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2014 GAP Report® – Tailoring Technologies for All Farmers
The average farm size in India is 1.16 hectares. Getting more value out of farmland, conserving water use and improving productivity without expansion to marginal lands is critical for income growth and sustainability of both small and large farm operations, and for preserving India’s natural habitat. The country’s research institutes and the private sector are developing technologies that, when applied by farmers, can meet the objectives of producing more with less, adapting to climate change and improving food security for all.
ADAPTING TO CLIMATE CHANGE
Changing climatic conditions and extreme weather events are particularly treacherous for small, resource-poor farmers who do not have fallback savings, alternative income options or insurance. The Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) was the lead agency in a World Bank supported Climate Change Adaption Project to test technologies and strategies for sustainable livelihood security in rural communities that are vulnerable to climate risks in the Mewat District of Haryana State.100
Mewat is a low rainfall, drought-prone area. Analysis of past weather data (1969–2005) showed that the mean minimum temperature increased at the rate of 0.18 degrees Celsius every 10 years during the monsoon (Kharif) season, and by 0.47 Celsius every ten years during the dry (Rabi) season. Between 2020 and 2050, temperature change is expected to accelerate, with minimum temperatures increasing by 1.87 degrees Celsius during the monsoon season and by 2.73 percent during the dry season. Based on these findings, along with an analysis of the bio-physical characteristics of the region and participatory rural appraisals of socio-economic stresses, IARI developed a customized set of interventions to conserve resources, adapt to climate changes and improve livelihoods.
Superior seed varieties were tested and the successful ones are being made available through village seed banks. Heat stress tolerant varieties of wheat — which is the major dry season crop — were introduced, increasing yields by 12 to 18 percent. Conservation farming practices were also introduced, as well as integrated pest management and soil nutrient management.101
Before the program, farmers had typically pumped groundwater and flooded their fields to irrigate wheat and mustard crops, a process that lacked precision, and much of the water was lost to evaporation. Laser leveling of farm land improved water use efficiency for wheat and mustard crops by about 15 to 20 percent. Underground pipeline was laid in farmers’ fields and used for delivering drip irrigation, which resulted in an additional 40 percent savings. Overall irrigated area increased by 45 percent and cut labor hours required for irrigating crops by 28 percent.102
Another important strategy to help farmers adapt to climate change and improve nutrition is to plant diversified crops. High yielding varieties of chili, eggplant, tomato and onion, accompanied by improved production technologies (e.g., raised bed planting, starting seedlings in a nursery, and micro and sprinkler irrigation) increased household profits by US$495 (INR 30,000) per hectare. Households that planted diversified crops had incomes that were 44 to 86 percent higher than households that maintained conventional cropping of just pearl millet, wheat and mustard.
Farmers in Mewat were also given access to an information and communications technology platform, mKRISHI, which is operated by Tata Consulting Services. Using their mobile phones, farmers and farmers’ groups are connected to weather forecasting and agricultural production advisory services.
Thanks to the Climate Change Adaptation Project, communities in Mewat obtained higher yields and incomes; irrigation was expanded and efficiency of water use was improved; and, for long-term sustainability and continued economic growth, village seed and resource centers were developed.
REVIVING INDIA’S RICE BOWL THROUGH DEEP WATER RICE
The east coast region of India is considered the rice bowl of the country, but that role is fading due to low productivity. Construction of roads, embankments and canals on both sides of rivers, siltation in river beds and congested drainage channels have led to rising groundwater tables and waterlogged soils. During the monsoon season, rice is the only crop that farmers in coastal areas can grow, but prolonged waterlogging interferes with plant growth. Heavy rainfall early in the growing season submerges the plants at the seedling stage, and can irreparably damage a crop. Combined with increasing salinization, these challenges threaten the livelihoods of the farmers, who each cultivate, on average, only 0.75 hectares of land.103
The Directorate of Water Management of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) concluded that strategies are urgently needed to enhance the productivity of the coastal waterlogged ecosystem. Among the eastern states, Odisha is most affected since the Bay of Bengal is the center of low pressure systems that cause heavy rains and cyclones.
Studies were conducted between 2007 and 2010 to test different technologies and production strategies. An integrated, multi-seasonal approach was found most successful for improving incomes and productivity. Establishment of the rice crop before the onset of flooding in the monsoon season and adoption of deep waterlogging tolerant rice varieties give farmers the best chance to increase profits.
Based on the recommendation of ICAR, the Odisha government adopted the deep water rice cultivar “Hangeswari” for large-scale seed production through its state farming system. Partner institutes in Odisha introduced technologies that use excess water to create fish and duck ponds, providing an additional source of income and food. Strategies for the dry season include planting of saline- tolerant vegetables and the construction of tube wells that are deep enough to reach fresh water.
ICAR and its partner institutes organized village level training and awareness sessions to introduce the new technologies and cultivation practices. These efforts continue through agricultural institutions and extension services in the State of Odisha, creating more sustainable livelihoods for the residents of flood-prone, rural coastal areas.
TIMELY ADVICE TO HELP FARMERS AND CROPS
To meet the evolving challenges they face, farmers not only need high quality seeds but good partners as well. Access to information and insights from others can make a huge difference in crop productivity. Farmers require timely and relevant information to make decisions about when to plant and harvest their crops, the most efficient cultivation and irrigation practices to use, and how to manage pests and volatile weather conditions. Many companies have developed services to meet those needs. One example is Monsanto Farm AgVisory Services (MFAS), which provides Indian farmers with customized, timely information available in seven languages (Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Telugu, Kannada, Punjabi and Bangla) to help them achieve the best results with each crop. MFAS provides support to Monsanto’s farmer customers, free-of-charge, throughout the production cycle for cotton, corn and vegetables (hot pepper, tomato, cabbage and cauliflower).
MFAS has a three-level support system. At the first level, a farmer calls a toll-free number from her/his phone and accesses an advisor at the call center who answers the farmer’s questions. If the Advisor is not able to resolve the query, it is escalated to a technical expert who reviews the issue and comments that same day. If the case is not solved by the technical expert, it is escalated to Monsanto’s field team members, who personally visit the farmer’s field, evaluate the problem and devise a solution. On average, the turnaround time is one to four days.
More than 1.3 million Indian farmers in 18 states are registered to use MFAS. Experts visit farms regularly and gather information about cropping patterns, soil, water and other conditions. Those data can be accessed by an Advisor when a farmer calls with a question or concern. Among other things, MFAS collaborates with farmers to help identify and manage pests, address slow growth and determine which fertilizer blend to use and when to use it. In 2014, the platform expanded SMS (text-based) to provide farmers with agricultural advisory services including real-time information on market prices, weather alerts and other support services. The expansion will reach an additional 1.3 million local farmers in three states.104
This year, farmers made 400,000 calls to MFAS and 16 million advisories were sent via SMS to customers. Assuring that farmers get advice and solutions when they need it makes a huge difference in crop performance.105
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Tailoring Technologies for All Farmers