Gains for grains

Photo Credit: Ragnar Vaga Pedersen./Sowing seeds of change: Women farmers pave the way

By T V JAYAN. Published on July 4, 2017

An agri project handholds farmers as they turn climate smart

Saving our farms from the devastating impacts of climate change is an ardent task, given the latter’s unpredictable bearing. But the number-crunching by multiple scientific groups all over the world has unanimously agreed that the unprecedented heating of the planet would certainly lead to extreme weather events that would upset the deep-set farming practices, particularly in tropical countries like India.

Now, in a small but profound attempt to help Indian farmers overcome climate-related challenges, a team of Indian and Norwegian scientists has fine-tuned a host of technologies that would aid in weathering calamities such as recurrent droughts or damaging floods.

Termed ClimaAdapt, the five-year-long project executed on a shoestring budget of $3.8 million worked with thousands of farmers in three major river basins in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. The project, that focused mainly on water-guzzling paddy farming, led to refining, upscaling and implementation of several new rice growing and irrigation technologies as well as identifying more suitable seed varieties.

“In the past five years, we have developed climate-smart rice-growing and irrigation technologies and improved the adaptive capacity of farmers and selected agriculture and water sectors through various measures,” said Udaya Sekhar Nagothu, ClimaAdapt’s coordinator and a researcher with the Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research (NIBIO), in Oslo. “Together, we have ensured that the food security and livelihood of 90,000 Indian smallholders, one-third of these women, has been vastly improved.”

While 25,000 local farmers received relevant information and training on farming and climate adaptation through eight village knowledge centres set up as part of the project, an additional 65,000 farmers benefited by gaining access to information through farmer-to-farmer communication and exchange of knowledge process, Nagothu said.

Working jointly with NIBIO were researchers from the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation, Chennai, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU), Madurai, Water and Land Management Training Institute (WALAMTARI) in Hyderabad and International Water Management Institute.

“Studies in the past have shown that there has been an increase of 0.4 degree Celsius in the Cauvery basin in the last decade. And climate projections estimate that this will further increase by 1.4 to 1.5 degree Celsius by mid-century and 3.5 to 4 degree Celsius by end of the current century,” said V Geethalakshmi, professor at TNAU, who was involved in the project.

“It is estimated that if the current rice farming practices are followed, water requirement for paddy would go up to 1,450 to 1,500 millimetre from the present 1,000-1,200 ml to sustain the existing productivity,” she said.

Nagothu said that three different rice growing and irrigation methods were tested and implemented at the project sites. There are SRI, or system of rice intensification, alternative wetting and drying (AWD) and direct seeding of rice.

Project implementation

For instance, farmers in the studied Kalingarayan canal basin in Erode and Ponnanair reservoir basin in Trichy were convinced to switch to SRI, which requires 20 to 25 per cent less water as compared to conventionally-used flooding technology.

AWD, implemented mainly in Andhra and Telangana farms, has proved advantageous for the nutrient uptake of the crops, apart from saving water. “By using these techniques on their farms, farmers acquire first hand knowledge that they can not only improve water use efficiency but also not suffer a drop in production. In fact, they can actually result in higher yields,” said K Yella Reddy, director, WALAMTARI, another participant in the research.

What, according to the researchers, set this project apart from other similar initiatives was the approach they adopted. There has been a continuous hand-holding of farmers, they have been supplied with essential materials inputs such as new seed varieties or manure and proper guidance through each stage of the farming process during the project period.

“We also provided them with alternative agro-based livelihood options that stabilised and enhanced their incomes,” said Geethalakshmi.

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