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.


Smart fertilizer management and the quest for sustainable rice production


Pauline Chivenge and Sheetal Sharma   |  « PREVIOUS


Specific fertilizer recommendations in smallholder rice farming systems could increase crop production while reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Rice production relies on the use of synthetic fertilizers, especially nitrogen, in order to meet the challenge of rising demand for the commodity driven by population growth. However, the nutrient needs of rice crops are not constant and can vary with fields, seasons, and years because of differences in crop-growing conditions and management. Consequently, the proper management of nutrients for rice production needs to be adjusted to suit field and crop requirements.

Furthermore, the application of external nutrients constitutes the second most expensive rice production input, after labor. As a result, nutrient management is an important component for sustainable rice production while protecting the environment.

Too much of a good thing
The Green Revolution in the mid-20th century resulted in increased crop yields, including rice, in the developing world. Much of this was due to a combination of the introduction of improved varieties and more reliance on the use of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. However, although the Green Revolution was undoubtedly beneficial in improving food security, it was also associated with a dramatic increase in pollution due to the high use of agricultural chemicals.

Fertilizer recommendations in smallholder rice farming systems are often given as blanket recommendations, but this can lead to the overuse of fertilizers and inefficient use of nutrients. This created a need to find approaches to increase crop production while reducing pollution.

Location-specific information
Soil testing has been promoted to estimate location-specific fertilizer requirements based on the measurement of soil nutrient pools for a field or location. Soil-test methods attempt to measure the proportions of nutrients available for crops, but the amount measured may differ across soils with contrasting properties. Additionally, different tests for one nutrient often provide different results that can be expressed in a variety of ways.

Therefore, soil-test methods need to be calibrated to be used in a specific region. Soil testing requires rapid sequential sampling of soil, laboratory analysis, and timely deployment of a fertilizer recommendation with training for farmers before crop establishment. The effective implementation across hundreds of thousands of fields has been constrained by the high costs involved in sampling and analysis.

In developed countries, precision nutrient management is done using sophisticated technology to monitor variations in nutrient levels within large fields and across seasons. But, this is not applicable for small fields in Asia and Africa.

The site-specific nutrient management (SSNM) approach was developed in the 1990s to enable rice farmers to apply fertilizers and efficiently meet varying nutrient requirements of plants, thereby reducing fertilizer misuse associated with fertilizer subsidy.

The approach is used to calculate field-specific requirements for fertilizer nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium for cereal crops based on scientific principles with the aim to increase nutrient-use efficiency. SSNM has improved rice yields compared with the farmers’ practice often based on blanket recommendations.

nmrice-smatphone
Nutrient Manager for Rice provides farmers in the Philippines with advice on best fertilizer through mobile phones. (Photo: IRRI)

Timing is everything
The SSNM approach, however, does not aim to increase or reduce the amount of fertilizer used. The increase in grain yield with lower amounts of fertilizer has been associated with the better timing of application, particularly for nitrogen. Farmers apply a greater proportion of the nitrogen fertilizer in the early stages of the crop, causing higher vigor during early growth, which does not translate into higher grain yield at maturity.

In recent years, SSNM has been identified as one of the options for sustainable intensification of rice production in Asia and as a climate-smart technology for increasing resource-use efficiency while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and nutrient runoff into water sources.

The SSNM approach relies heavily on information generated from nutrient omission plot trials that are used to estimate fertilizer requirements for major nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium). Briefly, nutrient omission plots are small field trials in which adequate nutrients—except the nutrient of interest—are applied to a plot in order to estimate the supply of the omitted nutrient from indigenous sources such as soil, crop residues, irrigation water, biological nitrogen fixation, and atmospheric deposition. This is used to calculate the amount of fertilizer required to achieve a given yield target.

Phosphorus and potassium are generally applied at sowing or transplanting while nitrogen is applied at different crop stages. Thirty percent of the nitrogen is applied at transplanting and the rest is equally split at critical rice growth stages: active tillering and panicle initiation. Alternatively, the nitrogen splits can be determined using leaf color charts.

Rice production in Asia is largely done by smallholder farmers who often lack access to information. For sustainability, there is a need to develop tools that are accessible to farmers. Using the principles of SSNM, an information and communication technology decision support tool, Nutrient Manager, was developed to give field-specific fertilizer recommendations for smallholder farmers.

Nutrient Manager targets irrigated and rainfed lowland rice farmers with the aim to increase productivity and net income by USD 100 per hectare per season at the farm level. The tool has been widely tested and used in the Philippines, India, Bangladesh, and Vietnam, and has led to an increase in farm productivity and profitability. The tool was later developed into the Rice Crop Manager in the Philippines and India, which give climate-informed agro-advisory services to farmers, including the selection of suitable varieties. (See An app tailor-made for India’s rice farmers.)

Although the tool has effectively improved productivity in 80% of the locations where it has been tried, there is room to expand the fertilizer recommendations for a wider set of conditions. Additionally, dissemination of the tool needs to be boosted to give more rice farmers access to smarter and more sustainable fertilizer management.
_______________________
Dr. Chivenge is a soils and biogeochemistry expert at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). Dr. Sharma leads IRRI’s research on the design, evaluation, and dissemination of soil and nutrient management technologies for the rice-based systems of South Asia.


Article Disclaimer: This article was published by the RICE Today and retrieved on 12/13/2017 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 Inc. accordingly.


South Asia’s climate hazard hotspots

Before-disaster-strikes
Photo: V. Dakshinamurthy / IWMI

Mapping risks and estimating impacts on people and agriculture

Extreme climate events are taking a heavy toll in countries around the world, destroying lives and livelihoods. Since the late 1980s, the frequency of such disasters has increased – from an average of 195 per year during 1987-1998 to 338 per year during 2000-2011, according to researchers at the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) in Belgium.

In response, governments are giving high priority to disaster risk reduction, alongside their efforts to mitigate climate change by curbing greenhouse gas emissions. To reduce risks effectively and equitably, however, they urgently need quantitative methods to assess the vulnerability of specific populations to multiple climate-related hazards. Such methods will provide national disaster management organizations with a stronger basis on which to target risk reduction aid and allocate finance for climate adaptation in line with climate justice principles.

Beyond global snapshots

Mapping Multiple Climate-related Hazards in South Asia

The International Water Management Institute (IWMI) has just given a boost to such efforts with a new research report titled Mapping Multiple Climate-related Hazards in South Asia. The study was launched recently at a policy dialogue organized by IWMI jointly with the Government of Bihar, India; the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR); Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries; and two CGIAR Research Programs – Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE), which IWMI leads, and Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS)

Bihar is the country’s most flood-prone state, having suffered agricultural losses with an estimated value of US$340 million over the past 12 years. It is the logical testing ground for index-based flood insurance under a project being carried out with the aforementioned CGIAR Research Programs.

“Countries in the region must coordinate actions to cope with adverse climate impacts, such as seasonal floods, drought, landslides, cyclones and sea-level rise,” says Giriraj Amarnath, lead author of the IWMI report and leader of the Institute´s Water Risks research group. At a global level, the World Bank and other organizations have conducted large-scale analysis of natural disasters, making it possible to pinpoint hotspots. But according to Amarnath, the resulting “global snapshots” are not detailed enough to guide local risk reduction efforts.

In South Asia, the assessment of multiple risks has increased over the last decade, though most studies are confined to the state or district level. In contrast, the IWMI study closes major knowledge gaps by offering a detailed approach to map climate hazards and identify areas at risk on a regional and sub-national scale.

Vulnerable people and places

Relying on the vulnerability assessment framework of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the IWMI study uses a combined index (based on hazard, exposure and adaptive capacity) to identify areas that are susceptible to extreme risk. For this purpose, researchers used data on the spatial distribution of climate-related hazards in 1,398 districts of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

FIGURE 4. Spatial distribution of drought frequency based on 13 years’ time series of MODIS imagery.

Based on its analysis of risk exposure in these countries, the study shows that approximately 750 million people – over 45 percent of the region´s entire population – were affected by climate hazards during the decade after 2000. Of this total, 72 percent were in India, 12 percent each in Bangladesh and Pakistan, and the remaining 4 percent in Bhutan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.

Study results emphasize that agriculture is particularly vulnerable to climate extremes (mostly drought and flooding), with more than 58 percent of agricultural areas across the region damaged by multiple hazards. Drought affects the largest area (786,000 square kilometers), followed by extreme temperature, extreme rainfall, floods and sea-level rise.

The IWMI study includes an overall climate change vulnerability map, which makes it easy to visualize and identify climate-hazard hotspots. The results offer few surprises, confirming the common perception that the most vulnerable parts of South Asia are Bangladesh´s coastal region; the Indian states of West Bengal, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat; and Sindh in Pakistan. This is a result of their exposure to sea-level rise and position in the transboundary basins of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna Rivers, which are prone to annual flooding.

FIGURE 21. Climate change vulnerability map of South Asia based on exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity to multiple hazards.

From awareness to action

There is growing awareness of the need to prepare for and respond to the impacts of climate change. Finding better solutions to manage disaster risk is crucial for compliance with the Sustainable Development Goals, Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and Paris Climate Change Agreement. The methodology that IWMI presents in its new report is a step in the right direction and has potential for application to other regions.

“But much remains to be done toward generating more data on the ground at a finer scale,” says Amarnath. “And this, in turn, requires better coordination among various sectors to develop comprehensive risk assessments that can inform disaster risk management plans and risk-financing strategies.”


Read the report

Amarnath, Giriraj; Alahacoon, Niranga; Smakhtin, V.; Aggarwal, P. 2017. Mapping multiple climate-related hazards in South Asia. Colombo, Sri Lanka: International Water Management Institute (IWMI) 41p. (IWMI Research Report 170)[DOI] | Fulltext (6.07 MB)


 


Article Disclaimer: This article was published by the International Water Management Institute and retrieved on 07/28/2017 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.