Improving the Livelihoods of Smallholder Farmers in Dadeldhura

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Research Highlights Solutions for Groundwater Management in Bangladesh

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

CISSA-MI_Barisal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Low-Cost Innovations to Benefit Smallholder Farmers in Nepal

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

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

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

Beth Dunford

Beth Dunford, Mission Director, USAID Nepal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Locally-Designed Thresher Meets Farmers’ Needs in Bihar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CSISA Rolls Out a New Round of Field Studies

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

IFPRI Field Studies

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

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

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

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

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

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

Livestock Feeding Made Easy for Women Farmers in Odisha

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

Pravati Behera

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spreading Innovation: New Partnerships Drive Change in Odisha

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

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

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

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

Old Meets New

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local Farmer is the Star

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharing Lessons on Sustainable Intensification

Posted on News - Homepage, News & Announcements, February 8, 2015

 

Photo 5

The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) organized a cross-learning tour on sustainable intensification (SI) for a multi-institutional group of 13 representatives from USAID, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Africa RISING, USAID’s Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab and the Innovation Lab for Small-scale Irrigation to share perspectives on SI in African and South Asian contexts from 28 January to 4 February.

Sustainable intensification of mixed crop-livestock systems is key to achieving better food security and improved livelihoods while minimizing negative impacts on the environment. The tour was designed to enable knowledge sharing among the flagship SI investments of USAID.

The group started with a full-day event in Delhi to discuss ways to build a global community of practice for SI, followed by a week-long tour of CSISA sites in Bihar and Odisha. “This cross-learning trip helped to showcase how we’ve built the CSISA program in South Asia so that lessons and insights with global resonance can be shared with other initiatives,” said Andy McDonald, Project Leader, CSISA.

Developing a global ‘community of practice’ for sustainable intensification (SI) and the need to define indicators for measuring SI activities were highlighted by the participants at the cross-learning SI event. The workshop looked at the approaches taken by the SI projects of CSISA and Africa RISING, collaborative research opportunities by the Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab and the Innovation Lab for Small-scale Irrigation and the perspectives of the donors that fund SI projects.

“We need broad systems programs to make impacts truly happen,” said Thomas Lumpkin, Director General, CIMMYT, talking about CSISA’s cropping systems approach at the start of the event. He added, “We should get more value chains involved and need to look at regional and global levels to extract maximum value from our R4D projects.”

The field tour helped the team from Africa RISING to understand the commonalities as well as diverging points between CSISA and Africa RISING activities. “It was very promising to see that some of the mechanization components and technologies CSISA is promoting in South Asia may be adaptable to some contexts in Southern African countries where Africa RISING is working. Certainly a fruitful and much-needed learning experience,” said Carlo Azzarri, Research Fellow, IFPRI-Africa RISING.

The Africa RISING team saw the use of affordable and feasible mechanization options for smallholder farm activities in CSISA, which can be introduced in Africa, such as the use of two-wheel tractors for line sowing and fertilizer application, fodder choppers and axial flow pumps.

Talking about CSISA’s model of supporting service providers for the dissemination of different technologies, P.V. Vara Prasad, Director, Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab, said, “The model of using service providers and government organization to reach out to larger communities of farmers was novel and seems to be working well.”

Neville Clarke, Director, Innovation Lab for Small-scale Irrigation, highlighted that the active approach to engage women farmers and the value chain approach being used by CSISA provides some overarching examples of how the Innovation Lab might better address their programs in small-scale irrigation.

“It was extremely informative to join our colleagues from Africa RISING and USAID to better understand the approaches they are taking and the common issues and differences not only between the project approaches but also in the differences in the needs of farmers in South Asia and Africa. BMGF focuses its agricultural development work in these two geographical areas and the chance to contrast and compare was very valuable,” said Tony Cavalieri, Senior Program Officer, Agricultural Development, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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Women’s Micro-Credit Loans Help Popularize Scale- and Gender-Appropriate Agricultural Mechanization

Posted on Nepal-news, News - Homepage, February 5, 2015

In mid-2013, after overhearing several conversations about CSISA-Nepal’s promotion of new scale-appropriate agricultural machinery with farmers in the Far West, Sumitra Manandhar-Gurung, CEO of Mahila Sahayatra Micro Finance Bittya Sanstha approached CSISA about whether its agricultural mechanization program might have something to offer her bank’s clients – women farmers who live mainly in the hill regions of Nepal.

Goats and Machines

Gurung asked, “Isn’t there something out there that I can give loans for besides goats? Can’t you show us some small powered machine, tractor or a small mill in the market that our women could take a loan for and provide services to their neighbors while earning a livelihood?”

In March 2014, CSISA Nepal placed an engineer, Sumana Parui, as an intern with Gurung’s bank, to explore the possibility of making micro-credit loans for small, powered and manually powered machinery to Mahila Sahayatra’s members. Parui spent two months in Chitlang village in Makwanpur district and two months in Holeri village in Rolpa district, where she provided several technical and business (local service provider) development trainings to women members and bank staff, a mechanics’ repair training as well as several farmer field days with machinery demonstrations.

Early Successes

Clockwise from top left: Machinery orientation and training in Chitlang; Demonstration of brush cutter in Holeri; Local mechanics’ training on the repair of the mini tiller and other machinery in Chitlang; Training on the use of the mini tiller for land preparation in Holeri.

Clockwise from top left: Machinery orientation and training in Chitlang; Demonstration of brush cutter in Holeri; Local mechanics’ training on the repair of the mini tiller and other machinery in Chitlang; Training on the use of the mini tiller for land preparation in Holeri.

Early on, the outcomes of these trainings were mixed. In Chitlang Valley, the first buyers of a mini-tiller, (a small rotavator-plow, powered by a 4.5 HP diesel engine) were Gyani (58 years old) and Saligram Manandhar (68 years old), who told CSISA how proud they were that they were able to take turns preparing their own land (nearly a hectare) for vegetables and rice, while their sons were working far away in Kathmandu. Manandhar related that in the last few years the few bullock plowmen remaining in the village were charging very high prices for their services and that by using the mini tiller in late spring and summer he saved nearly $200 (NPR 20,000) – half the price of the mini-tiller.

Since Manadhar purchased her machine in April 2014, five additional households, including a disabled woman bank member took a loan from Mahila Sahayatra to purchase the machine. Other equipment such as the powered brush-cutter (for the harvesting of wheat, rice fodder crops, etc.), pedaled (manual) open drum rice thresher and other implements for the mini-tiller such as cage wheels and furrow makers have also been sold. CSISA trained the local motorcycle mechanic in mini tiller repair and now he even stocks some spare parts.

Holeri Village in Rolpa District is different from Chitlang. Holeri lies in what was the epicenter of the Maoist Revolution and is much poorer and more remote. Parui arrived there in August 2014 and reported how difficult it was working there, not only due to the remoteness but because many farmers were negative about the machinery she was demonstrating. Leaving Holeri in October, she was dejected that not a single machine had been sold.

However, in December 2014 she started receiving phone calls from bank staff and women farmers who were interested in purchasing the small ½ HP electric-powered maize sheller. Bank staff sold it that week and then more farmers called, saying there were four or five more women interested in immediately purchasing maize shellers. Parui is currently in discussion with CSISA’s private sector collaborators (agro-vets and machinery agents) on how they could supply machinery to farmers in Holeri, for example by setting up a sales agency there.

Machinery Catalog

Parui is currently in the process of finishing her report as well as preparing a catalog of scale- and gender-appropriate agricultural machinery, a document that will include photos, descriptions, prices and locations where they can be purchased in Nepal. Mahila Sahayatra requested the catalog for use across their locations.

CSISA and Mahila Sahayatra now agree that this initial experiment in marrying scale- and gender-appropriate agricultural machinery with a micro-credit institution has shown initial success and needs to be further formalized, including through formal tie-ups between Mahila Sahayatra and private sector machinery providers that would supply not only the machinery but also training and servicing of the machinery (e.g., repair, spare parts). Discussions about the partnership’s next steps and how to fund them are ongoing.

Strike Turns Farmer into Dairy Feed Businessman

Posted on India-news, News & Announcements, January 26, 2015

The seemingly sleepy village at the end of the road is not so sleepy after all. Guagadia village in Odisha produced an overnight entrepreneur, one who had never imagined he would ever do anything beyond feeding his dairy cattle, milking them and selling the milk to the local dairy board, Orissa State Cooperative Milk Producers’ Federation (OMFED). But all that changed when workers of the OMFED feed supplier went on strike. Wondering “How am I going to feed my cows?” farmer Kishore Kumar adapted and rose to the occasion.Dairy  feed businessman

Driven by his desperation, Kumar reached out to the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) for help. To address the plight of the farmers, CSISA-ILRI organized a training workshop on concentrate feed in Bhubaneshwar. Four days later, Kumar was making his own concentrate feed and was self-sufficient.

The training program he attended entitled, ‘Crop Residue-Based Feeding Strategies to Improve Milk Production of Dairy Animals,’ covered feeding chopped rice straw supplementation with mineral mixture and self-preparation of concentrate feed. Participants were taught how to mix the balanced concentrate feed, how to chop straw and soak it to feed the cattle as well as entrepreneurship skills. The program reiterated the importance of using locally available materials – that can either be found on their own farms, purchased from neighbors or local markets.

In three months, Kumar emerged as an entrepreneur not only making feed for his own cattle but also selling the surplus to villagers that lacked the resources to do so themselves. His customers now span six neighboring villages. These fellow farmers have grown to appreciate the consistency of the feed Kumar supplies and have told him that they would be willing to pay even a higher amount but not to compromise on the feed quality.

Kumar is grateful for the support he received from CSISA and acknowledges the training program that gave him skills to last for a lifetime. From his increased earnings he has already bought sacks, a weighing machine and a sealing machine for the feed – to ensure he sells the right quantities and of the best quality. He even took a loan with a local financial institution for buying a tractor to carry the rice straw from the fields and the ingredients bought from local markets. He recognises he became a businessman out of necessity, but says he is committed to make the most of it and is working hard to grow his newfound business.

Q&A with Mugalodi Ramesha: Developing Better Rice

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

Better riceMugalodi Ramesha is Irrigated Rice Breeder, IRRI and CSISA Objective 3 Leader. He has more than two decades of experience developing high yielding varieties with better grain quality, resistance to biotic stresses, better adaptability to puddle transplanted and dry direct seeded conditions in South Asia. He has developed and released two rice hybrids and three varieties for different states of India, published more than 60 research papers and been recognized through multiple awards.
 
In this article, he offers his personal insights on some of the most pressing issues concerning rice breeding today:

How does rice breeding help ensure food security in South Asia?

Sustainable, more profitable and viable methods of rice cultivation can help ensure food security in Asia. Degradation of natural resources, decreasing availability of labor and water, deteriorating soil health and water quality, ever-changing climatic conditions, reduced profitability of rice cultivation, lack of interest in agriculture by the rural youth, inadequate minimum support price and inefficient procurement of the produce are some of the major constraints for improving rice productivity and production in South Asia. Rice breeding helps produce improved varieties and hybrids with high yield potential, region-specific grain quality traits, biotic and abiotic stress-tolerance and suitability for different cropping systems. When coupled with better management practices, rice breeding can significantly improve the profitability of rice cultivation for farmers.

What are some of the key challenges for development and use of hybrid rice in India?

There is no doubt that hybrid rice can boost yield and enhance efforts to achieve food security. One of the key challenges is a moderate level (12 to 15 percent) of heterosis in present day hybrids. Achieving only moderate levels of outbreeding enhancement is not sufficient to make it attractive for farmers and hence, the magnitude of heterosis must be enhanced to at least 25 percent. Other challenges include development of region-specific long-duration hybrids with abiotic- and biotic-stress-tolerance and desirable grain quality traits as per consumer preference in different market segments. We must also work towards reducing the cost of hybrid seeds by increasing the seed-yield in hybrid rice seed production plots.

How does CSISA’s work on rice breeding address these challenges?

Mugalodi Ramesha

Mugalodi Ramesha

CSISA’s work on development of parental lines of hybrids, new varieties, the popularization of private-bred hybrids and varieties for different methods of crop establishment under various cropping systems have all resulted in enhanced system productivity, thereby increasing the profitability of various agricultural enterprises for farmers in South Asia.

How can new improved varieties reach farmers more quickly?

The answer to expediting the current lengthy process of variety release lies not in changing one particular aspect alone but in addressing a variety of factors together. First, the breeding programs need to be market-driven and should be accelerated through the careful blending of molecular and conventional breeding tools; second, by efficient and quick product testing and release policies; third, through aggressive seed production and distribution systems; and finally, in effective technology transfer by various stakeholders. A combined improvement on all these fronts is essential to reduce the time taken between the official release of a new variety and its eventual adoption by farmers.

Can you highlight some outcomes of CSISA’s rice breeding work?

CSISA has developed an array of new breeding lines with high genetic yield potential, region-specific grain quality traits, adaptability to water-saving technologies, improved plant-type features suitable for different methods of crop establishment, biotic-stress-tolerance and reproductive-stage heat-tolerance. These have been shared with the national agriculture research and extension systems (NARES) and many of these elite breeding lines are currently in advanced stages of testing in multi-location trials at state and national levels. The genetic yield potential of four elite varieties (NSIC Rc82, NSIC Rc158, NSIC Rc222, and NSIC Rc238) and three mega varieties of India (Swarna, Samba Mahsuri and MTU1010) is being enhanced by incorporating three cloned genes, for high grain number (Gn1a), bigger panicle size (Spl14) and strong culm (SCM2). Many promising entries for direct-seeded rice have been identified in Nepal and Bangladesh. Out of 60 rice entries tested during the 2014 dry season under machine-sown dry direct-seeded rice, 15 entries recorded more than 7.5 tons/ha. Besides assisting the strengthening of NARES breeding programs for accelerated product development, CSISA has also contributed to their regular breeding programs with new breeding lines with novel traits such as phosphorous uptake, anaerobic germination, and better plant architecture.

Read the Q&A with Arun Joshi on Developing Better Wheat

Improved Cattle Feed Provides New Business Opportunities for Farmers in Bihar

Posted on India-news, News & Announcements, Uncategorized, December 22, 2014

Ram nandan_SStory (2)Ram Nandan Prasad, a dairy farmer in Muzaffarpur, Bihar, was convinced that his 19–20 crossbred dairy cattle could yield more milk than they were producing. So, he fed them concentrates available in the local market and ensured high levels of hygiene. Yet, the average yield per cow was just 15–20 liters per day.

There is a strong demand for milk in the region where Prasad lives, for direct human consumption and for mixing in tea/coffee, making ice cream, sweets, curd and butter. Milk provides vital nutrients for the community, besides serving as an important source of income for producers. Prasad sells his milk to the Ganga Dairy, a local private corporation, as do a number of his fellow villagers.

Last year, Prasad participated in a farmers’ training program organized by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) under CSISA for members of the Hitkari Krishak Club, a local farmers’ association where Prasad serves as the secretary. In this training on ‘Crop Residue Based Feeding Strategies to Improve Milk Production of Dairy Animals,’ he learned that the potential average milk each cow can produce with improved feed is 30 liters.

Using the scientific formula taught during the program, Prasad prepared balanced concentrate feed from locally available ingredients for his dairy cattle and also adopted the use of green fodder. The results, he says, were remarkable. “Within two months the quantity and quality of milk drastically improved even though I was now feeding the cows a lesser amount of concentrates than before.”

Encouraged by this outcome, he increased his herd to 25 crossbred dairy cattle with milk yields incresead by 10-15%, milk fat and solids-not-fat (SNF) increased by 10-12% and 3-5%, respectively, and decreased concentrate consumption by 8-10% per cow. The increase in milk fat and SNF represents an improvement in the quality of milk, which results in higher price per liter of milk sold. For many of his fellow farmers, however, preparing the concentrate was time consuming and buying individual ingredients was expensive as most farmers keep only one or two cows. So, Prasad went a step further. He produced more concentrate than he required and sold the surplus to other farmers in his village at no profit, only charging an additional Rs. 1 ($0.02) as service charge.

Seeing this change in the level of milk production, farmers from other villages have become his customers as well. Today, Prasad manually prepares 25–30 tons per month, using 8 tons for his own herd and selling the rest. He also increased his land under green fodder so that he can sell that surplus as well. He is also assembling a tractor-driven grinding, milling and mixing machine to produce more concentrate to meet the demand of his growing new business.

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.

Production to Processing: Season-Long Training Started in Tamil Nadu

Posted on India-news, December 14, 2014

Season-long trainingMechanized rice production, including mechanized drill seeding, has the potential to improve yields and reduce labor demand in Tamil Nadu. Because mechanized rice production involves a relatively knowledge-intensive set of practices, extension agents involved in providing support and information must receive proper training. Capacity building efforts for state extension agents are often insufficient and existing training programs sometimes suffer from being either too theoretical or narrowly focused on a small window of the cropping cycle.

To provide a comprehensive and hands-on training experience and to build capacity within the state extension system, Tamil Nadu Agriculture University (TNAU) and CSISA are piloting a season-long training course at the Needamangalam Krishi Vigyan Kendra (farm science center) in Thiruvarur District. The training will cover all aspects of growing drill-seeded rice (DSR). Course materials have been fine-tuned and adapted to the specific conditions of Tamil Nadu in a joint workshop by TNAU and CSISA staff.

The training program covers 13 major steps for successful rice production, from crop planning to milling to processing. The course is composed of 10 training days spread across the production cycle of rice and includes classroom sessions as well as practical exercises and applications in the field.

The beginning of the curriculum includes an overview of rice ecosystems, rice morphology and the cropping calendar, followed by a field-based introduction to laser land leveling. Subsequent modules focus on land preparation, farm power and tractor operation and maintenance and are followed by exercises on crop planning, financial management and matching equipment to farm size. Students will then prepare land for DSR. The next steps include practical exercises on seed quality measurement, seed drill calibration and sowing. This will be followed by lessons and exercises on weed and water management and population maintenance. The emergence of the crop will be monitored, emerging weeds identified and the post-emergency herbicide applied. The next training day will focus on nutrient management of rice with an introduction to the nutrient requirements and deficiency symptoms of rice, site-specific nutrient management, Leaf Color Chart and Nutrient Manager. Additional lessons cover insects, rodents and diseases in rice and their control, pesticide safety, knapsack sprayer use, etc. Harvest day will see students taking yield measurements, harvesting, threshing and drying rice. Practical exercises on assessing grain quality will be done with the IRRI Rice Quality Assessment Kit. The course will culminate on 29 January 2015 with an excursion to a modern rice mill after lessons on rice storage, milling and processing as well as a practical introduction to the ‘Superbag’ and ‘Cocoon’ as hermetic storage systems.

As a next step, CSISA also plans to introduce the season-long training concept in Odisha with a focus on mechanical transplanting of rice.

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.


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