Big Business in Mechanizing Small Farms

Posted on India-news, News - Homepage, December 22, 2014

IMG_1362Barsaprasad Hembram, a maize farmer from Mayurbhanj district, Odisha, purchased a variety of modern farm machines this year by participating in a government scheme that gives farmers a 50 percent subsidy on tractors and seven auxiliary implements such as the seed drill. Today, Hembram uses his new farm equipment to provide agricultural custom-hire services to other like-minded farmers, charging $14.35 (Rs. 910) per hour for the tiller and $15.78 (Rs. 1,000) per hour for the Mould Board plow.

Not only does this service give Hembram additional income, it helps other smaller farmers who can’t afford to buy machines to reap the benefits of modern farming technologies. Hembram says, “Word got around about the success of my maize crop and more and more people became interested in using technologies such as the seed drill. Availability of labor is a huge challenge for all the farmers here so naturally they’re interested. I already have requests from five farmers to help with their fields next year.”

Hembram is a CSISA-supported service provider — or ‘change agent intermediary.’ By offering custom-hire agricultural machinery at relatively affordable rates, these service providers are bringing the benefits of modern agricultural mechanization even to the smallest farmers – in addition to serving as an important source of information on better-bet agronomic management. CSISA supports a network of more than 1,700 mechanized service providers across India.

Expanding Mechanization

With an increasing agricultural labor shortage in India, shifting to mechanical power seems like a logical response. Not only does mechanization support the optimal utilization of resources (e.g., land, labor, water) and expensive farm inputs, it also helps farmers save valuable time in completing a variety of operations. The judicious use of time, labor and resources can help facilitate sustainable intensification (e.g., multi-cropping) and the timely of planting of crops, which can give crops more time to mature and increase productivity. The use of scale-appropriate machinery can also help reduce drudgery.

The shortage of labor in Mayurbhanj is a challenge that farmer Sajit Kumar Mohanty is familiar with as well. He shares, “Most of the local labor is employed by brick kilns, making it nearly impossible for me to find the 20–30 people it would take to manually uproot and transplant rice seedlings for my field. Thanks to the machine transplanter, I can now manage the same task with just four people.” Farmer and service provider Kishore Kinkar Padiari says that in Bhadrak, Odisha, “Not only is labor expensive and hard to find, there is also no assurance that they will come exactly when you need them to, which can be of critical importance with the changing climate and shifting planting windows.”. Thanks to Padiari’s custom hire services farmers in his village now manage to plant more than 1 acre per day (0.40 hectare) with just three people using the machine transplanter for rice instead of the 20 people they previously needed at a cost of $3.47 (Rs. 220) per person. “Using this technology farmers also save nearly 10–15 kg seed per acre.”

Benefits for Smallholders

India has a large number of smallholder farmers who have landholdings of less than 2 hectares. The role of change agent intermediaries like Hembram and Padiari becomes even more significant in eastern India, where the average landholding size is decreasing and the procurement of machines individual farmers is often not economically feasible.

From this year, Padiari has also started renting out his laser land leveler and has already received requests to service more than 30 hectares. Sharing insights on the business of service provision, he adds, “I’m only charging Rs. 400–600 ($6.30–9.50) initially to build demand and in some cases I’ve only asked for the cost of the diesel. A lot of the farmers don’t know about these technologies so they are apprehensive in the beginning. But when they see results they’ll come back and even be willing to pay more.”

For technologies such as zero tillage (ZT), service providers provide crop establishment services to more than 20 households each — a core example of CSISA’s strategy for achieving sustainable intensification at scale through change agent intermediaries. Across Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh, over 50,000 hectares of ZT wheat were sown by CSISA-supported service providers in 2013–14, reflecting an area increase of 42% over the previous year.

But the business of service provision is not for everyone, warns Vijay Kumar Singh from Vaishali, Bihar. “Most people with tractors don’t want to buy ZT machines because they can only make money from it once per field. The plow in comparison will be needed at least five to six times. I only bought the ZT machine because I have enough land of my own to use it on and not because I was dependent on using it as a source of income,” he explains. And perhaps rice farmer Tushar Ranjan Biswal from Bhadrak would agree.

Biswal approached CSISA to learn about technologies that could help him cultivate his 8.09 hectares of hereditary land that were lying fallow. “I’m ambitious and wanted to earn some money. I was told about the option of becoming a service provider and earning an extra income by renting out my machines to other farmers in the area. But I realized that I could make much more money by simply leasing their farms instead and am hence now cultivating a total area of nearly 80 acres (32.37 hectares).” Biswal does, however, invite farmers from neighboring villages to showcase the benefits of using more modern agricultural practices. He admits, “If it wasn’t for this technology, I could never have cultivated such a large piece of land.”

Another challenge according to Parmanand Pandey from Samastipur, Bihar is that parts for machines aren’t always readily available, which means that if a machine needs to be repaired, it will become unavailable for that entire cropping season. But why, then, did he become a service provider with the zero tillage machine for wheat, bed planter for maize and machine transplanter for rice? “You cannot always think in terms of cost and profit. Mechanization is also about risk mitigation. With a single machine I can cover 35 acres (14.16 hectares) while with a plow I cannot. More and more people are realizing this every year and so every year my business is increasing.”

Partnering for Progress

Posted on News - Homepage, News & Announcements, December 15, 2014

 

601814_2866010629163_1615225722_nOne of the biggest challenges for women farmers in Odisha is to gain recognition as farmers and not just laborers. For most development agencies working in the state’s agriculture sector, the word farmer is synonymous with a man. Women farmers, especially those in the state’s tribal regions, remain unnoticed. Flying under the radar, women miss out on valuable opportunities to use and learn new technologies that can help reduce their drudgery. Besides, most agricultural machines are designed with the assumption that men will be the end users, so even when women access to these machines, they sometimes find the machines cumbersome or unusable. Numerous complementary schemes introduced to benefit farmers also often fail to recognize women’s needs and circumstances; the Kisan Credit Card, for example, is allotted based on land patta (legal record of rights), but women mostly do not have land in their name.

Fostering Community Support

Against this backdrop, PRADAN is working with women to make collectives or self-help groups (SHGs) that foster the unity and support of their peers to address different life and livelihood issues such as gender, sanitation and agriculture. Besides sharing relevant success stories and examples, the group also helps women prepare seasonal agricultural plans; understand the importance of different inputs like seed, fertilizer and irrigation; access loans from the SHG/bank; connect with different government departments and provide the necessary knowledge and skills to be successful.

PRADAN also helps women identify the major drudgery-prone agricultural activities and gain access to relevant drudgery-reducing technologies, as well as access improved technologies to store their produce and establish the necessary market linkages to sell it. The objective is to involve women from the start of planning to the sale of the crop.

To achieve this goal PRADAN partners with local women’s federations, such as Sampurna and Swayamsiddha, who serve as the main grassroots-level partners who facilitate the actual social mobilization and technology adoption process among community members. Eventually, PRADAN will remove itself from this equation after having equipped the women with the tools to have greater control over their own agricultural decisions, activities and investments.

A Common Goal

As an example, PRADAN has been working with 37 households and three women’s SHGs in the remote forested village of Kanthikana in Jashipur block for the last six years. The major livelihood activities in the village, which is dominated by the Santhal tribe, are the collection of non-timber forest products and agriculture. This year, while planning their agriculture and other livelihood-supporting activities in their respective SHGs, it emerged that women had expanded the area under agriculture and had introduced new crops into their cropping systems. The SHGs provided financial credit to the women but they needed proper technological support in order to manage larger-scale cropping.

With support from PRADAN and CSISA, the women’s groups planted maize using garden seeders on 10 acres, undertook line sowing of rice in 5 acres, introduced sahbhagi dhan (a rice variety) to all families in the SHGs and facilitated three families to use manual spreaders for seed and fertilizer application. These interventions also allowed women to take up off-season vegetables like tomatoes and other creepers on 6 acres of land. As a result, all 37 families learnt new technologies and women were able to lead on these efforts, receiving direct training and sharing their knowledge with family members.

This collaboration is an example of how PRADAN and CSISA, together with local federations, are supporting women in agriculture by introducing relevant innovative technologies and practices and educating women on modern practices like zero tillage, seed-cum-fertilizer drills, timely application of herbicides and appropriate-scale mechanization. Participating women attained higher yields, reduced their drudgery and established themselves as successful farmers.

The article is authored by Satish Patnaik, Team Coordinator (Mayurbhanj, Odisha) for PRADAN, a national level Civil Society Organization working in seven Indian states with around 3,00,000 women (where each woman represents one family) with a vision of a just and equitable society with change in human conditions. In Odisha, PRADAN through its 52 executives, is working in six districts – namely Kandhamal, Rayagada, Koraput, Kalahandi, Keonjhar and Mayurbhanj – with 55,000 poor families.

Breaking Ground – Women Farmers in the Hills of Nepal Benefit from Scale-Appropriate Mechanization

Posted on Nepal-news, News - Homepage, December 11, 2014

Laxmi Khadka is a progressive farmer based in Nepal’s Dadeldhura district. She lives with her husband, two sons and daughter. Their farm is a mixed crop – livestock enterprise where they cultivate upland rice, wheat, maize and vegetables. In the mid-hills of Nepal, seasonal and semi-permanent male outmigration occurs at one of the highest rates in the world, which creates labor bottlenecks that erode profitability and compromise the timing of key agricultural operations.

Learning How to operate Minitiller_GangaAt present, Laxmi spends most of her time tending to her agricultural fields and livestock and struggles to balance her farm work with the needs of her family. Across the mid-hills, the burden of farm management is falling increasingly on women household members like Laxmi who stay behind. Further, the number of bullocks has declined precipitously, which also delays key farm operations like ploughing. For both reasons, the niche for scale-appropriate mechanization is strong but beyond the reach and current experience of most farmers.

In Laxmi’s community, CSISA introduced the mini tiller as a low-cost option for rural traction and identified a group-based service provision model to recoup costs and share the technology across the village. Although initially apprehensive, community members quickly realized that the mini tiller saves time and money and Laxmi observed she was able to plant her maize with the onset of spring rains as she didn’t need to wait to hire labor or bullocks.

“From now on, we will not have to depend on the men for ploughing,” said Laxmi.

Farmers observed that it can be difficult to carry the mini tiller from one terrace to another, especially when terraces are at different heights and separated by bunds. These small problems have been solved through the collective action of the group with 2–3 farmers coordinating planting and machinery transportation from field-to-field. Farmers have also learned that operation of the mini tiller is relatively easy with most women trained in the technology by CSISA expressing and demonstrating confidence in its operation.

With timely planting assured with the mini tiller, Laxmi was also eager to evaluate additional productivity-enhancing technologies and planted maize hybrids for the first time in 2014. Her productivity levels tripled from 2013 and she produced a marketable surplus (30% of production) that was an important source of income for her family.

A Bottomless Basket or a Basket of Food?

Posted on Bangladesh-news, News - Homepage, December 11, 2014

The US Ambassador to Bangladesh, Dan Mozena, noted that Bangladesh has left behind the label of a bottomless basket – as former US National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger once called it – and is showing improvement in many aspects, especially in the field of agriculture. He was impressed to see the change in harvesting methods among farmers of Fulbaria village in Mirpur upazila (sub-district) of Kushtia, Bangladesh.

CSISA MIInvited by the Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE) in May to visit the Go Green Project of Hridoye Maati o Manush Program (soil and men in heart), Ambassador Mozena made use of the occasion to also visit the CSISA-Mechanization and Irrigation (CSISA-MI) project, which is partnered with DAE. At the CSISA-MI project site in Fulbaria village, Ambassador Mozena witnessed a demonstration of one of the newest agri-technologies in Bangladesh – the reaper machine. As part of the CSISA-MI promoted agri-machineries, the reaper allows rapid harvesting and subsequent replanting of the next crop within the recommended planting window. It also allows farmers to save money on labor, the prices of which tend to increase drastically during harvest season, while freeing up time for other activities. In addition to DAEas the public sector partner, CSISA-MI has also partnered with machine manufacturer ACI to import and sell the reaper in Bangladesh.

The ambassador was pleased to see that farmer Abdur Rahman hired the services of Md. Rabiul Islam, a local service provider (LSP) to use the reaper for harvesting his rice field. Rabiul informed Ambassador Mozena that the cost of the ACI reaper is BDT 1,85,000 (US$ 2,370), adding that the utilization of the machine has proven to be profitable. “Earlier, I had to engage four day-laborers at a price of BDT 1,200 (US$ 15.49) per bigha (0.06 hectares) of land, but now with the reaper I only spend BDT 600 (US$ 7.74) per bigha.”

Responding to the ambassador’s query on how much he was charging farmers for the services of his reaper, Rabiul said, “I charge BDT 600 (US$7.74) per bigha and my cost to run the machine is only BDT 100 (US$ 1.29).” The reaper now provides Rabiul a valuable additional source of income to supplement his earnings from the power tiller, pump and small amount of land.

The ambassador noted that the use of the reaper has reduced the harvesting cost for the farmers and also benefits the service providers. Congratulating CSISA-MI for its efforts in promoting modern agricultural technologies, hesaid, “The farmers are changing their practices and along with them the country is changing and advancing. This Bangladesh is not a bottomless basket; this is a basket overflowing with food.”

Launched in Bangladesh in 2013 under US President Obama’s Feed the Future Initiative, CSISA-MI seeks to transform agriculture in southern Bangladesh by unlocking the potential productivity of the region’s farmers during the dry season, while conserving the land’s ability to produce quality crops in the long term through surface water irrigation, efficient agricultural machinery and local service provision.

Improved Hybrid Maize Cultivation Enhances Productivity and Food Security for Tribal Farmers in Odisha

Posted on News - Homepage, News & Announcements, December 9, 2014

Hybrid maize

Of the 437,000 hectares of cultivated land in Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district, nearly 50 percent is classified as upland area. The district’s plateau region, which holds the major share of this upland area remains fallow throughout the year. Some farmers grow short duration paddy during the rainy season every alternate year, but the output remains very low. The tribal farmers growing maize have also met with little success. Without the proper support and guidance on good agronomic practices, the yields are as low as 1.5 tons to 2 tons per hectare.

The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) has been working with tribal farmers to help them overcome these challenges by promoting adoption of low-cost, best-bet agronomic practices that increase productivity and reduce cost of cultivation besides also establishing market linkages with appropriate buyers to help increase their net profit.

Chaitanya majhi (1)

Chaitanya Majhi

Exponential gains
For the last 10 years, 41-year-old Chaitanya Majhi, a physically disadvantaged tribal farmer from Kasipal village, has grown maize on 1.5 acres of land using traditional agricultural practices. Last year, Majhi only managed to earn a net profit of Rs. 13,000 (US$ 210) having invested Rs. 8,000 (US$ 129). Majhi’s field had poor plant population since he used a country plow for sowing, did not account for appropriate spacing, practiced poor nutrient management and wasn’t aware of proper weed management techniques.

This year, however, he received training and assistance from CSISA to cultivate hybrid maize on the same patch of land using modern agronomic practices. He sowed in a line using a seed drill and at the right time, used herbicides and applied fertilizers at the right time and in the right amount. Instead of the standard 1 ton per acre that he was accustomed to, Majhi’s field this year produced 2.2 tons per acre. So, with an investment of Rs. 15,750 (US$ 254) he was able to earn a net profit of Rs. 56,800 (US$ 917) – by doubling his investment he has more than quadrupled his income. Majhi is definitely convinced but seeing his success other farmers in his village are also keen to adopt modern maize cultivation practices next season.

Recognizing potential
In a village not too far from Majhi’s, a women’s self-help group (SHG) is also convinced.

The 12 women that comprise the Jay Maa Ambica SHG from Nua-Deogaon village used to rely on work through an intermediary for the local Anganwadi center (government run pre-schools) to supplement their existing incomes. But when that intermediary left, the group lost this valuable source of additional income with which they could more effectively support their families.

Initially when CSISA suggested that they try collective maize farming on the 5 acres of land that their members owned they weren’t entirely convinced – not least because this land had not been cultivated in the last five years. But with a little motivation, and a lot of their own determination, they agreed. After land preparation using a tractor, they purchased 40 kg of hybrid maize seed from the state’s Department of Agriculture, which they sowed in a line using a seed drill provided by CSISA.

Today, it’s hard for them to imagine how they could ever have been apprehensive. Their investment of Rs. 34,000 (US$ 549) has been already recovered from the sale of 35 quintals of green cob. They’re looking now to earn an extra Rs. 60,000 (US$ 969) by selling 50 quintals of dry grain. And that’s not even their total produce. Beside the financial gains they have achieved, their families have also consumed nearly 5 quintals of the maize during the rainy season – an especially critical time in the region when food security is threatened. Further, these women farmers have also utilized the maize straw as feed for their cattle.

It’s not surprising that other women SHGs and their fellow villagers are now asking them a lot of questions on how they too could practice collective maize farming next season.

Mahfuza Finds New Respect from Her Family and Community

Posted on Bangladesh-news, News - Homepage, July 21, 2014

Mahfuza transformed her underutilized homestead pond and dike into a productive and profitable farm. Now her husband and village community see her with new respect.

“I was never seen as an income earner; rather, I was thought to be a person who loves to look after her family, cook food and take care of livestock, which amounted to my prime responsibilities,” says Mahfuza Rahman, a farmer from Akain village in Faridpur district, Bangladesh. “Now I feel proud of my success in aquaculture and vegetable production in my homestead and pond dike.”Photo-Mahfuza-Faridpur

Mahfuza’s story began when she met with WorldFish staff working in her village for the USAID funded CSISA in Bangladesh in 2012. The project was offering training on household based pond aquaculture and vegetable farming for homestead gardens and pond dikes. Knowing she had the resources within her reach, Mahfuza was interested  in the project training to help improve the productivity of the 15 decimal pond attached to her homestead.

Mahfuza’s husband is involved in other agricultural activities and is a painter in the town. He accepted her desire to improve the productivity of their homestead pond, but with some scepticism. “My husband initially did not really trust my ability, but now he is very delighted in my efforts and outcomes,” she explained. With his support, she registered with the CSISA-BD project and began attending training sessions with 24 women from her village.

During the training she learned new farming and pond management techniques including the importance of producing nutrient-rich foods, such as orange sweet potatoes and mola, a nutritious small fish. The women learned how to cultivate mola together with carp, and how to grow orange sweet potatoes with a wide range of other vegetables along the banks of their ponds.

After applying these new technologies for 10 months, with the help of her husband (who mainly supported her with finance, input access and marketing), Mahfuza produced 223 kilograms (kg) of carp and 26 kg of mola. The yield was enough to both feed her family of five and fetch BDT 15,700 (USD 204) in sales at the local market.

“I never generated more than 165kg of fish from this pond for the last five years, but she almost doubled the production within a year,” said Mahfuza’s husband, Ershadur Rahman. “In the past, we had to consume fish irregularly – no more than – once a week, and that too was mainly bought from the local market. However, this year, raising mola facilitated frequent consumption from our own pond,” he adds.

Mahfuza’s involvement in a non-traditional job outside of her role as a housewife helped to boost her confidence and her husband’s belief in her.

“Despite my impressive success, my husband wouldn’t allow me to join a workshop alone in the district and accompanied me,” explains Mahfuza. “However, when I explained my experience with full proficiency to an audience of about 150 at a farmers’ field day, he was very impressed. Since then, he never insists on accompanying me to any meetings or workshops,” she said.

Mahfuza’s success has been recognized throughout the community, and many people, especially women, often come to her and request her support.

Story by: Rupan Kumar Basak, Md. Ershadul Islam and Afrina Choudhury

Read more success stories of women farmers in Bangladesh

Watch Video: Fish for food, food for fish

 

CSISA Promotes Maize Triple Cropping in Nepal

Posted on Nepal-news, News - Homepage, June 11, 2014

Nepali woman farmer in her maize fieldIn the western Terai plain of Nepal, farmers typically grow no more than two crops per year and there is a spring fallow period in between winter crop harvesting and rice planting that remains fallow. This fallow period is particularly long in areas where potato is cultivated.

At places where irrigation water is available and timely harvest of the winter crop takes place, maize can be grown and marketed either as ‘green cob’ for the fresh market or, in some cases, grown to maturity to produce dry grain. Since no crops are displaced when a farmer transitions from double to triple cropping systems, the income generated by this third season is purely profit. Nevertheless, cropping in this period is uncommon and better-bet management recommendations for promising crops like maize are lacking.

Starting in 2013, CSISA-Nepal initiated a series of participatory research trials in farmer’s fields to determine optimum management practices for maize in order to encourage triple cropping and to generate income. On-farm trials demonstrate that spring maize can be immensely remunerative, with returns exceeding $1,000/ha.

However, profitability is highly dependent on irrigation investments and farmers can incur losses with excess application of irrigation water. Returns are also highly dependent on the selection of the right cultivar, with maximum profits declining to less than $50/ha with open-pollinated varieties.

In addition to sound agronomic advice, expansion of spring maize area in the Nepali Terai will be bolstered by closer linkages between maize processing mills and small famers as well as the introduction of labor saving technologies such as maize shellers to reduce drudgery. CSISA is working with the KISAN project to commercialize small-scale machinery and to improve linkages between farmers and markets.

 

Best Bets for the Wheat Season in Bihar and Eastern Uttar Pradesh

Posted on News - Homepage, News & Announcements, June 11, 2014

At the end of the Rabi 2013-14 wheat season, CSISA’s hubs in Bihar and Eastern Uttar Pradesh demonstrated the impact of better agronomy Public Harvestingmanagement by organising public wheat harvesting events to showcase the yield advantages of early wheat sowing in combination with zero tillage and new wheat varieties.

Most of these events were organised from 4- 11April and were attended by farmers and officials from the Departments of Agriculture (DoA) in Bihar and Eastern UP. Wheat was harvested from large plot sizes ranging between 1 and 3 acres. These events help in engaging grassroots workers such as block agriculture officers, subject matter specialists and farm advisors (Krishi Salahakars), to show them the virtues of better bet agronomy. They also help to persuade the district agriculture officers and joint directors of agriculture to make the case to policymakers that early sowing and zero tillage of wheat should be accelerated.

Wheat yields harvested from five sites in Eastern UP (Harpur, Pokharbinda, East Champaran, Hasanpur Pipra and Devpokhar) were 6.0, 6.5, 6.5, 6.0 and 6.7tonnes/ha, respectively. The impressive yields from wheat harvested from six sites in Bihar (Begahi, Matlupur, Manda, Naola, Hanspur and Rajapur villages) were 6.4, 5.8, 6.2, 6.8, 5.7 and 6.0 tonnes/ha, respectively. Out of 11 public harvesting events, the grain yield with best management averaged around 6.0 tonnes/ha. All fields where these events were organised were sown between 31st October and 15th November, were planted using zero tillage technology and long duration varieties were planted, with focus on HD 2967, which is a newly released variety. Better bet agronomic management was followed.

After watching the crop harvest taking place in Rajapur village (Buxor, Bihar), farmers said “this crop is as good as in Punjab.” After completing the harvest in Naola village (Begusarai, Bihar), the combine harvester operator described it as “the best field he ever harvested in the area.”

Wheat crops sown early appear to hold advantages in the number of tillers and number of grains per ear head, and were physiologically mature at the start of terminal heat. The crop seemed to withstand the adverse effect of a sudden rise in temperature starting from 27th March this year. CSISA’s experience is that even if the grain yield stays statistically similar, the sowing done after 15 November is vulnerable to the vagaries of terminal heat.

CSISA is aiming to develop consensus among extension agencies around the need for early wheat sowing under zero tillage, which could be the engine of yield growth in Bihar and Eastern UP. With consistently higher yields under these management practices than under conventional (late sowing) practices, CSISA believes that the area under early sowing and zero tillage will keep rising and farmers and their wheat yields will benefit.

India’s Rural Employment Guarantee Act: Taking Stock, Looking Ahead

Posted on News - Homepage, News & Announcements, May 22, 2014

India’s Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) is an influential law passed in 2006 to guarantee any rural Beushani (2)household up to 100 days per year of public works employment within 15 kilometers of their residence paid at state-level minimum wages. Introduced with the aim of increasing rural incomes, helping villages to accumulate assets and strengthening local government institutions, NREGA is now in its ninth year of implementation. But with national elections now completed and new governments taking office at the federal and state levels, there are new concerns about whether or how NREGA can continue to evolve in playing a role in India’s efforts to reduce rural poverty.

The potential for NREGA to catalyze change in rural India remains significant, particularly in the risk-prone agro-ecologies covered by CSISA. NREGA was thus the focus of a major policy conference convened in Mumbai on 26-28 March by the Indira Gandhi Institute for Development Research, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and Cornell University, with funding from the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie). The specific aim of the conference was to evaluate the state of knowledge about NREGA’s impacts, achievements and shortcomings, while also exploring how NREGA might renew its focus or adapt to changing realities moving forward.

CSISA was represented at this conference by P.K. Joshi, IFPRI’s director for South Asia, and by Anil K. Bhargava, a collaborator from the University of California Davis who has been working closely with IFPRI and CSISA since 2011. Bhargava’s paper, “The Impact of India’s Rural Employment Guarantee on Demand for Agricultural Technology,” focused on how small and marginal farmers in India are impacted by NREGA.

The paper suggests that, because the program focuses on employing the poorest rural workers on (mostly) irrigation-related infrastructure, the price of unskilled labor may have increased to the point where some farmers shift production practices towards labor-saving inputs and technologies and away from water-related ones, at least in the short run. To the extent that these inputs and technologies increase agricultural productivity, rural laborers may eventually see more skilled agricultural work available in the long-run at higher wages, provided workers are able to increase their education and develop their skills.

Collaborating with other NREGA researchers from the conference, Bhargava will be evaluating new data on production, technology and labor markets to demonstrate long-run impacts of NREGA. Joshi, Bhargava and other researchers who attended the conference discussed the metrics on which NREGA should be evaluated, as well as evidence centering on NREGA’s implementation, impact and unintended consequences.

The conference also included presentations from beneficiaries who shared individual stories of empowerment, respect and gender equality outcomes from the program that are hard to capture in broad, data-driven analyses. Program administrators and social auditors presented their state-level experiences, successes and challenges liaising between beneficiaries and government institutions, including ideas for moving forward with NREGA on state-specific strengths. The conference closed with a synthesis of perspective on NREGA’s achievements and shortcomings.

Looking forward, many participants — including NREGA’s own architects and implementers — agreed that much more had been accomplished since inception than the program is often given credit for, although there is still much to be done.

Written by Anil K. Bhargava, University of California, Davis and David J. Spielman, IFPRI

Innovations That Will Give Small Farmers Advantage in India’s Risk-Prone Ecologies

Posted on News - Homepage, News & Announcements, May 20, 2014

IMG_3943Picture a rice farmer taking soil samples with a handheld meter to gauge nutrient and moisture needs, calibrating planting along plot contours with GPS-guided tools, placing rice in precise rows using a mechanical transplanter, and doing this with the backing of reliable, customized financing.

Although it seems far-fetched, this future could be nearer than we imagine and it was the focus at a roundtable on “Sustainable Intensification in South Asia’s Cereal Systems: Investment Strategies for Productivity Growth, Resource Conservation, and Climate Risk Management” held on May 19 in New Delhi.

The roundtable brought together 20 of India’s leading firms and entrepreneurs in the agriculture sector: ITC, John Deere, Mahyco, and Claro Energy Systems, to name but a few. Their objective was to explore solutions—innovative products, services, and business models—for India’s risk-prone ecologies. These are the ecologies concentrated in India’s underserved but emerging agricultural markets in Bihar, eastern Uttar Pradesh, and Odisha. In these places, farmers were passed over by the Green Revolution and still struggle with acute weather and price risk.

Read the full article here.

New Rice Planting Technique Scores a Hit among Tribal Farmers in Odisha

Posted on India-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, May 7, 2014

In 2013, CSISA partnered with the Department of Agriculture (DoA) of Odisha state to introduce mechanical transplanting of rice and community mat nursery production in tribal areas of the state. The pilot’s success has spread enthusiasm in the community for these technologies and could help to alleviate constraints associated with labor availability, labor costs and the costs of rice production.IMG_8832

Sabirti Nayak, a tribal farmer from Badjod village, would often face labor shortages during peak manual transplanting time, when she needed additional help planting rice seedlings in her fields. Like other farmers in her village, she was growing rice using the traditional method where seeds are first germinated in a nursery and then rice seedlings are manually transplanted into the fields, a practice that is both labor and cost intensive.

This year, she tried a new way of rice planting with support from CSISA and the Odisha DoA. In collaboration with fellow farmers in her village, she first raised a mat nursery for rice seedlings and transplanted the seedlings into the field using a mechanical rice transplanter.

Sabriti said, “I generally suffer from skin problems after working in wet fields for nursery preparation, uprooting the seedlings and transplanting. This new method is good for health and I avoided skin infections in this season.” Sabriti, along with other farmers from her village, attended a meeting on mechanical transplanting in November 2013 with the CSISA team and government extension workers, where she learned about the benefits of this new method over the traditional practice.

Mechanical transplanting, as it is popularly known, is new in Odisha’s tribal district of Mayurbhanj, where many farmers still practice traditional methods of growing rice. Last year, CSISA and the Odisha DoA launched an initiative to popularize mechanical transplanting in the district. Following the meeting, 40 farmers from the district, including Sabriti, decided to adopt this technology and attend a CSISA on-site training in January.

Since the paddy transplanter machine was not locally available, CSISA supported a progressive farmer, Chinmay Naik, in his purchase of transplanting machine. He now provides transplanting services to his fellow farmers. A mat nursery was planted in an area with assured irrigation and level topography and planting was staggered in order to produce seedlings of different ages. Farmers had initially planned to cultivate a community mat nursery for transplanting onto 40 acres of paddy field, but after seeing the ease of preparation and lower costs, they increased the coverage area to 80 acres. Once mechanical transplanting started, farmers began to see the results. The demand increased as they found that using 15-day old seedlings and wider plant spacing was resulting in good plant growth and increased tillering. Chinmay bought an additional transplanter and was able to service 100 acres, belonging to 120 farmers.

During the community nursery phase, CSISA trained seven female farmers and 10 male farmers to serve as nursery providers for the next season. As the data on final yields are coming in, farmers have provided early feedback that mechanical transplanting has led to good plant populations and easy weeding due to line transplanting. Sabriti said, “With this new technique, we can save labor costs of about US$ 50 per acre.”

Watch the video on Nursery Management in Rice Cultivation (in Oriya)

 

Today’s Service Providers, Tomorrow’s Rural Entrepreneurs

Posted on India-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, May 7, 2014

During the last two years, CSISA has facilitated more than 1,300 farmers in Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh to become service providers and has built their capacities through trainings on conservation agriculture, small-scale mechanization, post-harvest technologies, and business development services. CSISA is now aiming to help them become rural entrepreneurs providing multiple services through a “single window”.

zero till machineThe eastern Indo-Gangetic Plains, in which CSISA hubs of Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh (UP) operate, are on the verge of a second Green Revolution, this time driven by agronomic management rather than varieties. The pace at which new innovations are reaching farmers has been accelerated through CSISA’s creation of a network of service providers (SPs), linked with CSISA’s partner agencies and empowered through a variety of tailored capacity-building efforts.

The concept of custom-hire service began evolving as farmers started purchasing conservation agriculture machines including zero-till seed drills, laser land levellers, rice transplanters, bed planters and threshing machines. These farmers become SPs when they provide mechanized services to other farmers including smallholder and poor farmers who cannot afford to purchase machines on their own.

During the last two years, CSISA has facilitated more than 1,300 farmers to become SPs and has been building their capacities through trainings on relevant knowledge and skills, such as conservation agriculture and small-scale machinery.

In 19 districts across Bihar and eastern UP, CSISA has been playing a critical role in facilitating a shift in the way new agricultural technologies are delivered. After creating a network of SPs, CSISA links them with the Department of Agriculture (DOA) and a variety of important private sector actors. CSISA also demonstrates that yield stagnation can be resolved through agronomic management, not only the replacement of varieties.

A survey of service providers done by CSISA in Bihar and eastern UP has found that subsidy-based interventions helped farmers to acquire new machines, but often farmers’ lack of knowledge about how to use the machines forced many farmers to abandon them. In this scenario, a strong network of SPs enables farmers to adopt mechanization not only to intensify their cropping systems but also to improve their productivity by undertaking the timely seeding and harvesting of crops.

The survey also showed that SPs are well-positioned to deliver new technologies in part because they represent the same communities they are serving, and because they can reduce the transaction costs associated with adopting new technologies.

Based on data from 2013-14 from 52 zero-till service providers, the average net profit was US$360/year without any subsidy on the machine. Profit increased to US$456 and US$533/year with a subsidy of US$322 and US$645 per machine, respectively. The paddy thresher SPs earned an average net profit of US$1,036/year without subsidy and US$1,326/year on a machine subsidy of US$968. In the long-run, SPs can stay competitive without machine subsidies.

Talking about the entrepreneurial energy among the SPs in the districts where CSISA works, R.K. Malik, the Objective Leader for CSISA’s hub-based activities (including Bihar and eastern UP), said, “It is expected that in the future SPs will complement their farm machinery-based services with knowledge-based services including input supply and extension services for crop management”.

CSISA aims to encourage some SPs to become small-scale rural entrepreneurs providing multiple services through a “single window” and market-oriented service approach. Malik added that SPs will be able to complement the extension services provided through the state’s DOA, and enable farmers to more quickly adopt new technologies and management practices.

Small Machines, Big Yield

Posted on News - Homepage, News & Announcements, May 7, 2014

The US Ambassador to Bangladesh, Dan Mozena recently visited Laharhat Char of Tungibaria union in southern Bangladesh to see CSISA-MI activities. He highlighted that small machines are beneficial to increase yield and reduce production cost for the marginal farmers in chars.

Farmers of Tungibaria union in Barisal Sadar Upazila are cultivating wheat using the Power Tiller Operated Seeder (PTOS) machine and Axial Flow Pump (AFP), a new practice that is four times more profitable than their traditional practice of cultivating low-yielding crops such as peas and lentils. PTOS allows farmers to prepare the land, sow seed and spread fertilizer simultaneously, boosting planting precision and saving labor costs. AFP is an inexpensive ‘off-the-shelf’ surface water irrigation technology that reduces fuel consumption for surface water pumping — and thus irrigation costs — by up to 50 percent.US Amb Wheat field

Local farmers shared their experiences with the US Ambassador to Bangladesh, Dan Mozena during his visit to Laharhat Char (inner-island) of Tungibaria union on 28 February. “For the past three years, farmers have switched to growing wheat because higher yields can be obtained and the market price for wheat grain is better than lentil,” said Darbesh Farazi, one of the farmers.

Commenced in Bangladesh in 2013, under President Obama’s Feed the Future (FtF) Initiative, CSISA-MI is led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in partnerships with iDE. The project seeks to transform agriculture in southern Bangladesh by unlocking the potential productivity of the region’s farmers during the dry season, while conserving that land’s ability to produce quality crops in the long-term, through surface water irrigation, efficient agricultural machinery and local service provision.

At Laharhat Char, Ambassador Mozena came across the distinct visual difference between mechanized and conventional practices of farmers of the area. The Ambassador learned about the need for using scientific machinery and precise fertilizer application practices in wheat cultivation and the extra profit that can result from innovative technologies. Used in tandem, small machines like the PTOS and AFP can help ensure the optimum use of fertilizers, reduce costs and lead to higher yields, a huge benefit for the marginal farmers of southern Bangladesh’s chars, the Ambassador said.

“In the first year, only two farmers cultivated wheat in the char. Other farmers were impressed with the higher yield and formed a 13-member group to expand the cultivation coverage”, said farmer Rahim Khan. Laharhat Char, still uninhabited, was formed from a sand bar in the main river about 30 years ago. Farmers initially seeded wheat in this land by broadcasting with little knowledge of the right fertilizer rates to use. He shared that using the PTOS to till and seed, timely application of AFP to irrigate the cultivated land, exercising recommended amount of fertilizer resulted in increased yield and reduced production cost. “This season, comparing to lentil, we expect to have a net profit of US $258 per hectare from wheat production,” said Rahim.

Kamal Mallik, another local farmer told Mozena, “Earlier, lentil production was around 600 kilograms per 0.40 hectare, but now it seems that wheat production will be around 1,000 kilograms from the same parcel of land; and the net profit is expected to be US $77.25”.

Other farmers were so impressed with the crop growth and reduction in planting costs that they hired the LSP to plant additional fields. From this year they have moved to sow wheat in lines by a PTOS operated by a local service provider, using the appropriate fertilizer rates and applying fertilizer using an AFP.

During the visit, the Ambassador also stopped at an agricultural fair where CSISA-MI was promoting agricultural machinery. There he met local service providers, machinery dealers, local agriculture department staff, agricultural scientists and CSISA-MI staff. At this event, Mamun Chowdhury, a service provider for PTOS in Laharhat Char, shared that he bought the PTOS for its multiple, simultaneous functions and high levels of precision. “This season, using the seeder, I have provided services to around 55 farmers and have earned around 50% more than the previous season when my service tool was the traditional power tiller,” said Chowdhury adding that he is aiming to extend his business by sowing wheat and irrigating adjacent chars that have been fallow in previous years.

CSISA-MI has partnered with large private sector companies, like RFL-Pran and ACI, to leverage its outcomes in the field. RFL and ACI collectively invested over $600,000 of their own funds to scale up access to agricultural machinery. Over 2,500 hectares of land in southern Bangladesh are now under the new machineries, in less than six months since the project began.

To reduce purchase risk and facilitate future adoption of the technologies, CSISA-MI introduced a cost discount model, a joint venture agreement in collaboration with the companies’ dealers. It offers vouchers to the LSPs, which makes the PTOS and AFP financially attractive.

“This is only the first year of marketing the AFP; we expect that next year the pump’s demand will double. The seeder will need three to five years to take over the market. People don’t know or understand much about the seeder as there was no such machine earlier, more seeder demonstrations will help increase its demand.” said Syed Md. Asraf, Director of Machinery Stores, one of the AFP dealers of RFL-Pran in Barsal.

Improved Feeding for Better Dairy Production

Posted on News - Homepage, Trainings and Events, May 7, 2014

CSISA’s partner, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), recently conducted training programs on dairy cattle feeding management in the Indian states of Odisha and Bihar. The trainings focused on improving the nutritional benefits of crop residues and demonstrated the benefits of new feeding strategies for improving the milk productivity of dairy cattle.

Adoption of New Agricultural Technologies: Evidence from Field Experiments in Rural India

Posted on India-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, May 7, 2014

Agricultural development is largely dependent upon technological innovations that increase or enhance agricultural productivity. Despite the heralded benefits of many new agricultural technologies, their widespread adoption is often slow.

Slow uptake of new technologies may be due to supply-side constraints; large, fixed costs; or difficulties in learning about their relative benefits. IMG_3943The lack of key information about a technology’s benefits may be especially relevant for technologies such as abiotic stress-tolerant cultivars, which may not show benefits under all degrees of stress.

Adoption can be constrained by the uncertainty that arises due to both risk and ambiguity. Some factors that influence adoption decisions may not be directly visible, such as farmer preferences regarding uncertainty. Farmers in developing countries face a wide range of uncertainty, not the least of which arises from climate variability, including droughts. Droughts represent one of the most pressing constraints to rice production in rainfed environments.

Risks and Ambiguity

Risk arises because, while almost all new agricultural technologies tout increases in mean productivity, many perform optimally only under certain conditions, such as with precise additions of complementary inputs. Deviations from these conditions may result in reduced yield benefits vis-´a-vis the traditional technology and increased variance. Many farmers may dislike these risks and prefer more traditional technologies with less variable outcomes.

Ambiguity, on the other hand, arises because new technologies are unknown and unproven in the minds of prospective adopters, who generally do not know the yield distribution of the new technology. While this ambiguity makes it difficult for farmers to formulate profit expectations, farmers may also have apprehensions due to insufficient information, which may influence behavior and decision-making.

In a recent IFPRI Discussion Paper, selected as Best Paper from among 86 competing presentations at the recently held 4th International Conference on Applied Econometrics in March 2014 in Hyderabad, CSISA researchers Patrick Ward and Vartika Singh measure and analyze various behavioral parameters related to decision-making under uncertainty collected through field experiments in rural India. The experimental design allows for the identification of several different behavioral parameters, including risk, ambiguity and loss aversion and individuals’ tendency to weigh disproportionately the probability of rare events when making decisions.

Researchers conducted a series of five experiments, each comprising a set of choices between two options with different real payouts. Specifically, they observed that risk aversion alone does not sufficiently describe individuals’ behavior, but individuals have a tendency to weigh outcomes differently and demonstrate aversion to potential losses.

Disaggregating by gender, the research found that women are both significantly more risk averse and loss averse than men.

Farmers Willing to Adopt the New, Risk-reducing Variety

When they studied preferences for drought tolerant (DT) rice, the researchers observed that farmers’ risk and loss aversion interact with their perceptions about the potential risks and losses associated with the new seeds.

Unlike other new agricultural technologies, which may increase expected yields at the expense of increased variability, DT rice actually reduces overall yield variability and provides protection against downside risks, at least up to a certain level of drought stress. Both risk aversion and loss aversion significantly increase the probability that farmers will choose the newer DT variety seeds over their status quo seed (the seed they cultivated in the previous Kharif) since the additional value given by DT paddy is more compared to other paddy.

Therefore, the role of risk and ambiguity preferences seems straightforward when it comes to a technology like DT rice, since the technology provides benefits specifically targeted to farmers addressing climate-related risks and potential losses. However, considerable scope remains to explore the role of risk and ambiguity preferences on other agricultural technologies or farm management practices, especially ones in which the benefits are less visible in the physical product.

Local Ingenuity Multiplies Intervention

Posted on Bangladesh-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, April 10, 2014

Like many other farmers of Bangladesh, forty-year-old Ashim Halder of Batiaghata Upazila in Khulna is also skilled in carpentry, Ashim Halderearning extra money on the side by offering carpentry services to neighbors. This ability turned out for Ashim to be the key to innovate a wooden seed plate for the Bed Planter. Besides maize and wheat, the machine now also works for Sunflower seed plantation.

The Bed Planter is a new piece of technology introduced by USAID’s CSISA-MI project. The machine, marketed by agricultural retailer ACI, allows Local Service Providers (LSPs) like Halder to add seed to the farms as they plow – drastically increasing the rate at which land is prepared and the value of their services.

“I wanted to plant Sunflower with this machine, but it had no plate for Sunflower seed. They (CSISA-MI) said it’ll take two weeks to research on this. But by that time, plantation time would be over. So, I thought to try… within hours and after few trial and errors, I made the plate,” says Halder, describing how his innovation improved the Bed Planter and saved him from waiting till next Sunflower season.

Halder purchased the machine under the voucher scheme of CSISA-MI. “It cost 10,000 taka (US $128.62)… though the actual price is 40,000 taka (US $514.47). For this, I have to cultivate at least 8.1 hectares of land by this season (April). I already cultivated around 6.5 hectares. Once I fulfill the condition, I plan to cultivate another 2.0 hectares this season.”

Last season, at least 10 laborers were needed to cultivate and plant seed for a 0.1 hectares plot. This season, Halder has not only saved this cost, but his fuel and seed costs are actually half. Female members of his family are also relieved from a large work load. “Before (in plantation) at least 10 laborers used to work for a week. The women had to cook and serve meals three times a day for the laborers. In comparison, they are quite relaxed now,” says one of the female neighbors of Halder.

CSISA-MI’s innovation, combined with Halder’s hard work and ingenuity, are already improving lives of farmers and LSPs as labor scarcity is high in the rural as well as not affordable for smallholder farmers. It also contributing to increase production during dry season in the region.

Farmers in western Nepal excited about new spring maize varieties by CSISA-Nepal

Posted on Nepal-news, News - Homepage, News & Announcements, September 19, 2013

In Terai, farmers were initially skeptical about growing maize in the dry spring period, with one farmer’s wife berating him for sowing maize on land she thought they should grow a fodder crop on. By about two months after planting, she was delightedly admitting being wrong, and showing visitors their maize field, with both the farmer’s variety and a hybrid, both under farmer management and recommended nutrient and establishment practices. All hybrids tested yielded at least 2 t/ha more than the farmer’s open pollinated variety (OPV), Arun-2 — which also yielded over 1 t/ha more with improved management than under typical farmer management.

Arun-2 (L) and hybrid (R) at Kanchanpur site in the far-west

Arun-2 (L) and hybrid (R) at Kanchanpur site in the far-west

Yields of the Rajkumar hybrid that farmers voiced early preference for were often doubled, at over 10 t/ha with just 3 irrigations. Hybrid yields under farmer management were comparable to or better than OPV yields under best practices, leading several farmers to state that they wanted to expand spring maize area next year and plant the Rajkumar hybrid by line-sowing as introduced by CSISA-NP rather than the traditional practice of broadcasting: they said that although initial time for line-sowing might be high, applying irrigation and weeding were cheaper and easier in the line-sown plots. Feed industry representatives invited to visit the plots were also pleased with the hybrid maize, and told farmers that they could guarantee the purchase of these farmers’ hybrid maize at the same rates as they currently pay Indian producers if they could increase production, as currently purchase over 200 t of maize annually from India at NPR 24/kg to meet demand. Following the discussion with feed company representatives, CSISA-NP participating farmers in the far-western Terai project sites were able to negotiate higher prices (about NPR 4-5 per kg) from the (non-feed company) buyers of their maize.
Typical farmer spring maize in far-west: water-stressed, and poorly managed

Typical farmer spring maize in far-west: water-stressed, and poorly managed

Contributed by: M. Devare

Farmers learn to manage paddy transplanting “business”

Posted on News - Homepage, Uncategorized, September 16, 2013

Satyadev Prasad of Ratanpur Birta is like any other farmer of his village. Formerly, he cultivated paddy much the same way as his father and grandfather did. This year, however, he purchased paddy transplanter with the aim of providing custom-hire services. To ensure success of his envisioned business, he also undertook the challenge of raising mat-type nursery, which is mandatory for the paddy machine transplanter. With guidance from CSISA team, he began the task of raising of mat-nursery for paddy. He took advantage of an agricultural program on community nursery (financial assistance is provided by Govt. of Bihar) for aggregating demand and raising community nursery for other farmers in the village. Also, he availed of the benefit from State Department of Agriculture schemes (in the form of subsidy on the purchase of agricultural machinery) enabling him to procure machine at subsidized price.

Satyadev Prasad in his machine transplanted paddy field

Satyadev Prasad in his machine transplanted paddy field

Further, by using it for his own field and hiring it to the neighboring farmers, he ensured commercial success of this venture. He has planted paddy in about 80 acres for 31 farmers. “On seeing the success of my business model, other farmers are also in the process of purchasing paddy transplanter,” he exclaimed. Owing to efforts of CSISA, the mechanised paddy transplanting this year has increased to 360 acres in East Champararn district. Currently there are 9 paddy transplanters in East Champararn, compared to two last year.


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