More cassava for less time

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Aeroponics involves growing the cassava with its roots suspended in air and automatically sprayed with a special solution. Photo by: Neil Palmer / CIAT


By  | Apr 5, 2018


Cassava has a relatively long growth cycle compared to other important crops. It takes an average of 10-12 months — sometimes up to 24 months! — for farmers to harvest the roots; maize, rice, and potato’s growth cycles span less than a third of that.

In other words, farmers can grow cassava at most once a year, or, in some cases, every two years. Dr. Michael Gomez Selvaraj, a CIAT crop physiologist, is working to change that.

There is very little understanding of how and why few roots in cassava turn into organs that store starch, the part of the crop most valued by rural communities and industry.

Together with his colleagues at the CIAT Phenomics Platform, Selvaraj is developing a method that will lead to identifying the genes and factors that cause early bulking of roots. This will help them establish how to shorten the growth cycle of cassava to as little as seven months.

In addition, the technique will help identify the genes and factors that can increase the number of storage roots, so farmers can sell more of these in the market.

A novel technique

The method being tested by Selvaraj and his team involves growing the cassava with its roots suspended in air and automatically sprayed with a special solution.

Known as aeroponics, it offers a controlled environment for breeders to identify the genes that trigger early bulking of roots and the conversion of fibrous roots — which are all what the cassava initially has — to storage roots.

In the past, breeders would need to dig up the root from the soil to study the genetic traits of cassava. But it was difficult to isolate genes as the plant interacted with numerous elements in and around the soil, such as insects, fungi, bacteria, and other microorganisms.

With aeroponics, breeders can see how and when some roots start to swell and become starch storage organs. Root swelling is the crucial step toward cassava yield. As such, if breeders can learn to manipulate the genes that induce this swelling, they can manipulate cassava yield.

Apart from locating which gene triggers early root bulking, Selvaraj and his team want to know at which point such a gene does this and why the plant selects certain fibrous roots to become storage roots. Temperature and certain types of hormones could be factors, Selvaraj suggested.

With that, breeders will be able to trigger the process of bulking of roots at the earliest possible time and of increasing the number of storage roots the plant develops.

In the future as such, a cassava variety whose roots start bulking at the fourth month and that only has at most 10 storage roots might have roots that would begin bulking from the second month and have 20 storage roots.

“If we can double the storage roots, farmers will have an equivalent of two harvests in one growing season,” said Selvaraj.

Next steps

Selvaraj aims to follow up his experiment with trials to test how the cassava would perform in the field. And he plans to do this again without having to dig up the root from the soil.

One part of the trials will involve the use of the so-called ground-penetrating radar technology or GPR.

GPR can detect objects underneath the surface. It has numerous applications in several fields such as engineering, military, and archeology.

“But this is the first time that the technology will be used on plants,” according to Selvaraj.

GPR can validate whether the roots of cassava are bulking as early as expected. A study found it to be a suitable technology to predict and estimate storage root growth of cassava.

Another part of the future trials will entail using drones to see how the crop is performing depending on the type of soil and level of nutrients. Knowledge of the proper timing for fertilizing cassava is still limited, and drones can provide valuable information on this.

For instance, if the amount of nitrogen is low, the plant will likely be short. But with the right amount of nutrients, the plant will likely grow tall.

For farmers, the taller the cassava plant, the better. This means they have more planting materials for the next growing season, as farmers only need stem cuttings to propagate the crop.

“With the combination of all these innovative technologies, we are hopeful that one day farmers can produce more cassava in less time,” Michael Selvaraj said. “More importantly, this allows them to earn more and have more to feed their families.”

***

Additional information:

The project titled “Low-cost 3D Phenotyping of Cassava Roots” is funded by the U.K. Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and is a partnership between CIAT and the University of Nottingham’s Computer Vision Laboratory.

The use of GPR by the Phenomics Platform is supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and forms part of the partnership between CIAT, Texas A&M University, and IDS North America Ltd.


Article Disclaimer: This article was published by the CIAT and retrieved on 04/09/2018 and posted here for information and educational purposes only. The views and contents of the article remain those of the authors. We will not be held accountable for the reliability and accuracy of the materials. If you need additional information on the published contents and materials, please contact the original authors and publisher. Please cite the authors, original source, and INDESEEM, Inc. accordingly.


 

Community nursery offers means for economic empowerment of women farmers

By SUGANDHA MUNSHI | Specialist on Gender Issues | IRRI


 

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Source: IRRI 2017

Women-focused intervention plays a pivotal role in IRRI’s work with farmers. With the climate changing, innovation that results in better management practices for farmers is essential. This becomes more crucial, though, when it comes to smallholder marginal women farmers in rice production.

Under the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) project, a focused intervention has been taking place in Bihar, India, under four themes: identity, knowledge bank, leadership, and economic benefits.

At Muzzafarpur District in Bihar, Kisan Sakhi’, or a group of women farmers, is the identity with which hundreds of women farmers associate themselves.

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Community nursery women/

At the grassroots level, in the districts of the Muzzafarpur block, we found the women in agriculture to be smallholder and marginal farmers. Working with a women’s self-help group as well as with individual farmers, we observed a shift in their perception, attitude, and behavior, in varying degrees.

Majorly at the grassroots of India, a woman is generally recognized as the wife of a certain farmer rather than as a farmer herself. In a society deeply entrenched in social and structural barriers that decide the role of a woman in defined often ‘watertight’ compartments, women like Sumitra Devi, Guddi Devi, and other members of the farmer self-help group we worked with have planted the seeds of a paradigm shift in grassroots agriculture in India.

A community nursery set up by Sumitra and Guddi with other women farmers from the villages in Bandra created an environment where smallholder women farmers are slowly but continually moving ahead toward becoming progressive farmers. The opportunity to sell seedlings to fellow farmers in the village also upsets in a positive way a domain traditionally run by males.

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Kisan Sakhiwith her rice nursery./IRRI

“Having learned techniques for developing a good-quality nursery, I have been able to contribute to the income of my household. Being a woman able to do that makes me feel good, “said Sumitra. “In 2015, after learning and applying community nursery management practices, I made a profit of Rs 4,000 from selling healthy seedlings. It was a new initiative for me at a small scale and, in 2016, I plan to do this again in a more organized way.”

She added that she has reached this level from a point where her knowledge and awareness about community nursery farming was nil. She acknowledged CSISA for the training and knowledge that helped her become an informed farmer.

Sumitra’s case is an example of the benefits that participatory extension and research impart for women farmers, providing them opportunities for exposure to improved practices, thus increasing their confidence and opening up for them, in Sumitra’s words, “a new world to explore.”

It is important to note that it is not easy for women like Sumitra to become part of such initiatives in which she has to learn, make decisions on, and practice new technology. But with her increased knowledge on better-bet agricultural practices came development of her self-esteem and confidence—something foreign to her experience, until now.

Development of the community nursery and practices learned in nursery management reduced drudgery in her work, and improved nursery management increased opportunities for her to generate income.

Teaching a woman nursery management increases the chances of learned better practices getting passed on to the next generation. The skills they learn not only add value to their ‘knowledge bank’ in agriculture but also increase the scope for income generation, as in the case of Sumitra.

Guddi, for her part, describes how her own situation went for better: “When our group developed the community nursery in the village, my plot became the most talked about in the area. Hundreds of fellow villagers came and saw it, and many of them were surprised to see how it had shaped up! I received many praises, which made me feel happy and confident.”

For a smallholder woman farmer like Guddi, the task seemed more challenging, as she had to fight for a chance for exposure to such capacity building programs. Being part of the self-help group and of the Jyoti Mahila Samkhya federation helped her greatly in making decisions.

Woman exploring the opportunity for income generation through nursery management and quality nursery had been unheard of in the area.

Development of the nursery by the women farmers also had the effect of spreading awareness among farmers on the importance of having such a nursery, and managing it properly, said Pankaj Kumar, CSISA scientist.

Sunita Devi, a member of the federation, acknowledged how the community nursery has enabled women farmers to start new enterprises at the village level. “Women-focused intervention in agriculture is increasing their ‘knowledge bank’ and capacity, with on-field training. It is a new beginning for women farmers, learning new techniques and being able to explore an added source of income through the community nursery.”

With the experiences of these women farmers, in the kharif season of 2016, other members of the self-help group in the area are now ready to take the lead to develop the community nursery further and generate income through its sale of seedlings.

Women farmers are on the lookout for opportunities as well as better-quality seeds and training on better management practices. They are keen on exploring new opportunities for generating income, such as through community nursery as described above, and perhaps even become entrepreneurs someday. It is a difficult task, but it has begun, and in the grassroots of Bihar, India, CSISA plays catalyst in this noble goal with partner organizations and farmer groups.


The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) promotes durable change at scale in South Asia’s cereal-based cropping systems. Operating in rural ‘innovation hubs’ in Bangladesh, India, and Nepal, CSISA works to increase the adoption of various resource-conserving and climate-resilient technologies, and improve farmers’ access to market information and enterprise development. CSISA supports women farmers by improving their access and exposure to modern and improved technological innovations, knowledge, and entrepreneurial skills. By continuing to work in synergy with regional and national efforts, collaborating with myriad public, civil society, and private-sector partners, CSISA aims to benefit more than 8 million farmers by the end of 2020.


Article Disclaimer

This article originally appeared on IRRI and was retrieved on 02/06/2018 and republished here for information and educational purposes only. The views and contents of the article remain those of the authors. We will not be held accountable for the reliability and accuracy of the materials. If you need additional information on the published contents and materials, please contact the original authors and publisher. Please cite the authors, original source, and INDESEEM INCORPORATED accordingly. If you have any question or concern, please send us an email at info@indeseem.org.


Ethiopian farmers made a desert bloom again

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Georgina Smith / CIAT

Ethiopia is in the middle of the worst drought in 50 years. It’s the sort of shock to the system we are likely to see more of with climate change. But Ethiopia is also home to a successful experiment to make the land more resilient to drought. If we are going to adapt to our changing world, it’s experiments like these that will show us the way.

In the steep fields of Ethiopia’s highlands, when rain falls on the parched, overworked land it runs downhill, carrying soil with it. Farmers commonly lose 130 tons of soil per hectare a year, comparable to the worst erosion documented on U.S. farms in recent history. Then, because the water has all rushed downhill, instead of seeping underground, wells go dry. Without water, crops wither, and that exposes bare soil to further erosion.

This cycle turned a watershed in Tigray, Ethiopia, into a near desert, prompting the government to consider moving the farmers. Instead, they decided to try to rescue the land. And they succeeded. Instead of leaving their homes, the farmers are staying put. As one local official put it, what was once a desert is now a forest.

Inspired by this success, farmers are trying the same thing in Adisghe County, Ethiopia. With the help of an international project called Africa Research in Sustainable Intensification for the Next Generation (Africa RISING) and the Ethiopian Bureau of Agriculture, they began building dams, terraces, and recharge ponds. They planted trees on hilltops and planted cover crops on degraded areas.

CIAT researcher Tesfaye Tesfamichael demonstrating the installation of check dams to prevent soil loss on the slopes.
CIAT researcher Tesfaye Tesfamichael demonstrating the installation of check dams to prevent soil loss on the slopes.
Georgina Smith / CIAT

All of these methods had the same goal: Slow down the water. So, for instance, the farmers built check dams across gullies to stop the headlong flow, catch the eroding earth, and create a pool that would percolate into the ground.

The results were astounding, as you can see in this video (shot by Henry Tenenbaum and produced by Georgina Smith at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture).

Thanks to increased water reliability, agricultural training, and precise use of fertilizer (synthetic and manure) farmers have doubled their production since the project started.

This wasn’t easy. Lulseged Desta, a soil scientist and landscape ecologist at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture working with Africa RISING, told me that farmers must set aside up to two months a year for building dams and planting trees. What’s the value of all that work? When organizers calculated how much it would have cost if they had hired laborers to do all that work, it added up to $2,200 for one project of about four square miles. That’s a lot of money in Ethiopia, but it’s certainly less than the cost of resettling families.

Community member shows how returning leafy matter to the soil improves soil health
Community member shows how returning leafy matter to the soil improves soil health
Georgina Smith / CIAT

This project was never meant as a silver bullet to solve the drought. The lowlands are still suffering. But it is part of the larger solution: This sort of transformation, writ large, can cushion climate crises. It helps to have these farmers at home producing food rather than facing migration. And, Desta said, these kinds of soil restoration efforts are now spreading around the country.

Climate change hits poorest places the hardest. One reason is that they simply can’t afford a lot of common-sense environmental protections. This Ethiopian test case shows us that, with a little investment and a lot of hard work, the most vulnerable places can become dramatically more resilient.

Correction: The original story conflated facts from Tigray and Adisghe. Farmers in Abraha wa Atsbeha, Tigray, nearly abandoned the land as a result of desert-like conditions, while in Adisghe the fields were severely degraded but not desertified. The writer’s water ration has been cut in half as punishment.


Article Disclaimer

This article originally appeared on Grist and was retrieved on 02/06/2018 and republished here for information and educational purposes only. The views and contents of the article remain those of the authors. We will not be held accountable for the reliability and accuracy of the materials. If you need additional information on the published contents and materials, please contact the original authors and publisher. Please cite the authors, original source, and INDESEEM INCORPORATED accordingly. If you have any question or concern, please send us an email at info@indeseem.org.


The Humble Banana Transforms an Entire Community in Eastern Zimbabwe

By Doreen Hove, Adam Silagyi, Emma Siamena | USAID – Zimbabwe | Dec. 18 2017


Once these farmers learned to turn their banana crops into commercial enterprises, word spread to their neighbours — and so did the economic benefits.


 

It is early morning in Murara, a small rural community in the Honde Valley. Many farmers are hustling and bustling, loading large bunches of bananas onto trucks headed for Harare, the capital city, while others are tending to their fields.

Bananas grow well in this part of Zimbabwe with fertile soil, consistent rainfall and warm average temperatures. However, prior to USAID support in this region, bananas were primarily produced by subsistence farmers using poor agricultural practices and sold to informal markets that paid a fraction of a fair price.

Jane Mukupe, a 60-year-old banana farmer, used to be among that group. Like most of the small-scale farmers USAID supported, Mukupe Started her business with an initial investment of 200 improved variety banana plants valued at $200 and some fertilizers for her 0.1 hectare (0.25 acre) lot. That was in 2012.

Over the past five years, Mukupe has transformed her business. Nowadays, her day starts at 5 a.m. when she happily attends to more than 3,000 plants on 1.5 hectares (3.7 acres). Her income has increased exponentially from roughly $70 per month in 2012 to $1,500 per month in 2017.

Mukupe is very happy about the changes that have taken place in her life.

Jane Mukupe is now a community role model for women. Today she happily attends to more than 3,000 banana plants on 1.5 hectares (3.7 acres). / Doreen Hove, USAID

“I am a widow,” she explained. “My husband died in 1980 leaving me to take care of my three children. Before I became involved with USAID, I was farming beans, maize and only a few bananas. I also had several goats and was knitting jerseys, but I didn’t make enough money to take care of my family.”

Mukupe said she thought she was too old to participate in USAID’s project, but her late husband’s brother encouraged her to sell her goats to buy banana.

“It was very difficult for me to sell my goats since they were my source of livelihood. But when I look back today, I do not regret selling them,” Mukupe says. “Joining the project was the best decision of my life. I didn’t have a chance to go to school, but look at how successful I am now.”

Now a community role model for women, banana sales have allowed Mukupe to renovate her house and build a second home in the main town of Hauna. And, she purchased more goats.

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Jane Mukupe’s renovated kitchen. Income from bananas enabled her to renovate her kitchen and make it more modern. / Doreen Hove, USAID

Mukupe is just one of 600 banana producers who received technical assistance in agriculture techniques that transformed their farming practices and increased their production and incomes. Because those farmers passed on their knowledge to others in their community, today — two years after USAID’s project ended — there are over 5,000 commercial banana farmers.

The average banana producer is earning approximately $4,200 per year from 0.4 hectares (1 acre), or 800 banana plants. Before USAID interventions farmers were paid low prices due to lack of formal markets and harvested very low yields, the average banana farmer earned less than $200 per year.

A proud female farmer stands in front of her banana farm. / Doreen Hove, USAID

Mary Maparutsa has been a community leader of Murara for more than 20 years and has seen how the project changed lives: “People were not planting bananas on as large a scale as they are today and accepted low yields and low prices because they did not have access to proper production practices, transportation or formal markets. They sold their bananas on the roadside to middlemen that purchased their bananas at a low price and sold them at much higher prices, taking advantage of the small-scale farmers.”

“These middlemen controlled the price because the small-scale farmers had poor yields and no understanding of markets.”

A New Hope

Throughout Murara, a 30-ton Brands Fresh truck is loading bananas from different pick-up points to transport them to Harare, the capital city, for distribution to supermarkets across the country. Brands Fresh is a Zimbabwean buyer active in this area and was the first to be linked to USAID beneficiaries. Now there are several more, and competition among buyers has allowed for more competitive prices that benefit both producers and consumers who have access to better quality bananas.

Throughout Murara, farmers load their bananas onto 30-ton trucks. The bananas are then transported to Harare. / Doreen Hove, USAID

“Currently, bananas are purchased from $0.26 per kilogram for smaller graded fruit and up to $0.32 per kilogram for the largest grade, which is nearly three times higher than the prices before the project,” said Fintrac’s Mark Benzon, who was the banana project’s manager.

Brands Fresh and other buyers have improved the value chain by addressing the transportation problem, which resulted in collecting the bananas at points in close proximity to the farmers’ fields. “Each month we fill up about six 30-ton trucks on average,” says Edward Madewekunze, the local Brands Fresh agronomist. He added that Brands Fresh could easily purchase eight 30-ton trucks of bananas per month, so there is definitely room to grow.

Small-scale farmers now have enough income to buy pipes to connect to water that will irrigate their bananas. / Doreen Hove, USAID

Elias Zvawanewako, another small-scale farmer, said he and others like him used to harvest dismal yields. “We used to individually produce around 30 to 50 kilograms of bananas per month, but now monthly yields over 1,000 kilograms are common. Today, even if you produce a ton of bananas, you feel it’s not enough,” he explained.

Banana production in the area has gone from roughly 2,000 tons in 2011 to more than 27,000 tons in 2017, contributing more than $7.5 million to the rural economy every year.

“Before Zim-AIED, lending institutions were not interested in working with Honde Valley farmers because of the low prospects of successful loan repayments, as income levels were still very low,” said Benzon, referring to the project by its acronym.

Farmers attend to their banana plants. / Doreen Hove, USAID

USAID introduced farmers to Virl Microfinance in 2011, and since then, the lending institution has provided $567,000 in input loans to more than 1,100 farmers. “Bananas have become the main cash crop in Honde Valley, and as a result, more than five banks and microfinance institutions have opened their doors to farmers and created loan packages that meet their needs,” Benzon says.

A Bright Future for Youth

Schools are alive with energetic children, many of whose parents are now commercial banana farmers.

The headmaster for St. Peter’s Mandeya Primary School, Tendayi Musoro said, “Since banana farming started, there has been an increase in the number of children who come to school. Farmers are able to keep their children in school and provide them food and clothes.”

St. Peter’s Mandeya Primary School now has a new classroom block, thanks to the incomes from banana farmers. / Doreen Hove, USAID

After years of economic stagnation, many Zimbabweans left the country to look for work. There is no evidence of young Zimbabweans returning to Honde Valley to take up farming.

Twenty-seven-year-old Amon Zvawanewako returned home from working in South Africa after learning that his family and friends were earning good incomes from small-scale banana farming. Zvawanewako is now a successful banana farmer, earning more than he ever did abroad.

Other entrepreneurial youths are taking advantage of this new industry by starting their own farms and providing instruction to others interested in banana farming. Judah Mukupe, 26, Isaac Kambanje, 32, and Michael Mukupe, 32, are three highly motivated young men who were trained by USAID on good agricultural practices for banana farming. They are now training and assisting other farmers to harvest and load their bananas for a fee.

Amon Zwawanewako and his friend are among the youngest banana farmers in Murara. Zwawanewako returned home from working in South Africa after learning that his family and friends were earning good incomes from small-scale banana farming. / Doreen Hove, USAID

“We noticed that many more farmers wanted to commercialize banana farming and we jumped at the opportunity to train them and earn some income,” said Kambanje. “We earn up to $280 a month through all these small jobs and are slowly starting our own banana plantations. I now have 200 banana plants, and my target is to have about 1,000 banana plants by the end of the year.”

Many other small- and medium-sized businesses, such as supermarkets, farming supply stores, butcheries and hair salons have opened in this region due to the influx of. These businesses provide employment opportunities, especially for youth.

USAID/Zimbabwe Mission Director Stephanie Funk has observed firsthand how banana farming expanded under USAID support.

“We are excited because this project has changed the lives of an entire community long after our assistance ended,” she said. “It is a true example of how agriculture-led economic growth provides long-term resilience and sustainability. Zim-AIED’s impact can be seen not just in individual farmers but in the entire Honde Valley community.”

The Zimbabwe Agricultural Income and Employment Development (Zim-AIED) project began in 2010 with the aim of improving food security and livelihoods for nearly 25,000 people in Honde Valley. It ended in 2015 with 600 farmers trained to grow and sell bananas. Other small farmers saw what happened and followed the lucrative trend. Today, 5,000 commercial farmers from the region are producing bananas for sale in the country.


About the Authors

Doreen Hove is a Development Outreach and Communications Specialist, Adam Silagyi is an Agricultural/Food Security Officer and Emma Siamena is a Program Specialist, all with USAID’s mission in Zimbabwe.


Article Disclaimer: This article was published by USAID Frontlines and retrieved on 01/09/2017 and posted here for information and educational purposes only. The views and contents of the article remain those of the authors. We will not be held accountable for the reliability and accuracy of the materials. If you need additional information on the published contents and materials, please contact the original authors and publisher. Please cite the authors, original source, and INDESEEM accordingly.


Seeds of Hope

By Neha Khator | USAID| January 8, 2018


Improved seeds and better access to water have proved a winning combination for these Indian farmers.

Three spokes in his back wheel have almost come off, but farmer Kunwar Munda adjusts his feet and continues to cycle. Even as the breeze rushes through his hair, it is never enough to match the scorching sun. Trees and the ground have been burnt stony brown and dry.

After almost an hour of cycling, Munda arrives at a tented location in Mungadih village in Angara block in the eastern state of Jharkhand in India.

This is the third Kisan Mela (Farmer’s Fest) organized by USAID, the Centers for International Projects Trust (CIPT) and Birsa Agricultural University (BAU) under the Sustainable Agriculture and Farmers’ Livelihood (SAFAL) Program. Hundreds of farmers from across 15 villages have arrived here. Munda parks his cycle next to a large tree and joins a party of known faces from his village as a few hundred farmers continue to pour into the tent.

Among the arriving farmers is 22-year-old Sapna Devi. Unlike Munda, she had to cross a forested mountain on foot to reach the event.

Farmers gathered under a tent to collect their bags of high-yielding rice seeds. / Neha Khator, USAID

The farmers wait in anticipation before officials from the USAID-supported SAFAL project began distributing 1,200 bags of high-yielding rice seeds to the hundreds of farmers that have congregated.

As names are called one-by-one, farmers queue to get their bags, each containing five kilograms of high-yielding rice seeds.

Farmer Kunwar Munda smiles after collecting his bag of rice seeds. / Neha Khator, USAID

As Munda collects his bag and rejoins his group, his face beams with a smile that’s unstoppable.

“I have heard so much about these seeds. Farmers in villages near mine have doubled their crop production since they got these. And even the drought last year did not affect them. It is my turn now,” he says.

Munda, like every farmer in Jharkhand, is trapped in a vicious and complex agricultural quagmire.

The state has a mountain topography, which means that the land here is rocky, uneven and less fertile.

“Out of the state’s entire land mass, only 35 percent is cultivable land,” explains Kamal Vatta, director of CIPT. “And even though Jharkhand receives monsoon rains twice the national average, the state’s [sloping] geography means that 90 percent of the rainwater quickly washes away, leaving the farmers distressed with severe water shortage and periodic droughts.”

To compound these problems, farmers here grow a traditional, low-productive rice variety using farming methods passed on to them through generations. And, like most farmers here, Munda owns only a small plot of land. His father upon his death divided his one acre of farmland among Munda and his four brothers, leaving only one-fifth of the land each to cultivate. As a result, Munda barely produces enough to feed his family beyond six months.

To break this cycle of extreme poverty and food insecurity, USAID organized the first Farmer’s Fest in June 2015. Through this project, 730 farming families were selected from across 10 villages to receive high-yielding rice seeds along with training in modern sowing and farming methods.

Farmer Sapna Devi after receiving her bag of rice seeds. Through this USAID project, 730 farming families were selected to receive high-yielding rice seeds and training in modern farming methods. / Neha Khator, USAID

But seeds alone couldn’t do the magic.

“In India, farming is still rain-fed and rain-dependent. To cultivate a good crop, farmers need assured access to water during the months of shortage. That is why we began building dobhas or small ponds,” says Vatta.

Adobha is a low-cost rainwater harvesting technique where a 10-by-10 foot pit is dug to trap the rainwater.

“Under the SAFAL project, CIPT and agriculture scientists from Birsa University used geospatial mapping to carefully identify rain and water stream patterns to build the dobhas in strategic locations. In the first year, we built 20 such dobhas — two each in the 10 selected villages,” adds Vatta. The farmers then draw the required amount of water from the dobha using a pipe powered by a pump.

The dobha built near farmer Sukhram Bediya’s farm / Neha Khator, USAID

Farmer Sukhram Bediya from Mungadih village proudly shows the dobha built an arms-length from his less than 1-acre farmland. Whereas before he was producing barely 150 to 200 kilograms of rice a year, after utilizing the higher-yielding rice seeds and dobha irrigation technique, his production shot up to 450 kilograms in only a year.

“After I harvested the rice, the project staff provided me vegetable seeds which again turned out very well. I sold the vegetables in the nearby weekly bazaar, and now I earn an average Rs. 1,000 ($16) every week just by selling vegetables,” says Bediya.

Currently, lush green colocasia leaves (cultivated for its nutritious leaves and root) and ripened tomatoes cover his field. These will soon be cleared to be sold at the weekly bazaar and will make way for his next rice crop.

Farmer Sukhram Bediya shows his field. / Neha Khator, USAID

“In the last two years, I have never left my fields empty. I’m producing something throughout the year now,” says Bediya, a new gold-coloured watch reflecting the sun as he smooths his crisp, light-blue shirt with his hands.

With rising farm production came rising incomes, and farmers like Bediya and Bharat Ram, who is from a nearby village, owe their newfound prosperity to the seeds and dobhas backed by USAID.

Bharat Ram’s daughter had just passed her Grade 10 exams the year he made Rs. 15,000 ($244) by selling a bumper cucumber harvest. “From that money, I paid Rs. 5,000 ($77) for her admission fees to enrol her into the Women’s College in Ranchi (the state capital).” Adds Ram with a tone of disbelief: “Who would’ve thought that cucumbers could one day pay for my daughter’s education.”

As these stories of transformed livelihoods travelled across villages far and wide, farmers like Munda and Sapna Devi began joining the SAFAL project. Like Bharat Ram, Munda too wants to send his sons to study in a private school in the city. “They are talented, bright boys and I know they’ll do well for themselves if they get the right education,” says Munda.

In the last two years, the project has built 320 dobhas in 30 villages in the Angara block alone and has enrolled over 2,100 farmers, providing them with access to water and seeds of hope.

The project has been so successful that the local state government has taken notice and plans to drastically ramp up dobha construction going forward.

“Based on the success of our program, the Jharkhand state government has now committed to constructing 500,000 dobhas across the state by 2022, collectively saving 12.5 million cubic meters of rainwater,” says Vatta. The Jharkhand state government’s efforts support the Indian Prime Minister’s flagship national goal of providing “water to every farm” and doubling farmers’ incomes and productivity.

Farmer Sapna Devi, though, has simpler dreams. With the increased farm income, she hopes to buy herself a red saree. “It would look good on me, right?” she asks. “Oh yes, you’ll look very pretty,” giggle her friends from behind.


About the Author

Neha Khator is a development and outreach communications specialist with USAID’s mission in India.


Article Disclaimer: This article was published by USAID Frontlines and retrieved on 01/09/2017 and posted here for information and educational purposes only. The views and contents of the article remain those of the authors. We will not be held accountable for the reliability and accuracy of the materials. If you need additional information on the published contents and materials, please contact the original authors and publisher. Please cite the authors, original source, and INDESEEM accordingly.


IITA commences confined field trials of transgenic cassava

Communications |December 28, 2017


The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) was recently granted a permit to carry out confined field trials (CFT) on genetically modified cassava (AMY3 RNAi transgenic lines). This research, carried out in collaboration with ETHZ Plant Biotechnology Lab in Zurich, aims to reduce starch breakdown in storage roots of cassava after pruning the shoots, prior to harvest of the crop. The objective is to obtain storage roots with lower postharvest physiological degradation without any loss of the nutritious starch.

Cassava (Manihot esculenta Crantz) is an important starchy food crop in sub-Saharan Africa as well as other tropical and subtropical regions. However, one of the challenges faced by cassava farmers is the high level of postharvest loss caused by rapid deterioration of the starch-rich roots which occurs naturally after harvesting. Although postharvest deterioration can be reduced by pruning the shoots of cassava plants without unearthing the roots, this poses a problem as the desirable starch stored in the root can be degraded by the plant after pruning, which in turn lowers the harvest yield and root quality.

To address this, a research project was conceived at ETH Zurich where cassava plants using cultivar 60444 were generated using RNAi as the tool to reduce starch breakdown in the root after pruning of the shoots. Extensive testing was carried out in greenhouses in Switzerland, where the plants were grown for three consecutive years.

“Our greenhouse experiments were an important first step, but they cannot substitute for genuine field conditions,” said Prof Samuel C. Zeeman of ETH Zurich. “Hence, it is necessary to grow the plants in a tropical climate such as that of Nigeria. IITA is an excellently equipped and well-staffed institute at which to perform such a confined field trial.”

The CFT permit was issued by the National Biosafety Management Agency in accordance with the National Biosafety Agency Act 2015 and is for the period 22 September 2017 to 31 December 2018. IITA adheres strictly to national and international biosafety standards and will ensure that these are enforced during the trials, which will be carried out within the IITA campus in Ibadan.

The research is a fact-gathering process to gain fundamental knowledge about starch metabolism in the storage root and about cassava as a crop. The cassava plants from the confined field trial are not destined for the market nor for commercial development and therefore will not be consumed. And according to national regulations, all plants will be destroyed within the CFT site after analysis.

As part of the experiment, regrowth of stem cuttings from the plants will also be assessed, since regrowth may also depend on starch stored in the stem. This is important since cassava is normally propagated by stem cuttings and not by seed.

The primary beneficiaries of the knowledge gained from this research (and its eventual application for cassava improvement) would be cassava farmers in Nigeria and other regions.


Article Disclaimer: This article was published by IITA and retrieved on 12/30/2017 and posted here for information and educational purposes only. The views and contents of the article remain those of the authors. We will not be held accountable for the reliability and accuracy of the materials. If you need additional information on the published contents and materials, please contact the original authors and publisher. Please cite the authors, original source, and INDESEEM accordingly.


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