Farmers are turning to two-wheeled tractor-mounted reaper-harvesters to make up for the lack of farm labor caused by a significant number of rural Nepalese — especially men and youth — migrating out in search of employment opportunities.
Over 4,000 mechanized reapers have been sold in Nepal with more than 50 percent in far and mid-west Nepal since researchers first introduced the technology five years ago. The successful adoption — which is now led by agricultural machinery dealers that were established or improved with CSISA’s support — has led nearly 24,000 farmers to have regular access to affordable crop harvesting services, said CIMMYT agricultural economist Gokul Paudel.
CSISA project suggests pathways to remove barriers inhibiting full use of groundwater irrigation infrastructure.
Inconsistent rainfall has repeatedly damaged paddy crops in Nepal over the last years, even though most agricultural lands are equipped with groundwater wells, contributing to missed national policy targets of food self-sufficiency and slow growth in cereal productivity. In a recently published article, Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) researchers explore the drivers of smallholder farmers’ underuse of groundwater wells to combat in-season drought during the monsoon rice season in Nepal’s breadbasket — the Terai.
The study finds that several barriers inhibit full use of the groundwater irrigation infrastructure and proposes support pathways based on existing technologies.
A key issue is farmers’ tendency to schedule irrigation very late in an effort to save the crops when in-season drought occurs. By this time, rice crops have already been damaged by lack of water and yields will be decreased. High irrigation costs, especially when pumping equipment is rented at monopolistic rental rates, are a major factor of this investment aversion. In addition, private irrigation is a relatively new technology for many farmers making productive water use decisions.
After deciding to irrigate, queuing for pumpsets, tubewells, and repairs and maintenance further increase irrigation delays. Some villages have only a handful of pumpsets or tubewells shared between all households, so it can take up to two weeks for everybody to irrigate.
CSISA provides three suggestions for three spatially nested support pathways to address these issues and support farmers in combatting monsoon season drought.
Raising awareness on the importance of timely irrigation
To avoid yield penalties and improve operational efficiency through better matched pumpsets, CSISA has raised awareness through agricultural FM radio broadcasts on the strong relationship between water stress and yield penalties. Messages highlight the function of the plough pan to keep infiltration rates low and encourage farmers to improve irrigation scheduling. Anecdotal evidence suggests that improved pump selection may decrease irrigation cost by up to 50%, and CSISA has initiated follow-up studies to develop recommendations for farmers.
In addition, timely irrigation often requires social interaction in purchasing fuel, transporting and installing pumps or shared use of irrigation equipment. These activities pose risks of COVID-19 exposure and transmission and therefore require farmers to follow safety and hygiene practices, which may cause further delays to irrigation. Raising awareness about the importance of timely irrigation therefore needs to go hand in hand with safe and hygienic irrigation practices. This information has been streamlined into the CSISA ongoing partnerships and FM broadcasts
2. Improving community-level water markets through increased focus on drought preparedness and overcoming liquidity constraints
Farmers can save time by taking an anticipatory approach to terms and conditions of rentals, instead of negotiating them when cracks in the soil are already large. Many pump renters also reported that pump owners are reluctant to rent out pumpsets if renters cannot pay up front. Given the seasonality of cash flows in agricultural, pro-poor and low interest credit provisions are likely to further smoothen community-level water markets.
3. Regional investment prioritization
Selectively targeting support and promotion programs in areas experiencing delays in access to pumpsets and groundwater wells can help farmers in combating monsoon season droughts.
Furthermore, the study shows that these delay factors differ across districts and that selectively targeted interventions will be most useful to provide high returns to investments. For example, farmers in Kailali reported that land access issues due to use of large bullock carts to transport pumpsets and fuel shortages constitute a barrier for 10% and 39% of the farmers, while in Rupandehi maintenance and tubewell availability were reported to be of greater importance.
As drought is increasingly threatening paddy production in Nepal’s Terai region, CSISA’s research shows that several support pathways exist to support farmers in combatting droughts. Sustainable water use can only be brought up to a scale where it benefits most farmers if all available tools including electrification, solar pumps and improved water level monitoring are deployed to provide benefits to a wide range of farmers.
Read the full article in Water International:
Anton Urfels, Andrew J. McDonald, Timothy J. Krupnik & Pieter R. van Oel (2020) Drivers of groundwater utilization in water-limited rice production systems in Nepal, Water International, 45:1, 39-59, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/02508060.2019.1708172
CSISA, JEEViKA and the Bihar Agriculture University are catalysing sustainable solutions for farmers, which are empowering them (small and marginal farmers including women) to secure more prosperous lives.
Between November and December 2019, through the ‘Single Agro -Advisory Window’ set up under this convergence platform, 1,055,000 farmers were reached with agro advisories, through text and voice messages and printed advisories; wherein 400,000 farmers were reached through the Bihar Agricultural University and 655,000 through Jeevika’s dissemination platforms.
According to Narayan Khanal, a researcher who works with the Cereal Systems Initiatives for South Asia (CSISA), growing evidence indicates mung beans planted between rice and wheat rotations improves soil fertility and rice productivity by as much as 25 percent.
Rice-wheat rotation is the dominant cropping pattern in many regions of Nepal. With wheat harvest in March followed by rice transplanting in July, a substantial amount of land remains fallow for about 90 to 100 days. Since 2014, CSISA researchers have worked to fill the gap by bringing value chain actors together to promote the use of disease-tolerant and high-yielding mung bean varieties, conservation agriculture techniques, and agricultural mechanization such as direct seeders.
“Over the years our research has included market mapping with value chain actors, testing mung bean varieties in the private sector by engaging seed companies and millers, as well as building the capacity of farmers to grow demand,” says Khanal. “The legume provides a cash crop for farmers with its stable, high market price and demand across Asia.”
An annual vine with yellow flowers and fuzzy brown pods, mung bean crops usually trade at $1 per kilo in rural Nepal.
Khanal also adds that the long-term results show mung bean crop residue provides fodder to feed live-stock and improve soil fertility as it is incorporated into the field to be used as fertilizer as part of conservation agriculture practices.
Read the full article published in Agrilinks here.
An online news portal in Nepal issued a short article about direct-seeded rice (DSR) promoted by CSISA in Kailali District, Sudurpashchim Province in Nepal.
The article highlights the introduction of DSR six years back by CSISA and how it has expanded throughout the district. Khagendra Sharma, Spokesperson of Ministry of Land Management, Agriculture & Cooperative of Sudurpaschim Province, mentions that DSR is more profitable than conventional rice farming, hence farmers are attracted to this technology as it reduces labor and fuel.
Scientific Animations Without Borders (SWABO) uses animations to communicate timely information of emerging global problems that impact farmers locally. One video is helping farmers in Bangladesh fight against Fall Armyworm.
the last few decades, deteriorating soil fertility has been linked to
decreasing agricultural yields in South Asia, a region marked by inequities in
food and nutritional security.
the demand for fertilizers grow, researchers are working with government and
business to promote balanced nutrient management and the appropriate use of
organic amendments among smallholder farmers. A new policy brief outlining opportunities
for innovation in the region has been published by the Cereal Systems
Initiative for South Asia (CSISA).
all living organisms, crops need access to the right amount of nutrients for
optimal growth. Plants get nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium,
in addition to other crucially important micronutrients from soils and carbon,
hydrogen, oxygen from the air and water. When existing soil nutrients are not
sufficient to sustain good crop yields, additional nutrients must be added
through fertilizers or manures, compost or cop residues. When this is not done,
farmers effectively mine the soil of fertility, producing short-term gains, but
undermining long-term sustainability.
management involves using crop nutrients as efficiently as possible to improve
productivity while reducing costs for farmers, and also protecting the
environment by limiting greenhouse gas emissions and water quality
contamination. The key behind nutrient management is appropriately balancing
soil nutrient inputs – which can be enhanced when combined with appropriate
soil organic matter management – with crop requirements. When the right
quantities are applied at the right times, added nutrients help crops yields
flourish. On the other hand, applying too little will limit yield and applying
too much can harm the environment, while also compromising farmers’ ability to
feed themselves or turn profits from the crops they grow.
Smallholder farmers in
South Asia commonly practice poor nutrition management with a heavy reliance on
nitrogenous fertilizer and a lack of balanced inputs and micronutrients.
Declining soil fertility, improperly designed policy and nutrient management
guidelines, and weak fertilizer marketing and distribution problems are among
the reasons farmers fail to improve fertility on their farms. This is why it’s
imperative to support efforts to improve soil organic matter management and
foster innovation in the fertilizer industry, and find innovative ways to
target farmers, provide extension services and communicate messages on cost
effective and more sustainable strategies for matching high yields with
appropriate nutrient management.
Cross-country learning reveals opportunities for improved nutrient management.
policy brief is based on outcomes from a cross-country dialogue facilitated by
CSISA earlier this year in Kathmandu. The meeting saw researchers, government
and business stakeholders from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka discuss
challenges and opportunities to improving farmer knowledge and access to
sufficient nutrients. Several key outcomes for policy makers and
representatives of the agricultural development sector were identified during
the workshop, which included in the brief.
Extension services as an effective way to encourage a more balanced use of fertilizers among smallholder farmers.
There is a need to build the capacity of extension to educate smallholders on a plant’s nutritional needs and proper fertilization. It also details how farmers’ needs assessments and human-centered design approaches need to be integrated while developing and delivering nutrient application recommendations and extension materials.
Nutrient subsidies must be reviewed to ensure they balance micro and macro-nutrients.
Cross-country learning and evidence sharing on policies and subsidies to promote balanced nutrient application are discussed in the brief, as is theneed to balance micro and macro-nutrient subsidies, in addition to the organization of subsidy programs in ways that assure farmers get access the right nutrients when and where they are needed the most. The brief also suggests additional research and evidence are needed to identify ways to assure that farmers’ behaviour changes in response to subsidy programs.
Market, policy, and product innovations in the fertilizer industry must be encouraged.
It describes the need for blended fertilizer products and programs to support them. A blend is made by mixing two or more fertilizer materials. For example, particles of nitrogen, phosphate and small amounts of secondary nutrients and micronutrients mixed together. Experience with blended products are uneven in the region, and markets for blends are nascent in Bangladesh and Nepal in particular. Cross-country technical support on how to develop blending factories and markets could be leveraged to accelerate blended fertilizer markets and to identify ways to ensure equitable access to these potentially beneficial products for smallholder farmers.
Farmers around the world face consistent threat from crop pests, such as wheat blast disease that attacks maturing grains causing them to shrivel and reduce farmers’ yields. But new advances in technology and modeling are making it easier to identify, prevent and control these diseases.
Outbreaks of wheat blast in South Asia – a region where people consume over 100 million tons of wheat each year – have an enhanced impact on food stability and income security. In 2016, wheat blast struck South Asia unexpectedly, with crop losses in Bangladesh averaging 25 to 30 percent, threatening progress in the region’s food security efforts. Estimates are that blast could reduce wheat production by up to 85 million tons in Bangladesh, equivalent to $13 million in foregone farmers’ profits each year when outbreak occurs.
there’s optimism from farmers and scientists alike about a new digital early
warning system that integrates mathematical models that, when combined with weather
forecasts, can simulate disease growth and risks to forewarn against potential
wheat blast outbreaks. With three years of data recorded, the system, which was
originally piloted in Brazil where wheat blast has been a concern for several
decades, is now being rolled out across Bangladesh to deliver real-time disease
updates to extension workers and smallholder farmers via SMS and voice message.
collaborative research we have established a model to identify areas at risk of
wheat blast infection with five days advanced warning,” said Timothy J.
Krupnik, senior scientist and systems agronomist at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT). “It can provide
Bangladesh’s 1.2 million wheat farmers a head start against this disease.”
early warning system analyzes environmental conditions for potential disease
development in crucial wheat growing areas of Bangladesh and Brazil. Through
this information, the system generates forecast maps and automatic advice for
farmers of where and when infection is most likely to strike.
“The model was
originally developed in Brazil, but we have worked closely with collaborators
from Brazil and the Bangladesh Meteorological Department (BMD) and Department
of Agricultural Extension to develop a warning system positioned for use by
extension workers and farmers,” Krupnik said.
farmers are advised to apply fungicides on a calendar-based preventative basis.
This is costly and can have negative environmental effects. Instead, the early
warning system pushes advice to extension agents and farmers, indicating when
disease control is really needed.
“Our hope is that
it will help reduce unnecessary fungicide use while assuring that farmers can
implement cost-effective and resilient practices to overcome wheat blast risks”
The importance of collaboration
With limited information on wheat blast, Krupnik initiated a collaboration with agricultural researchers in Brazil – where the disease originated in 1985. Professor Jose Mauricio Fernandes, a crop pathologist from Embrapa, and Mr. Felipe de Vargas, a computer scientist, with Universidade de Passo Fundo, were familiar with wheat blast and had already developed an initial mathematical model of disease development. The team collaborated to transfer the model to South Asia and build it into a more comprehensive and location-explicit early warning system.
“We improved preliminary modelling framework to manage
data requirements to predict the time and location of blast outbreaks in
Bangladesh, Brazil, and beyond,” Fernandes said. “I am excited to see how it
increases farmers’ resilience to disease risks in Bangladesh.”
The team plan to adapt the system to help manage other pests threatening farmers in Feed the Future countries, including initial efforts in Nepal where a complementary UK Aid investment through the Asia Regional Resilience to a Changing Climate (ARRCC) is supporting CIMMYT to scale-out the model and to include wheat rust disease early warnings.
CSISA in Nepal organized a three-day traveling seminar on
“Scale-appropriate machinery for cereal crop harvesting in South Asia” on March
25–29, 2019. In Nepal, the adoption of agricultural mechanization has increased
slowly over time. While small, regional markets for combine harvesters have
existed in Nepal for the last 20 years, the major rise in sales has occurred in
the last 10 years, both for combines and, more recently, for two-wheel
tractor-based reaper-harvesters. Farmers have used machinery to cope with labor
shortages and increasing wage rates.
Over 40 delegates, including international experts, private
sector scaling partners and dignitaries such as the Director General of Nepal’s
Department of Agriculture and Chief of the Prime Minister Agriculture
Modernization Project attended the event. Participants visited a variety of
CSISA sites and project partners across Nepal’s Terai. Field visits,
demonstrations and discussions with farmers and service providers began in
Rupandehi district and proceeded to Kailali district, with several in-between
Delegates observed technologies being used in farmers’
fields and discussed progress-to-date to mechanize cereal production in Nepal
and more broadly across Asia. Participants saw Nepal’s scale-appropriate,
private sector-led mechanization in farmers’ fields, including the use of large
combine harvesters and self-propelled reapers in Rupandehi and the recent
spread of thousands of two-wheel tractor reapers in Banke, Bardiya and Kailali.
Delegates discussed issues with farmers who use the services of machinery
service providers, service providers themselves, machinery importers and sales
On the last day of the traveling seminar, delegates from China, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Vietnam shared their views on how different types of farm machines are spreading in their countries. These discussions and presentations included private and public sector representatives interested in finding sustainable, equitable, and productive solutions to grain harvesting challenges for all farm sizes and farmers across the region. Professor Ding Qishuo, College of Engineering, Nanjing Agricultural University, recalled his experience in southern China 20–30 years ago and found similarities with Nepal’s Terai, where “a huge gap in rural manual labor may need to be filled by machinery”. Prof. Ding stated that there is a large opportunity for promoting mechanized harvesting in the region; however, there is still much left to do to document and quantify local farming systems. According to Prof. Ding, “many lessons can be learned from other Asian countries and applied to Nepal’s farming systems”.
Stemphylium blight is one of the most damaging diseases that plagues lentil fields in South Asia, causing plants to shed leaves and loose twigs, ultimately leading to grain loss. In severe cases, yield losses as high as 90% have been reported in Bangladesh and other countries. Lentil production is an integral part of many nutrition-sensitive farming systems in the region, so Stemphylium blight is a threat to smallholder farmers’ livelihoods in Bangladesh, India and Nepal.
Disease severity is conditioned by cloudy weather, relative humidity, and temperature and precipitation regimes. It may vary between locations within a growing season and also between seasons within a location. If foliar fungicides are carefully used in combination with a suite of integrated pest management practices, the disease can be controlled. However, farmers often find it difficult to determine the timing, frequency and amount of fungicide they should use. This requires special consideration because fungicides can affect yield and have negative environmental consequences if used improperly. The Stempedia model, a weather-based model used to assess the risks of Stemphylium blight disease, is being processed to help farmers decide when and how much fungicide to use to appropriately control Stemphylium blight.
The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) has entered into a collaboration with the Climate Services for Resilient Development (CSRD) project, both supported by USAID/Washington, to enable national scientists and extension officers in Bangladesh, India and Nepal to test the Stempedia model and assess the regional and seasonal risks of Stemphylium blight occurring. Partner scientists and officers collect data in farmers’ fields, assess the severity of the problem and pass those data to CSRD for Stempedia model testing and calibration. The huge task of collecting field data would have been impossible without the collaboration between CSISA and CSRD. CSISA and CSRD mobilized national partners and collected data on the incidence and severity of Stemphylium blight during the 2017-18 growing season from 480 farmers’ fields in three countries: in Bangladesh with support from the Department of Agricultural Extension, in India with the help of Bihar Agricultural University, and in Nepal with the support of Nepal Agricultural Research Council’s National Grain Legume Research Program.
The status of Stemphylium blight was assessed before harvest and the results indicated that it was more prevalent in the Bangladesh and Nepal sites than in the India sites. Relevant weather data, available from five sites, were used to run the Stempedia model, and preliminary results showed that the model had the potential to mimic the status of the disease observed in the fields.
The Stempedia model is currently being calibrated to achieve prediction accuracy, and more data from a similar number of fields in the three countries are being collected in the 2018-19 growing season for comprehensive model refinement. The ultimate goal is to set up the model to analyze weather forecasts and train national extension partners to use Stempedia so they can better advise farmers.
Speaking about the Stempedia model, Dr. Anurag Kumar of CSISA, Bihar, India, said, “Farmers in Bihar had no clue how to control the disease and had been blindly using chemicals for controlling Stemphylium blight. This model will guide farmers on when to use fungicides or whether to use them at all.” Once it is successfully calibrated and refined, the Stempedia model will be used to provide weekly early warnings on the risk of the disease. Based on the forecasts, national extension agencies will develop relevant advisories and extend them to farmers.
Authors: M. Shahidul Haque Khan, CIMMYT and Sultana Jahan, CIMMYT
Wheat blast is a fast-acting and devastating fungal disease that threatens food safety and security in the Americas and South Asia.
First officially identified in Brazil in 1984, the disease is widespread in South American wheat fields, affecting as much as 3 million hectares in the early 1990s.
In 2016, it crossed the Atlantic Ocean, and Bangladesh suffered a severe outbreak. Bangladesh released a blast-resistant wheat variety—developed with breeding lines from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT)—in 2017, but the country and region remain extremely vulnerable.
The continued spread of blast in South Asia—where more than 100 million tons of wheat are consumed each year—could be devastating.
Researchers with the CIMMYT-led and USAID-supported Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) and Climate Services for Resilient Development (CSRD) projects partner with national researchers and meteorological agencies on ways to work towards solutions to mitigate the threat of wheat blast and increase the resilience of smallholder farmers in the region. These include agronomic methods and early warning systems so farmers can prepare for and reduce the impact of wheat blast.
This series of infographics shows how wheat blast spreads, its potential effect on wheat production in South Asia and ways farmers can manage it.
Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), in collaboration with the Bangladeshi
NGO Agricultural Advisory Society (AAS), recently conducted video showings of yield-enhancing
practices such as healthy rice seedling production and early wheat sowing
throughout southern Bangladesh. Early wheat sowing and healthy rice seedlings
are both key sustainable intensification practices in Bangladesh as early
sowing helps wheat avoid terminal heat, which decreases yield, and the use of
healthy seedlings ensures the rice crop has a strong start.
shows were watched by a total of 110,825 farmers in 16 districts, including
Jashore, Faridpur and Barishal, between October and December 2018.
had used video-based messaging as a tool to increase uptake of sustainable
intensification practices, and it proved to be a reliable extension tool. A
follow-up study of CSISA’s 2012 and 2015 screenings of agricultural production
videos showed that of the 17,736 farmers who attended the video shows and
training sessions, approximately 51% continued to use better-bet agronomic
management techniques to grow healthy rice seedlings on 4,700 hectares in the
winter (boro) season.Many of the farmers also carried
forward the practices they learned from the video shows into the 2018 monsoon (aman) season, which resulted in 9,616
hectares being brought under healthy rice seedling practices.
results showed that adoption of healthy rice seedling growing techniques can be
sustained if they are easily implemented, effective and productivity enhancing. At least 99% of the farmers who took
part in the survey continued to use at least one practice, and others continued
to implement a combination of new healthy rice seedling practices.
video screenings, audiences participated in question and answer sessions. During
these interactions, farmers asked the organizers to clarify points that were
unclear or to describe the benefits and costs of adopting new methods.
Participants also shared other opinions or ideas that would increase the
overall yield of rice and wheat.
The videos will be uploaded on CSISA’s website and those of its local partners, as well as on social media. This will help farmers who were unable to participate in the screenings easily access the videos through their mobile phones from anywhere in Bangladesh. Similar video showings are planned for the coming rabi season of 2019/20 to achieve an even wider reach.
Authors: Sultana Jahan, Mustafa Kamal, Harun-Ar-Rashid and M. Shahidul Haque Khan (CIMMYT)
Mungbean is a relatively new crop in Nepal, so relevant research and
development activities are still just emerging. In 2015, the Cereal Systems
Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), supported by USAID, started conducting participatory
research and development, including market development activities for mungbean
in partnership with the National Grain Legume Research Program, millers and
Mungbean, a short-duration crop of 60 to 80 days’ maturity, fits in well in a rice–winter crops–fallow rotation, reaching maturity just before rice transplanting in July. Mungbean is consumed as dal (soup), used as an ingredient for Dalmot (snacks), Bhujiya, sprouts, biscuits and baby food. Its biomass remains green even after the third picking, and rice yield can be increased by 25% if mungbean residue is incorporated into the soil. Unfortunately, cultivation of mungbean as a spring season crop is not widely practiced by farmers in Nepal.
In late 2018, CSISA facilitated
a strategic partnership between Poshan Food Product (PFP) Ltd. (a miller), GATE
Nepal (a seed company) and local agricultural cooperatives to strengthen the
mungbean value chain and market. This partnership has been made possible because
of an innovation by the miller in the process of making a baby food called Balbhojan.
Food Product Ltd. had always prepared Balbhojan by combining wheat,
millet and buckwheat. While participating in a CSISA meeting in January 2017, the
owner of Poshan Food Product, Mr. Narayan Gnawali, became aware of the health benefits
of mungbean and changed the product’s recipe so that it would be composed of
20% mungbean. To fulfill his company’s new demand, he purchased 10 tons of
mungbean grain from Banke and Bardiya districts in May 2017.
the 1-kg and 0.5-kg packets of baby food to the new mungbean-containing mix,
his company’s monthly demand for mungbean doubled within six months, and was four
times higher by December 2018. Now the miller consumes 1.5 tons of mungbean
every month, meaning that 18 tons of mungbean grain will be needed every year even
if their current baby food business does not grow further.
In a recent CSISA meeting, Mr. Gnawali said, “I can buy up to 100 tons of mungbean if cooperatives or seed companies supply me properly graded products.” Now, GATE Nepal has agreed to provide mungbean-grading services using extra graders within the company. Poshan Food Product Ltd. has also started selling graded whole grain mungbean under the brand “Nepali Mung.” The product is used for sprout production and dal preparation.
Considering the increasing demand for sprouts in local supermarkets, Poshan Food Product Ltd. is also planning to produce mungbean sprouts starting this year. Seeing the success of the strategic partnership, the government of Nepal’s Province 7 has decided to provide extension support (e.g., seed, irrigation, plant protection) for mungbean growers within a 500 ha area under its soil health improvement program. CSISA continues to provide technical support on better-bet agronomy, mechanization and market development to strengthen the partnership and to support the scaling of mungbean cultivation.
Authors: Narayan P. Khanal, CIMMYT, and Dyutiman Choudhary, CIMMYT
The application of fertilizers that do not meet the nutrient
requirements (i.e. balanced nutrient application) of target crops is a
widespread problem in India. Farmers overuse urea (N) and seldom apply
secondary nutrients (Sulphur, Calcium, and Magnesium) and micro-nutrients (like
Zinc, Iron, Copper, Boron, Molybdenum and Manganese) in their plots. This
imbalanced application of nutrients affects both long-term health of the soil
as well as farmers’ own net incomes from agriculture. How do we deploy
scientific research, business innovations, and public policies and programs to
help promote balanced use of fertilizers in Indian agriculture? As part of the
Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), the International Food Policy
Research Institute (IFPRI) and the International Plant Nutrition Institute
(IPNI) organized a National Dialogue on “Innovations for Promoting Balanced
Application of Macro and Micro Nutrient Fertilizers in Indian Agriculture” on
December 12, 2018, in New Delhi, India, to discuss practical answers to these
representatives from fertilizer cooperatives, private companies and the
Fertilizer Association of India (FAI) participated in the dialogue along with
state officials, researchers from national research institutions, CG centers,
the World Bank and Indian think tanks to share their ideas and experience and
explore new strategies. This dialogue initiated conversations on three themes:
a) policy changes and other innovations needed to accelerate the development of
new fertilizer blends; b) ways to develop a soil intelligence system for India,
and c) changes in extension and communication of soil health information to
farmers to enable the adoption of scientific recommendations.
The introductory session provided the necessary background
and the context for the deliberations that followed. Avinash Kishore of IFPRI
presented evidence on the myth of farmers being highly sensitive to changes in
fertilizer prices. Using plot-level data from a large nationally representative
sample of farmers, he showed that farmers’ demand for DAP and Potash did not
change significantly, even after a steep increase in prices after a change in
subsidy policy in 2011. Avinash contended that removal or rationalization of
subsidies alone will not be enough to promote balanced use of fertilizers.
Scientifically informed extension efforts would still be needed.
The Director General of the Fertilizer Association of India
(FAI), Shri Satish Chander, pointed out
that new-product approvals in India take approximately 800 days. However, he
explained, this delay is not the biggest problem facing the sector: other
barriers include existing price controls that are highly contingent on
Andrew McDonald of CIMMYT emphasized the need to develop a
soil intelligence system for India and shared CSISA’s ongoing work on
developing such a system for Andhra Pradesh and Bihar. In both states,
scientists are working to combine the rich data already collected under the
Soil Health Cards (SHC) program with spectroscopic measurement of soil
properties and remote sensing images to create a rich array of information on
soil and plant nutrition requirements customized to the specific needs of
farmers and policymakers at a landscape level.
Dr. T. Satyanarayana of IPNI highlighted the importance of
micronutrients in promoting balanced fertilization of soils and innovative
methods that exist in determining soil health for appropriate action. Mr. Ajay
Vir Jakhar, chairman of Punjab Farmers’ Commission, highlighted the need to
strengthen the public extension system to bring scientific information to
Director General of FAI, Shri Satish Chander, averred that
while approval of new fertilizer blends in India is slow and cumbersome, it is
not the main hurdle to move innovation in India’s fertilizer sector. The
Fertilizer Control Order (FCO) has undergone reforms over the years. While more
reforms in the FCO will be helpful, price control and heavy subsidy on Urea, a
large share of which, he said, goes to international fertilizer companies and
not farmers, was the big problem in India’s fertilizer sector.
Other representatives from the fertilizer industry touched upon the need to identify farmer requirements for risk mitigation, labor shortages and site-specific nutrient management needs for custom fertilizer blends. Participants also discussed field evidence related to India’s soil health card scheme. Ultimately, discussions held at the roundtable helped identify relevant policy gaps.
Authors: Vartika Singh, IFPRI, and Vedachalam Dakshinamurthy, CIMMYT
Since 2013, the Cereal Systems
Initiative for South Asia (CSISA)
has been sustainably intensifying kharif
maize cultivation in a rainfed ecology on the north-central plateau of Odisha,
India, in Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar districts. Through the promotion of better-bet
agronomy (e.g., suitable hybrids, line planting, nutrient and weed management),
maize yields of adopter farmers in Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar can reach 5.4 t/ha, up
from an average of 2.5 t/ha.
In collaboration with the
Odisha State Department of Agriculture, CSISA scaled up sustainable
intensification practices on 5,227 hectares in 2018, from almost zero five
years ago. Random cuttings by CSISA over the last three years on farmers’
fields showed that maize yields have consistently improved and become more
uniform (as shown in the accompanying violin plot), both of which are required
for farmers to strengthen their market linkages. Unfortunately, farmers have
not been able to translate their increasing harvests into higher returns due poor
linkages with output markets.
Although large institutional
grain buyers such as hatcheries and feed mills are located nearby, in the past they
were not interested in procuring maize grain locally because farmers produced a
relatively small marketable surplus and grain quality was uneven. Efforts had
been made earlier to improve maize grain marketing, but these efforts only
partially succeeded because some interventions were not equitable and some were not scalable.
Private aggregator-based models favored middle marketing agents over farmers because
prices at the farm gate were low compared to prices at the industry gate. Models
focused on individual farmers generated high transactions costs at the buyers’
end. Therefore, a mechanism was still required that could ensure benefits to
farmers but also be convenient for large buyers.
In response to the
discussions, CSISA began organizing the maize farmers into groups. The farmers’
groups cultivated maize on a consolidated patch, which helped ensure uniform
cultivation practices and standardized postharvest activities. Training
sessions and follow-up backstopping encouraged timely harvesting, mechanical
threshing and adequate grain drying. These practices were essential for matching
grain quality to industrial specifications (less than 14% grain moisture and
not more than 1% fungus-infected grains).
The maize-producing groups
had committed to selling their harvest together, in bulk. Prior to the maize-harvesting
period (Oct. – Nov.), CSISA and the local administration convened a meeting of
potential large buyers. At this meeting, buyers agreed to purchase the grain at
US$ 240/ton (if grain quality meets standard industrial parameters), the
Government of India’s current minimum support price.
In November 2018, Maa Ganga
Maize Producer Group, composed of 20 women farmers, sold 22.3 tons of maize
grain to the local hatchery and generated a gross revenue of US$ 5,330. Another
group of 21 farmers sold 25 tons and made US$ 5,985. These amounts were shared
amongt member farmers in proportion to the amount of grain they contributed. Venkateswara Hatcheries Pvt.
Ltd., the biggest buyer of maize in the region, alone purchased
more than 200 tons during the season. Other buyers then followed suit
(information about total production and sales is currently being compiled). In
contrast, farmers who had not joined a producer group sold their produce at
around US$ 180/ton. CSISA plans to bring all maize growers of this area onto
the same platform so that they can also obtain the economic gains that can be
generated by adopting sustainable intensification practices.
The Soil Intelligence System (SIS) for India, a new $2.5 million investment by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will help the states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Odisha rationalize the costs of generating high-quality soil data while building accessible geospatial information systems based on advanced geostatistics. The SIS initiative will rely on prediction, rather than direct measurements, to develop comprehensive soil information at scale. The resulting data systems will embrace FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable, and reproducible) access principles to support better decision-making in agriculture.
The initiative aims to facilitate multi-institutional
alliances for soil health management and the application of big data analytics
to real-world problems. These alliances will be instrumental for initiating
broader discussions at state and national levels about the importance of robust
data systems, data integration and the types of progressive access policies
related to ‘agronomy at scale’ that can bring India closer to achieving
SIS is led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in collaboration with numerous partners including the International Food Policy Research Institute, ISRIC – World Soil Information, the state governments and state agriculture universities of Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, and the Andhra Pradesh Space Applications Center. The initiative began in September 2018 and will run until February 2021.
SIS functions as a co-investment in the Cereal Systems
Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) and utilizes two new soil spectroscopy laboratories
that were recently set up in Andhra Pradesh and Bihar under CSISA in collaboration with the respective states’
departments of agriculture. One laboratory is now operating at the Regional
Agricultural Research Station in Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, the other at Bihar
Agricultural University (Sabour)
in Bhagalpur, Bihar. Spectroscopy enables precise soil analysis and can help
scientists identify appropriate preventive and rehabilitative soil management
interventions. The technology is also significantly faster and more
cost-effective than wide-scale, wet, chemistry-based soil analysis. The SIS Initiative will also review options for
incorporating digital technologies such as route planning and QR coding
approaches into the programming of state partners and will assist our partners
to adopt digital technologies to enhance soil sampling and analysis operational
Farmers will be the primary beneficiaries of this
initiative, as they will receive more reliable soil health management
recommendations to increase yields and profits. The initiative will also be
useful to state partners, extension and agricultural development institutions,
the private sector and other stakeholders who rely on high-quality soil
information. Through SIS, scientists and researchers will have an opportunity
to receive training in modern soil analytics, and combine mapping outputs with
crop response and landscape reconnaissance data through machine-learning
analytics to derive precise agronomy decisions at scale.
“The support from CIMMYT through the Gates Foundation will
contribute directly to bringing down the cost of providing quality soil health
data and agronomic advisory services to farmers in the long run,” said K.V.
Naga Madhuri, Principal Scientist for Soil Science at Acharya N. G. Ranga
Agricultural University. “We will also be able to generate precise digital soil
maps for land use planning. The greatest advantage is to enable future
applications like drones to use multi-spectral imagery and analyze rapidly
large areas and discern changes in soil characteristics in a fast and reliable
Authors: Vedachalam Dakshinamurthy, CIMMYT, and Cynthia Mathys, CIMMYT
CSISA has launched a new video highlighting the value of scale-appropriate mechanization and the benefits of service provision in Nepal. Featuring farmers who have adopted technologies such as seed drills, power tillers, mini tillers and reapers, the video highlights that mechanization can save time and costs and reduce drudgery. Participating farmers also point out that extra income can be made from becoming a service provider and that this extra income can help reduce incentives for Nepal’s youth to go abroad looking for work.
Khumlal Chaudhary, a service provider in Rupandehi, says in the series, “I am extremely busy [providing services to other farmers]. It gets so hectic that I have to switch off my phone sometimes. […] I now have two sources of income. I am a farmer so I make income from what I grow in my fields. I also provide services with my tractors and the seed drill machine. The two activities help me make a good living.”
Yogendra Chaudhary says that since he and his son are able to make money through service provision, his son decided to remain in Nepal to work on the family’s farm instead of seeking employment abroad, and that the machines allow them to remain together, work together and prosper together.
Sutra Media Works and the CSISA team hosted video showings in four of CSISA’s working domains so that farmers, potential service providers, self-help groups and Nepal government representatives could see the film, ask follow-up questions and discuss locally relevant issues raised by the video. These community video showings were preceded by farmers’ field days and demonstrations of sustainable intensification technologies, and were followed by question and answer sessions.
Shown in Baridya, Dang, Kailali and Kanchanpur districts with 296 attendees (including 72 women), the video was well received and generated discussion about the following preconditions for mechanization to spread broadly: (1) increased awareness of agricultural technologies and their providers at the local level, (2) technical training on how to use the equipment, (3) availability of spare parts and repairs for fixing machines, and (4) mechanisms to make the cost of technology and services affordable for farmers.
Attendees included farmers, service providers, machinery traders and public sector representatives from the Nepal Agricultural Research Center, as well as the Prime Minister’s Agriculture Modernization Project, representatives from the Wheat and Rice Zones and “Super Zones.” CSISA is currently sharing the video with relevant governmental and non-governmental agricultural programs, as well as with relevant video sharing websites and broadcast and cable TV outlets, to broadly disseminate important messages about mechanization and service provision throughout Nepal.
Machine learning (ML) allows software applications to become more accurate in predicting outcomes with increased use. ML involves building algorithms that can predict an output value within an acceptable range.
CSISA generates numerous scientific datasets on crop production practices and agronomic field trials, but generating frequent and valid results from these thousands of observations is a challenge. ML tools can help.
CSISA organized a five-day workshop in Odisha to train CSISA scientists from Bihar, eastern Uttar Pradesh (EUP) and Odisha in the use of ML tools – based on the open-source statistical computing and graphics software, ‘R,’ – to analyze CSISA’s crop cut and production practice survey datasets.
Each year, CSISA generates data from multi-location adaptive trials, production practice diagnostic surveys and a few other targeted needs-based surveys in Bangladesh, India and Nepal. These datasets are used to determine the most important yield attributing factor(s), information that could help policymakers target and refine recommendations and advisories. ML allows us to draw quick, accurate and valid results from these datasets.
Under the leadership of CSISA-Nepal’s Socioeconomist, Gokul Paudel, participants jointly reviewed production practice survey datasets, cleaned the data, applied relevant analytical tools and generated results.
The group started by reviewing basic statistics and R-software, the rationale behind ML and algorithms such as classification and regression tree (CART) and random forest models. Using R, participants checked data summary statistics and visualized in histograms, boxplots, scattered plots and correlation plots. With CART, the participants produced graphical results by chronologically classifying covariates in terms of their possible predictive roles in a particular outcome. CART showed that sowing date is the most important factor in determining wheat yield in Bihar and EUP, followed by crop establishment method, amount of nitrogen applied and number of irrigations.
Participants also used the random forest model, which is more robust in terms of training and validation performance because multiple decision trees, based on different characteristics, are built. Results also identified sowing date as the most important factor, also matching CART results for other covariates determining wheat yield.
These ML results provide sufficient evidence of the role of sowing date in wheat yield in UP and Bihar, which has also been documented earlier by CSISA.
This team of CSISA scientists successfully analyzed and visualized data with modern statistical tools and gained confidence to consistently undertake robust diagnostic surveys and collaborative research trials, as well as generate location specific insights, discuss these insights with partners and inform decision makers at relevant levels. All publications, along with full datasets, will be made available to the public through open source channels.
The custom hiring of labor- and cost-saving agricultural machinery services is increasingly common in South Asia. With agricultural machinery, gender gaps exist not only in the use of these technologies, but in farmers’ ability to rent and hire them.
To explore gender dynamics in emerging markets for agricultural machinery service-provision in Bangladesh, the Gender, Climate Change, and Nutrition Integration Initiative (led by IFPRI), CSISA and CSISA-MI partnered to conduct qualitative research in Faridpur and Jhenaidah districts in October–December 2017. The team interviewed husband and wife machine service providers, men and women who hire machines for their farms, women farmers in non-mechanized farming households, and CSISA staff and community leaders.
Researchers focused on machinery services for multi-crop reaper-harvesters, which enable farmers to rapidly cut crops during harvest. Service providers running reaper businesses often hire skilled machine operators to harvest farmers’ fields. Women and men in the study identified multiple benefits of hiring reaper services, including the reduction of drudgery, the ability to pay for services after receiving them (unlike when they hire laborers, whom they have to pay up front), the time saved during crop harvesting, and the cost savings associated with using a machine rather than laborers who need to be housed and fed.
Unfortunately, women were found to face multiple barriers to running reaper-based service provider businesses, including: cultural norms preventing them learning about machines from men, lack of capital for investing in machines, fewer connections to help them advertise machine services, an unwillingness among men to operate machines for women, and a lack of family and community support for women who want to work outside the home.
Despite these gender-based constraints, many women still expressed interest in participating more or starting their own reaper service provision business. The following approaches can help close gender gaps in reaper-based business ownership: models that allow joint machine ownership and provide training to men and women equally; leveraging women’s networks to expand their potential client bases; well-targeted, smart subsidies that make machine procurement more accessible for women; encouraging savings and loan associations to provide credit to women; models of group-based machine ownership; mobile phone-based payment options for clients; and sensitizing men to women’s contributions to service provision businesses.
Clearly, women benefit from managing and sometimes owning machinery services, as well as from the direct and indirect consequences of hiring such services to harvest their crops. However, a number of technical, economic, and cultural barriers still constrain women’s full participation in these benefits. Initiatives that promote rural machinery services should more fully engage women as business owners and users of machinery to expand the benefits of these markets throughout South Asia and other farming geographies dominated by smallholders.