion and spark collaboration among stakeholders in Nepal.
In July 2017, CSISA and PMAMP jointly held a national-level wheat working group forum aimed at unifying and coordinating the efforts of 21 public and private stakeholders working on research, extension and private sector development for wheat in Nepal. The forum emphasized the need to identify proven best practices for sustainable intensification of wheat, explored possible pathways for scaling knowledge and technological innovations, and identified knowledge gaps and areas for future research.
Energized by this successful wheat working group meeting, PMAMP took the lead and organized a similar meeting for maize. A rice forum was held with CSISA’s support in December 2017, followed by a subsequent meeting organized with the rice super zone in Jhapa, Eastern Nepal, in May 2018. In February 2018, CSISA and PMAMP held a mechanization forum. Seeing consistent results, PMAMP has now established similar forums and guidelines for other commodities such as fish, tea, coffee and potato.
In addition to the forums, CSISA has provided technical guidance on planning seasonal activities to PMAMP staff, and has facilitated cross-learning events and “train the trainers” courses for super zone and zone technicians and operational committees on how to implement and out-scale sustainable intensification technologies. CSISA has also developed training materials, educational videos and other extension materials for utilization by the cereal and mechanization programs. PMAMP has asked CSISA to help formulate joint plans at the pocket, block, and zone levels in different districts. Many technical training sessions have also been held, focusing on the best maize management practices, scale-appropriate mechanization, mechanized weeding, seed drill operation and calibration, precision nutrient management, mechanized harvesting, integrated weed management and safe handling of herbicides.
This initiative has been useful not only for institutionalizing CSISA’s innovations and findings, but also for designing market-oriented approaches for our private sector partners. With continued technical backstopping and support on developing seasonal work plans from CSISA, PMAMP will carry out agronomic interventions for cereal cropping systems in CSISA’s working domain.
Authors: Cynthia Mathys and Mina Devkota-Wasti
In India, the Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) network was established in 1974 to serve as district-level “farm science centers” tasked with conducting on-farm tests of agricultural technologies, implementing frontline demonstrations, conducting need-based training programs, serving as local knowledge centers and supporting the marketing of locally relevant agricultural technologies. The KVK system, now comprising 680 KVKs, is overseen by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and administered by a group of 11 agricultural technology application research institutes. The KVK is the largest countrywide network that caters to the needs of researchers from state agricultural universities and ICAR institutes and provides field-level extension for the Department of Agriculture in each state.
Since 2015, CSISA has worked with KVKs in Bihar, eastern Uttar Pradesh and Odisha to test and modify locally relevant technologies and help integrate successful technologies into the government’s official package of practices for each state. In the Eastern Indo-Gangetic Plains, a region marked by low cereal productivity, small farm sizes and resource-poor farmers, CSISA and its KVK partners strive to intensify cereal-based cropping systems by facilitating the adoption of better-bet agronomic management practices such as zero tillage, early wheat sowing, timely establishment of rice, hybrid rice and maize, and crop diversification.
CSISA, national agricultural research and extension system (NARES) institutes, KVKs and the Department of Agriculture are working to increase the availability of scale-appropriate machinery in rural areas so that entrepreneurial farmers can develop service provision businesses. As an example, in each of 25 KVKs, Bihar Agricultural University, Sabour, is facilitating the establishment of 10 service providers who will raise and market rice nurseries to local farmers. To date, CSISA’s programming and partnerships have facilitated the emergence of nearly 4,000 service providers in the project’s working domain.
In 2018, CSISA launched a new capacity-building partnership with 50 KVKs, and trained their staff to conduct a landscape diagnostic survey, a tool that helps KVKs identify which technologies would be most likely to succeed in their geographic domains. KVK teams were taught how to use an Open Data Kit (ODK), an Android-based mobile data collection tool that increases the speed, efficiency and quality of data collection in the field. Once data are in hand, ODK also enables faster data analysis and visualization.
In June, CSISA and its KVK partners launched a landscape diagnostic survey in 50 KVKs. The survey will run through October, ultimately covering 10,500 farmers this year, and is expected to be repeated beginning in January 2019. Survey data collected by the KVKs will help research organizations like the state agricultural universities and ICAR institutes, and state extension agencies like the Department of Agriculture, jointly develop investment strategies and implementation plans that address the needs of multiple stakeholders.
Innovative partnerships such as the ones between CSISA, NARES (including the KVKs) and the private sector, serve as a necessary accelerant for the adoption of scale-appropriate technologies and the intensification of cereal-based cropping systems in India. Rigorous surveys and the sharing of analytical results will serve as important milestones in the overall capacitation and transformation of the KVK system.
Author: Dr. RK Malik and Cynthia Mathys
To promote awareness about raising healthy rice seedlings, CSISA developed a dynamic solution – it introduced seedbed technology, an innovative technique for raising seedlings. Rice farmers in Bangladesh have long employed traditional methods to grow transplanted rice. They often use inferior quality seed and high seed rates that negatively affect the quality of seedlings. These seeds are susceptible to disease and contribute to lower yields. To reduce the yield gap, CSISA began raising awareness about healthy seedlings by promoting the use of seedbed technology.
Seedbed technology has considerable advantages. It facilitates better seed management and ensures quality seedlings. Growing healthy rice seedlings can increase effective tillering, which enhances yield up to 10%. Stronger seedlings have better disease resistance, which benefits farmers.
CSISA typically raises awareness among farmers through five major activities – using mass media, distributing booklets on techniques for raising healthy rice seedlings, hands-on training of trainers on healthy rice seedling production methods, encouraging young entrepreneurs to start seedling businesses to grow and sell healthy rice seedlings to farmers, and scaling-out healthy seedling raising practices through networks of development partners.
CSISA developed a short 10-minute farmer-friendly video in Bangladesh on practices for raising healthy rice seedlings in the 2016–17 winter Boro and summer Aman seasons. It partnered with a national NGO, the Agricultural Advisory Society, to carry out 498 video showings during the 2016–17 winter season and at 265 events during the 2017 summer season for farmers in open-air public gathering places, community centers and markets across Jessore and Faridpur Hubs. A total of 37,117 viewers were registered in the winter season and 17,736 in the summer season. Taking into account unregistered audience members, the total number of farmer/viewers was estimated at approximately 110,000 across both seasons.
Informative booklets on the subject were developed and distributed by CSISA to 1,500 field-level master trainers of the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) and 33,000 farmers through 3,000 input dealers in the Feed the Future zone. In total, 612 block-level DAE staff and 80 NGO field workers were trained on healthy rice seedling raising practices.
Through CSISA’s initiatives, 41 entrepreneurs who were already running seedling businesses and six new entrepreneurs were trained on advanced healthy rice seedling agronomy and business management skills. In winter 2016-17, 95 community-based seedbeds were established across Jessore, Faridpur and Barisal Hubs by 1,092 farmers working with DAE and NGO partners.
However, funding shortfalls forced the suspension of these activities starting in the 2017–18 winter Boro rice season. CSISA conducted a follow-up survey of farmers, which revealed that farmers who had previously watched the videos had continued to adopt healthy rice seedling practices this year, even without CSISA’s intervention.
Survey results indicated that of the 17,736 farmers who viewed the video shown by CSISA and partners prior to the 2017 summer season, 51% continued to use healthy rice seedling practices to grow their crops in the 2017–18 winter season. The average size of plots where healthy rice seedlings were transplanted was 0.52 ha, indicating sustained adoption on more than 4,704 hectares in the Feed the Future zone.
CSISA-driven initiatives using videos and booklets have been tremendously impactful, as evidenced by the number of farmers who retained the core messages and continued to apply healthy rice seedling practices long after they viewed the video.
Author: Dr. M. Murshedul Alam, Sarah Sayeed Gazi and M. Shahidul Haque Khan
Nepal struggles with labor shortages in agriculture, particularly due to the out-migration of laborers who move in large numbers to India and Gulf countries to work. These shortages have increased labor wage rates and the cost of cereal crop production. In response to these constraints, and to try to reduce drudgery and increase profits associated with farming to make agriculture more attractive to young people, CSISA has been facilitating the uptake of the reaper, which can increase the speed, improve the timeliness and reduce the labor costs associated with harvesting cereal crops like rice and wheat. Reaper attachments can be front-mounted on the many different two-wheel tractor models available in Nepal, making it relatively affordable for farmers.
Fifteen years ago, a few reapers were sold in central Nepal, but prior to CSISA’s interventions, reapers were not available anywhere in the Feed the Future zone, which constitutes much of the far and mid-west development regions. In 2014, CSISA and its public and private sector partners began to demonstrate reapers in farmers’ fields, starting with a stock of 20 reapers. Demonstrating the functionality and benefits of the reaper across different Feed the Future districts generated rapidly increasing demand among farmers and service providers. To ensure the machines were available at the local level in the areas where reaper uptake was being facilitated, CSISA worked with private sector suppliers and the Nepal Agricultural Machinery Entrepreneurs’ Association (NAMEA) to ensure larger stocks of reapers were available in an uncertain market and greatly multiplied reaper field demonstrations.
Towards the end of 2016, reaper importers’ district sales agents began to capitalize on farmers’ increasing interest in reapers by holding their own farmer field days, focusing their efforts on the 2016 rice harvest. With CSISA’s technical support, NAMEA and its members conducted more than 50 demonstrations in 2016. As a result of the multiplying effect of private sector participation, starting from near zero purchases in 2014, by the end of 2016 farmers in the Feed the Future zone had purchased 678 reapers.
In early 2017, CSISA boosted reaper adoption in Nepal by increasing the range of stakeholders they support. CSISA facilitated innovative partnerships between the private and public sectors so that public extension agencies (such as the Department of Agriculture and the Prime Minister’s Agriculture Modernization Project) partnered with local agents to conduct even more farmer field days. For example, CSISA provided training to farmers who purchased a reaper to enable them to become service providers, thereby increasing the number of farmers who had access to reaper services and the amount of land under reaper harvesting. Each reaper owner provided harvesting services to 10 farmers on 10.5 ha of rice and wheat area in the Feed the Future zone. Also in 2017, District Agriculture Development Offices and the Prime Minister’s Agriculture Modernization Project began providing subsidies on reapers and conducting their own demonstrations.
As commonly occurs when machinery adoption spreads, the availability of spare parts and repairs for reapers lagged behind sales. To address this problem, CSISA, the Nepal Agriculture Research Council and private sector companies provided reaper repair training to district sales agents’ mechanics, as well as small grants (US$ 200 worth of “pre-positioned” reaper spare parts) to certain agents/mechanics in the far and mid-west region to seed the market.
A 2017 CSISA survey of reaper adopters in the Feed the Future zone indicated that, compared with manual harvesting, reapers increased average farm-level profitability by US$ 120 when used for harvesting both rice and wheat. Reaper adoption also relieved families of having to find and manage work teams during harvesting periods, an activity that farmers typically found stressful. Reapers also gave farmers the opportunity of becoming entrepreneurs by turning their reapers into a small business.
As of March 2018, traders in the Feed the Future zone have sold the vast majority of their 2,197 reapers, representing total sales of approximately US$ 1.2 million. In the 2017 rice and 2018 wheat seasons, farmers harvested around 11,000 hectares of rice and wheat using reapers. Just prior to the 2018 sales season for reapers, importers reported that they had over 300 reapers in their warehouses; to date, farmers have purchased almost 70% (200 pieces). Interestingly, more than 95% of service providers purchased reapers without any subsidy, which indicates a willingness to take risks and an expectation of success. In response to the increased demand, the number of importers increased from four to seven between 2016 and 2018. Given that sales almost doubled in each of the last three years, optimism abounds about the potential for reaper scaling in Nepal.
Authors: Scott Justice and Gokul Paudel
CSISA has launched a new video highlighting the value of scale-appropriate mechanization and the benefits of service provision in Nepal. Featuring farmers who have adopted technologies such as seed drills, power tillers, mini tillers and reapers, the video highlights that mechanization can save time and costs and reduce drudgery. Participating farmers also point out that extra income can be made from becoming a service provider and that this extra income can help reduce incentives for Nepal’s youth to go abroad looking for work.
Khumlal Chaudhary, a service provider in Rupandehi, says in the series, “I am extremely busy [providing services to other farmers]. It gets so hectic that I have to switch off my phone sometimes. […] I now have two sources of income. I am a farmer so I make income from what I grow in my fields. I also provide services with my tractors and the seed drill machine. The two activities help me make a good living.”
Yogendra Chaudhary says that since he and his son are able to make money through service provision, his son decided to remain in Nepal to work on the family’s farm instead of seeking employment abroad, and that the machines allow them to remain together, work together and prosper together.
Sutra Media Works and the CSISA team hosted video showings in four of CSISA’s working domains so that farmers, potential service providers, self-help groups and Nepal government representatives could see the film, ask follow-up questions and discuss locally relevant issues raised by the video. These community video showings were preceded by farmers’ field days and demonstrations of sustainable intensification technologies, and were followed by question and answer sessions.
Shown in Baridya, Dang, Kailali and Kanchanpur districts with 296 attendees (including 72 women), the video was well received and generated discussion about the following preconditions for mechanization to spread broadly: (1) increased awareness of agricultural technologies and their providers at the local level, (2) technical training on how to use the equipment, (3) availability of spare parts and repairs for fixing machines, and (4) mechanisms to make the cost of technology and services affordable for farmers.
Attendees included farmers, service providers, machinery traders and public sector representatives from the Nepal Agricultural Research Center, as well as the Prime Minister’s Agriculture Modernization Project, representatives from the Wheat and Rice Zones and “Super Zones.” CSISA is currently sharing the video with relevant governmental and non-governmental agricultural programs, as well as with relevant video sharing websites and broadcast and cable TV outlets, to broadly disseminate important messages about mechanization and service provision throughout Nepal.
Author: Cynthia Mathys