Sustainable Intensification Optimizes the Production of Farming Systems Per Unit Area Per Unit Time: Q&A with Vara Prasad

Posted on News & Announcements, March 29, 2015

IMG_1491As the use of the term ‘Sustainable Intensification (SI)’ becomes more common in today’s agricultural and scientific forums, we talk to Dr. P.V. Vara Prasad, Director of the Feed the Future Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab, to understand the meaning of SI and its benefits for farmers and food security.

How would you define sustainable intensification and why is it so important today?

The challenge of increasing food production to meet the demand from a growing population and diminishing resources has brought sustainable intensification (SI) at the forefront today.

Historically, to meet the demand of a growing population, we were able to increase global food production by bringing more land into agriculture through conversion of forests and grasslands, increased use of inputs and the introduction of cultivars that were more responsive to these inputs. Such actions over decades without proper guiding principles led to environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services, greater negative impacts of climate change and slowed productivity gains in major food crops. The increases in crop productivity, too, were often accompanied by large negative impacts on the natural resource base, proving that such methods were not sustainable in the long run.

Sustainable intensification (SI) is broadly defined as the process and means to simultaneously improve productivity and environmental performance from agricultural land. The goal of SI is to increase food production from existing farmland while minimizing negative impacts on the environment. These practices optimize the production of farming systems per unit area per unit time. The combination of the terms “sustainable” and “intensification” indicates that desirable outcomes around both more food and improved environmental goods and services can be achieved by multiple means using a systems approach. While this is challenging, it can be achieved through innovations in science, capacity building and knowledge sharing through collaborative research programs.

How can smallholder farmers benefit from SI?

Firstly, projections show that the world will have 9.2 billion people by 2050 and most of this population increase will occur in less developed or developing countries – particularly in Africa and Asia. That means these countries would have to increase agricultural production by 100% to meet food demand alone. Secondly, there will also be more competing demand from other products such as feedstock for animals and bioenergy. And third, 70 percent of the world’s farmers are classified as smallholders or farmers with less than 1 hectare of land. They not only manage 80% of an estimated 500 million small farms, but also provide over 80% of the food consumed in the developing world.

A focus on SI among smallholder farmers hence becomes critical to food security, particularly in Africa and Asia where there is little or no option of expanding arable land. There is clear evidence suggesting benefits from investments in agricultural research can lead to sustainable increases in farm productivity.

Some of the specific proven examples of SI practices include: introduction of short duration grain legumes in cereal-based cropping systems by making adjustments to planting dates, selection of crop varieties of appropriate durations, integrating livestock (small and large animals including poultry) and aquaculture (fish and shrimp) into farming systems; increasing diversity of crops and livestock; integrated soil, water and pest management practices; inclusion of vegetables, fruits and agroforestry systems for diversity and nutritious diets.

How different are challenges faced by farmers in developing countries compared to their counterparts in developed countries?

Issues related to increasing farm productivity and income, limited resources and environmental constraints are similar for most producers around the world. But the scale and context are different. For example, a smallholder farmer in developing countries has 0.5 to 10 ha of land, while a smallholder farmer in developed countries has 100 to 200 ha. The goal of farmers across the globe remains the same – to increase net income – only the methods they use to achieve them would be different.

In developing countries, most of the losses in food production occur during production, harvesting and storage, while in developed countries losses occur later during processing, transport and consumption. The majority of smallholder famers in developing counties lack access to inputs such as capital, fertilizers and equipment. There the focus is more on achieving food security through integrated soil and nutrient management, cropping systems and appropriate scale technologies. Whereas producers in developed countries who have access to inputs are generally focused on judicious use of these inputs and focus more on saving fuel, optimizing farm size for mechanization and ensuring soil health to increase trade and income.

Technologies used to overcome such challenges are appropriate for all farmers but at different scales based on farm size and typology.

How will your work help address these challenges?

The Feed the Future (FtF) Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab (SIIL) is a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funded program that supports research, knowledge sharing and capacity building activities aimed at sustainably transforming farming systems of smallholder farmers.

We aim to develop research and capacity-building portfolios in collaboration with US universities, international and national organizations to sustainably increase agricultural productivity and income that provides food and nutritional security to smallholder farmers in Africa and Asia while maintaining a strong focus on an integrated farming systems research. We will be supported by the Geospatial and Farming Systems Research Consortium and the Appropriate Scale Mechanization Consortium. The primary focus countries in this phase of SIIL are Senegal, Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Cambodia.

SIIL will also fund research sub-awards totaling up to US$ 9 million in specific focus areas over the next five years. We plan to release the request for applications from research and capacity building institutions by June.

I feel privileged to have the opportunity to lead and serve SIIL. I look forward to actively collaborate with SI flagship programs on providing food and nutritional security to smallholder farmers across the globe.

Any potential areas for future collaboration between SIIL and CSISA?

There will be a lot of opportunities for collaboration between the two programs. Both focus on SI using a systems approach where emphasis is on total farming or agricultural systems rather than a single commodity. There is also an overlap in CSISA’s existing geographies and SIIL’s focus countries. Therefore, opportunities exist for cross-learning and filling the gaps in research and capacity-building needs. We can build on existing knowledge and scale up and scale out certain proven interventions in Asia (Bangladesh and Cambodia) and potentially also in East and West Africa.

Specific areas for collaboration can include:

  1. Farming Systems Research: Between SIIL and other SI flagship programs of USAID, we can build and provide local farm and field-level solutions that can be scaled to landscapes and regions. Some of the proven technologies or interventions and networks from CSISA can be scaled through programs of SIIL in regions with similar typologies and resources. Looking at CSISA’s genetic intensification work and SIIL’s ecological intensification focus, there could also be possibilities for testing genotypes under various farming systems for SI.
  2. Gender Appropriate and Nutrition Sensitive Technologies: Both programs are focused on development and dissemination of gender appropriate technologies and targeting nutrition. We can learn and enhance collaboration on such interventions.
  3. Geospatial Tools and Scale Appropriate Innovations: SIIL is supported by two consortia bringing together vast expertise. These platforms will be available for collaboration with CSISA and other SI flagship programs of USAID. Further, the scale-appropriate machinery being tested and disseminated by CSISA can be scaled out in SIIL’s new geographies.
  4. Capacity Building: The focus of innovation labs is two-fold: first is innovation in research and second is human capacity building. I can foresee opportunities in both; to use the research sites of CSISA for graduate education by researchers of SIIL and vice versa, and; to collaboratively conduct training programs.
  5. Knowledge Management and Sharing: Scientific knowledge on SI is constantly changing and growing but is not always easily available or accessible. There will be opportunities for collaboration with all SI flagship programs funded by USAID to develop common knowledge platforms that could serve as a one-stop-shop for comprehensive information and literature on SI.

P.V. Vara Prasad is the Director of the Feed the Future Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab. He is also Professor of Crop Ecophysiology in the Department of Agronomy at Kansas State University. His research focuses on understanding responses of crops to changing environments and developing crop, water and soil management strategies for efficient use of inputs and improving crop yields. He is internationally recognized for his research on environmental stress physiology and has published more 120 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters.

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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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.

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.

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.

Seeder Fertilizer Drill Securing Market in Barisal, Bangladesh

Posted on Bangladesh-news, News & Announcements, August 21, 2014

Seeder Fertilizer Drill in Barisal, Bangladesh

The local service providers of Barisal are thrilled with the seeder fertilizer drill (SFD) marketed and sold by the agricultural retailer RFL, one of the private sector partners of CSISA-MI. Compared to a traditional power tiller, this two wheel tractor attachment can be used to seed and fertilize in lines while preparing land. With minor modification, it can also be used for conservation agriculture based crop management, which lowers production costs, conserves soil moisture and can help boost yields. Using SFD results in per hectare savings of around 30 percent in fuel, US$168 in cost and about 60 hours in labor.

Strip tillage is a conservation system that results in reduced tillage, improved soil moisture and cost savings for farmers, by tilling only small strips of land into which seed and fertilizer are placed. When practiced in the long term, these methods can improve soil quality.

Since CSISA-MI started in July 2013, 57 local service providers have adopted the SFD, which is also known as a power tiller operated seeder (PTOS) mostly in Rajbari, Faridpur and Patuakhali districts. These LSPs have cultivated 132 hectares of land for over 205 farmers so far, mostly for wheat, pulses, sunflowers, mung beans and maize.

“One pass with an SFD is enough, whereas at least three pass is required with traditional power tiller,” shared farmer and service provider Rezaul Karim Pannu from Patuakhali district. “We are hopeful to have 300 kilograms more mung bean per hectare this season.”

According to RFL’s dealers, who are marketing the SFD, the machine’s prospects in Bangladesh are good. Md. Muzahidul Islam, proprietor of New Islam Enterprise and a RFL dealer, said, “although this is a very new technology in the country, it will have a great effect in our agricultural sector due to its traits of time and cost savings, as well as increase in production.”

To read CSISA-Mechanization and Irrigation Newsletter, click here

Wants to Work for Greater Participation of Women Scientists in Wheat Research, says CSISA Fellowship Recipient

Posted on India-news, News & Announcements, August 7, 2014

At the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) 2014 Technical Workshop in Obregón, Mexico, Dr. Chhavi Tiwari received the ‘Women in Triticum Award 2014.’ Tiwari was a recipient of the CIMMYT-CSISA Research Fellowship in 2010 and has been actively engaged in wheat research for the past nine years, targeting the crucial wheat concerns of the Eastern Gangetic Plains of India, particularly the heat stress and micronutrient deficiency in the region.

The Women in Triticum Award, established in 2010, provides professional development opportunities for women working in wheat during the early stages of their career.​ The award is named after Jeanie Borlaug Laube, daughter of Nobel Laureate Dr.​ Norman E.​ Borlaug.​

Dr. Chhavi Tiwari receives Women in Triticum award from Dr. Jeanie Borlaug Laube. Photo: Kat Coldren, BGRI

Dr. Chhavi Tiwari receives Women in Triticum award from Dr. Jeanie Borlaug Laube.
Photo: Kat Coldren, BGRI

Pleased with this opportunity, Tiwari feels it will help her to “contribute to enhanced wheat production and improve the socio-economic status of resource poor farmers.” Chhavi received her Ph.D. (Agriculture) in Genetics and Plant Breeding from Banaras Hindu University (BHU) in 2012. Currently she is working as a Research Associate in the HarvestPlus Wheat project at BHU, India.

Tiwari said that the CSISA Fellowship and guidance from CIMMYT scientist Dr. Arun Joshi during her PhD helped her to find pragmatic solutions for heat stress in wheat in South Asia. It also provided her with a platform to travel and meet with international scientists and helped to improve her research knowledge base.

Tiwari plans further work to enhance Zinc and Iron, crucial micronutrients  in wheat and hopes “her strategies for meaningful research in wheat will ensure both food and nutritional security as well help in social upliftment of women.”

Watch the video: BGRI Women in Triticum Award Ceremony 2014

Improving Women Farmer’s Access to Agricultural Information and Training in India

Posted on India-news, News & Announcements, August 7, 2014

DSC_0107

On a hot summer day in the Muzaffarpur District of Bihar State, India, 345 women farmers gathered to talk about the challenges they face in agriculture with a visiting team from the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. During the event, which was organized by the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), one woman said, “Brothers, if you are farmers, so are we.” The group responded with loud claps and whistles. The women then discussed their day-to-day issues and shared their enthusiasm to learn about new agricultural technologies and management practices.

It is relatively uncommon to see women in rural India – where gender discrimination runs deep and women often are not empowered to speak or make decisions – talk openly and passionately about their lives. The farmers who attended the CSISA meeting are members of the new initiative, Kisan Sakhi, meaning “a woman farmer friend,” jointly started by CSISA and the Bihar Mahila Samakya, an Indian government program on women’s equality.

Women work extensively on farms across India – participating in sowing, weeding and harvesting – and are responsible for managing farm work and household chores. However, their contribution in agriculture remains largely unseen and unacknowledged. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, women account for 43 percent of the agricultural labor force in developing countries and produce 60 percent of the food, yet compared with men farmers most women don’t have land rights or equal access to education or training.

Kisan Sakhi aims to empower women farmers in Bihar by disseminating new climate-resilient and sustainable farming technologies and practices that will reduce women’s drudgery and bridge the gender gap in agriculture. FAO estimates that the productivity gains from ensuring equal access to fertilizer, technology and tools could raise the total agricultural output in developing countries and reduce the number of hungry people.

“In spite of doing all kinds of work in the field, I never got the respect as a farmer that men farmers would get,” said Sumintra Devi, who is now a member of Kisan Sakhi. She is being introduced to new technologies and management practices such as improved weed management, maize intercropping, intensification of cropping systems with summer green gram, machine transplanting of rice under non-puddled conditions and nursery management.

“We have discussions with the group members during which they identify the training needs and practices they would like to adopt,” said 20140606_122152CSISA gender specialist Sugandha Munshi. In one such discussion, the women mentioned the painful and tedious process of shelling maize by hand. CSISA organized training that demonstrated post-harvest technologies such as a hand-powered maize sheller and “super bags” for effective grain storage.

Six geographical areas – Aurai, Bandra, Bochaha, Gai Ghat, Kudhni and Musahri – in Muzaffarpur District have been identified for the pilot work. “Women farmers recognize that receiving information and skill is more important than short-term monetary support from a project,” said R.K. Malik, the leader of CSISA’s Objective 1 and the Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh hub manager.

CSISA has also started helping women farmers to become entrepreneurs. As part of Kisan Sakhi, four women self-help groups in the Bandra area are pooling resources to buy a rice-transplanting machine, which will help them to earn income by offering custom-hire services. “It is part of a major shift in perception of participating women groups. CSISA and its partnership with the government of Bihar now see an opportunity to involve women for adoption of new technologies and facilitate them to become service providers,” said Malik.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Innovative Solutions to Accelerate Agricultural Development in India

Posted on News & Announcements, June 9, 2014

 

 

IMG_9008 copy

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the Institute of Economic Growth (IEG) convened an international conference on Innovation in Indian Agriculture: Way Forward, held on December 4–5, in New Delhi.

The conference explored innovative ways of accelerating development in India’s agricultural sector through productivity growth, higher returns to farming, acceleration of poverty reduction and the improvement of social and economic welfare in rural India. The conference aimed to:

  • highlight research on the impacts of past reforms in Indian agriculture, structural changes in production, consumption and demand, resource degradation and climate change;
  • analyse policy options for Indian agriculture going forward; and
  • draw on the theoretical and empirical evidence on agricultural development from other countries and regions.
Participants and speakers were drawn from a rich mix of backgrounds: senior officers and advisors from policymaking circles, analysts from the policy research community, representatives of farmer and civil society organizations, and executives and entrepreneurs from crop science and agribusiness concerns.

For more details, please visit the conference page 

Designing Solutions to Improve Delivery of High-Yielding Varieties to Farmers in Eastern India

Posted on India-news, News & Announcements, June 2, 2014

Expanding the role of agricultural extension and advisory services will help promoting new varieties to farmers Photo: Ashok Rai/CSISA

Expanding the role of agricultural extension and advisory services would help promote new varieties to farmers Photo: Ashok Rai/CSISA

Seed Scenario

In recent decades, a large number of rice and wheat varieties have been released in India, which have the potential to significantly increase agricultural productivity and reduce rural poverty. However, most small-scale and poor farmers in eastern India do not have access to new generations of modern rice and wheat varieties that can tolerate flooding or are resistant to pests and diseases, and give higher yields.

Seed replacement rates in key crops like rice and wheat are extremely low in eastern India, which can be attributed to many factors. Farmers are not aware of the potential of new varieties; lack of proper seed storage infrastructure to maintain good quality; poor linkages among government, private sector and farmers to provide seeds in a timely manner and a lack of a policy environment that will support faster adoption of new varieties.

“Some of the concerns that need to be addressed in this sector include why farmers are still buying old (but popular) varieties from the market, how to ensure that more farmers can access seed markets and how to bridge the gap between demand and supply,” said Takashi Yamano, Senior Scientist and Agricultural Economist, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), highlighting the scope and purpose of the meeting entitled, ‘Seed Summit for Enhancing the Seed Supply Chain in Eastern India’, organized by the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, on 14-15 May in Patna, Bihar. The event touched on topics such as better-targeted subsidies on seeds, improved storage infrastructure, the policy environment and stronger extension systems to increase farmers’ accessibility and adoption of improved seed varieties.

More than 60 seed experts from the government, research and private sectors identified the challenges in the seed value chain and discussed actionable solutions that will improve the delivery of improved rice and wheat varieties to farmers in eastern India.

The event was divided into several plenary and group discussion sessions that focused on strengthening the financial capacity and marketing

Seed Summit: Aiming to enhance seed supply chain in Eastern India

Seed Summit: Aiming to enhance seed supply chain in Eastern India

skills of rural seed dealers and input retailers, expanding the role of agricultural extension and advisory services, leveraging civil society — farmers’ associations, community groups and non-governmental organizations — to help promote new varieties and encouraging greater engagement from India’s vibrant private sector in the region’s seed markets.

David Spielman, Senior Research Fellow, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), said, “India is the fifth largest seed market in the world, growing at 12 percent annually.” He underscored the gaps in the policy environment of India’s seed market and how public and private sectors need to work together for farmers’ benefits.

“There is a need for better decision-making tools – better data, information and analysis at a strategic level to improve seed systems and markets in Asia. Greater investments in the research systems and improved market surveillance to identify and prosecute fraudulent seed production are also required,” Spielman added.

Vilas Tonapi, Principal Scientist (Seed Science and Technology), Indian Agricultural Research Institute, promoted alternative seed system models – individual farmer as a seed bank, village-based seed banks and self-help group-based small scale seed enterprises – to provide local platforms that farmers can easily access to buy improved seeds. Tonapi also emphasized the importance of public-private collaborations to make available appropriate varieties at the right place and time, in sufficient quantity and good quality.

Looking Forward

The last session at the summit discussed the priorities for a future action plan in the Indian seed sector, especially in the eastern states. Participants highlighted the role of local seed dealers and the need for workable business models to expand the use of varieties. Defining which varieties are old and which are not is equally important. Participants also explored strategies to prioritize breeding, enhance varietal turnover and market development for the procurement of open pollinated varieties and hybrids.

Four main priorities came up at the end of the deliberations that will be critical going forward. Extension systems should be restructured and revived. Effective seed subsidy programs should be designed that are based on evidence, are cost-effective and are better targeted to reach poor farmers. Mechanization of the seed sector should be promoted with the introduction of mobile seed treatment units and seed weighing machines. Demonstrations of new varieties and new farm technologies should be promoted through progressive and innovative farmers.

Sain Dass, Indian Maize Development Association President, said, “Proper infrastructure, local production and sale to ensure timely availability, better extension services and more demonstrations to increase farmers’ awareness will help enhance the seed supply chain in eastern India.”

Read media coverage of the Seed Summit

View photos from the Seed Summit

Watch video: Using Super Bag for Better Storage of Seeds

 

The Economics of Hybrid Rice in India

Posted on News & Announcements, May 25, 2014

With the Lok Sabha recently passing the National Food Security Bill (NFSB) that promises subsidised foodgrains to 75 percent of the rural csisaIndiapopulation and 50 percent of the urban population, India is under huge pressure to significantly increase its cereal grains production.

One such method of doing so is through the accelerated adoption of hybrid technologies, including hybrid rice. Hybrid rice has the potential to significantly increase rice yields, often to the order of 15-30 percent relative to local or even modern high yielding varieties.

These higher yields allow for more intensive rice production, thus allowing farmers to either produce more output on a particular plot of land or to diversify into higher-value crops like vegetables and other horticulture crops. Both strategies potentially result in higher farm incomes and more abundant food supplies that can stabilise prices for both urban and rural food-insecure households.

The government of India has set an ambitious target to increase the area under hybrids to 25 percent of total rice area by 2015. Despite these promising results, the pace of hybrid rice adoption in India has been slow, particularly in comparison with experiences in China. At present, over half of all rice area in China is under hybrid rice, resulting in improved food security for an estimated 60 million people per year. The adoption of hybrids has been much slower in India, with only about 7 percent of rice area under hybrids.

The low rate of adoption is largely due to poor grain quality and the resulting low market price, difficulties in achieving high rates of heterosis in tropical hybrids, high hybrid seed cost, limited availability of quality seeds, and hybrids not suited to ultimate consumers’ tastes and preferences. These are just a few of the main challenges facing the expansion of hybrid rice in India.

To read the full article, click here. Source: Op-ed by Patrick Ward, The Financial Express

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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