Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Woman Farmer Defies Tradition to Prove Profitability of Wheat Cultivation

While Santkumari Kushwaha slogged and sweated out on the 2.5-acre farm of her family, her husband always wielded the exclusive power of decision-making on agriculture. All that she did until now was devoutly following her husband's instructions. However during this wheat season, Santkumari achieved something which she never imagined she would – designing and implementing a radically-different wheat cultivation pattern. Now, after the harvest, she savours the success of her decision-making and, more importantly, appreciation from her husband.

Santkumari harvesting her trial plot
The outcome of Santkumari’s wheat trial was nothing short of spectacular. Production of her farm doubled and input cost came down by 90 per cent! Not over yet, Santkumari’s experiment achieved another remarkable feat of successfully cultivating coriander as an intercrop with wheat – a practice that is unheard of in the region!  

Santkumari Kushwaha, an illiterate mother of three, was one of the first to initiate the formation of ‘Maa Durga’ small holder farmers’ collective (SHFC) formed in Itmakalan village of Satna district under Strengthening Adaptive Farming in Bangladesh, India and Nepal (SAFBIN) programme of Caritas India. While Santkumari joined an SHFC of women, her husband Lalla Prasad Kushwaha also joined the suit and became a member of a male SHFC of the village. It marked the promising beginning of a story of agriculture innovation by this enterprising smallholder farmer couple.

Caritas India’s SAFBIN programme endeavours to insulate smallholder farmers from food and nutrition insecurity by developing adaptive agriculture solutions that are efficient to meet the challenges of climate change. The programme envisages developing locally viable and affordable agriculture models. SAFBIN is being implemented in 30 villages of Satna, Sagar and Mandla districts of Madhya Pradesh. “During SHFC meetings, we tried to find out the reasons for the frequent failure of our crops. Regular discussions helped us understand the concept of climate change and how it endangers the agriculture of small farmers”, Santkumari says. SAFBIN, after holding several community-level analyses, assisted SHFCs to design field trials which blended local innovations and modern agriculture techniques that are cost-effective and nature-friendly.

Lalla Prasad with a 56-tiller wheat plant
Lalla Prasad says his wife was the first to float the idea of designing an experiment which was radically different from traditional wheat cultivation pattern. “Definitely there was a risk in doing what she had suggested. But she was sure that the risk that we would run by implementing the trial would be smaller than the certain danger that we would face in the future if we do not do it now”.

Santkumari delineated 10 x 10 meter plot of her farm for the trial and ploughed 3 times as usually done in wheat fields. However, rather than using unsorted and untreated seeds, Santkumari selected 250 gms good quality wheat seeds and treated them with an organic solution made of cow-dung, cow urine, milk and lime. Instead of broadcasting, she planted treated seeds in lines in such a way that plant to plant distance of 25 centimetres was maintained. “Distance between plants helps them grow more robustly. Earlier we did not know that even plants competed among themselves for space”, Santkumari said while detailing on System of Wheat Intensification (SWI) which she had experimented on her trial plot. Santkumari also planted coriander seeds along the spaces between the rows of wheat plants.

Lalla Prasad harvesting wheat from the trial plot
As against the normal practice of using chemical fertilisers, Santkumari administered only ‘Matka Khaad’ a botanical manure which she prepared with different measures of cow-urine, cow-dung, Neem (Azadirachta indica), Akauwa (Calotropis or milkweed) and jaggery (sugar molasses). Her crop responded well to trial combination involving seed treatment, spacing between plants and use of organic growth promoters. Wheat plants of her trial plot recorded a rare flourish unseen in the entire region as they registered tiller count as high as 56 per plant, whereas the average number of tillers in other farms was a meagre 4-6. The average length of panicle also recorded a dramatic increase to 11 cm from 7.25 and the average count of grains per panicle rose to 59.5 from 43 of plots of farmers who did not use SWI. Most significantly, Santkumari achieved all this by spending a mere Rs. 50. She used to spend nearly Rs. 500 on farms of comparable plot size for getting much lesser.

Lalla Prasad observed that the grain quality was far better in terms of weight and shine as compared to the grains of other farms. “Coriander yield from the wheat field was also good. We did not need to cultivate coriander elsewhere for meeting the household need since our wheat farm itself gave us nearly one kilogram of coriander”, Santkumari said.

The couple has now decided to bring their entire 2.5 acre land under SWI and organic farming from the next season. Expressing delight over the success of the new system of wheat cultivation Lalla Prasad said, “Ye double dhamaka widhi hai jo chote kisano ki fayada double kar deti hai” (This is a technique with double effect, which doubles the benefits for smallholder farmers.)


By Vivek Tripathi
District Project Officer, Satna

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

SAFBIN Organises Agriculture Innovation Scouting Workshop

The widespread feeling of despair among smallholder farmers in the wake of climate change is often attributed to the persisting dominance of input-intensive modern agriculture over resilient traditional agriculture practices. Caritas India organised a 3-day workshop on innovation scouting for identifying traditional agriculture solutions to the perils posed by climate change before smallholder farming systems. The event attended by SAFBIN team members, smallholder farmers and community leaders, was held in Sagar from 22 to 24 April 2013.

Mr. Sunil speaking on innovations of traditional agriculture
The 3-day workshop also featured several rounds of community reflection and participatory analysis which were held in the targeted villages of Sagar district. SAFBIN programme, supported by European Union (EU) and Caritas Austria, is working in the rain-fed agro ecological zones of India, Bangladesh and Nepal for securing the food and nutrition security of smallholder farmers.

Mr. Sunil Simon, South Asia programme manager of SAFBIN, in his opening address underscored the necessity of identifying sustainable and robust solutions for the agriculture challenges faced by smallholder farmers. “Climate change and its ramifications have exacerbated the woes of smallholder farmers by further weakening their precarious food and nutrition systems. Dwindling profitability and ever-increasing input costs have also contributed to the misery of smallholder farmers in India”, Mr. Sunil Simon said. He deplored the failure of mainline agriculture research in providing sustainable and affordable solutions to the challenges faced by the country’s huge population which is engaged in subsistence farming.

Fr. Shaju Devassy, director of Manav Vikas Seva Sangh (MVSS) Sagar, in his address lauded SAFBIN for campaigning for the cause of smallholder farmers and developing efficient and affordable models of small farming. He said that the results emerging from the farm trails of SAFBIN offer a fresh lease of hope for smallholder farmers.

Mr. Pranab speaking on vulnerability and innovation screening
Mr. Pranab Ranjan Chawdhary, consultant of SAFBIN, helped the participants understand the significance of traditional agriculture innovations which can secure the livelihood and nutrition security of smallholder farmers. Participants, who included SAFBIN district-level teams along with community leaders, were also informed about criticality of traditional agriculture innovations in the endeavour to insulate smallholder farming systems from the vagaries of climate change.

The three-day workshop was held as a preparation for the Kharif season during which SAFBIN will blend innovations of both traditional agriculture and modern agriculture practices and implement them as trial models on food crops. In the last two crop seasons, SAFBIN had helped over 200 smallholder farmers to design and implement crop trials. These trials had emerged as worthy candidate models for replication as they enabled farmers to reduce inputs costs and increase production of wheat and black gram up to two times.

Community members listing vulnerabilities of black gram
During the 3-day workshop participants visited SAFBIN villages and facilitated community level reflection and analyses for screening and documenting agriculture innovations which have either been forgotten or on the verge of disappearance. So far, SAFBIN has identified 184 traditional innovations in the areas of seed selection, seed treatment, land preparation, soil nutrient management, pest management and storage.

A research delegation from Sam Higginbottom Institute of Agriculture, Technology and Sciences (SHIATS) Allahabad led by Dr. Thomas Abraham attended the workshop and presented the analyses of trials conducted during the last Kharif season.

Friday, 12 April 2013

“Wheat Growing Was Never So Profitable!”

Farmers of Ratanpur village will tell you how good it feels when you get 3 times more wheat yield, that too, after reducing the input cost by more than half!

Until the last wheat crop, the highest yield that small farmers of Ratanpur had achieved was a mere 35 quintal per acre. However, this year the farmers witnessed something which they could hardly believe. Their wheat yield rate rocketed to a phenomenal 120 quintal per acre, which is nearly 250 per cent increase in productivity!

Hariram Athia holds in his right hand the yield from trial plot

Ratanpur is one of the ten intervention villages in Sagar where Caritas India implements several initiatives under its On Farm Agriculture Research (OFAR) programme ‘Strengthening Adaptive Farming in Bangladesh India and Nepal (SAFBIN)’ for making local smallholder farmers’ agriculture practices more climate change resilient. The smallholder farmers of these ten villages in Sagar had blended traditional and modern agriculture techniques for safeguarding their agriculture from the fury of climate change. SAFBIN also envisages blending traditional agriculture innovations with good practices suggested by mainline agriculture research for achieving food and nutrition security for the smallholder households.

Santosh Yadav, Sonu Athia and Hariram Athia are enterprising smallholder farmers of Ratanpur village with landholding of less than 2 acre and cropped twice a year on their small pieces of land. After several rounds of discussion in the meetings of a Small Holder Farmers’ Collective (SHFC), a reflection platform for smallholder farmers, they decided to implement wheat trials using System of Wheat Intensification (SWI). They also received assistance from SAFBIN in preparing soil health enhancing solutions with locally available materials. During the discussions on farming issues, these farmers realized that heavy input cost and declining land productivity were at the root of reducing profitability of wheat cultivation. Therefore, they started exploring solutions for these priority challenges.
Santosh Yadav with his produce from trial and control plots

Santosh Yadav narrates the success at reducing input costs, “We learned from SAFBIN the method of making Matka Khaad (manure prepared in pitcher pot) which is cheap and easy to make. It indeed does marvels to the plant and the land”. Santosh is one of 18 smallholder farmers who have stopped using chemical fertilizers and adopted Matka Khaad which is a fermented manure solution made from cow urine, cow dung, jaggery (sugar molasses) and gram flour. These farmers also prepared and administered fish manure which is a treated mix of fish and jaggery in different proportions. Instead of using costly chemical fertilizers, these enterprising farmers used only Matka Khaad and fish manure twice each during the second and third irrigations.

By adopting SWI, these farmers reduced the seed rate of 60-80kg per acre to just 10kg thereby saving significantly on seeds as well. “We were eagerly watching the progress of the trials. Once the plants started growing, we knew that the harvest will be good because the wheat plants were greener and more robust and number of tillers per plant was also higher than other wheat fields”, Hariram Athia said.

Sonu Athiya holds the trial plot harvest in his right hand
The real moment of surprise and celebration arrived on 28 March 2013 when farmers harvested their fields. Harvest was taken from two each randomly picked blocks measuring 1x2 m2 from the trial plots measuring 10x10m2 (0.025acre). Similarly, harvest was taken from the sample blocks of 1x2m2 which were randomly selected from control plots (normal farmers’ field where no improved practices of trials were implemented). The two sample blocks from trial plots yielded 5.6kg and 6.4kg whereas the yields of the blocks from control plot was 1.6kg and 1.7kg respectively. “The comparative analysis of harvest of trial and control plot was simply amazing. Though we knew the harvest would be good, we never expected it to be so impressive”, Sonu Athia said while comparing the two bags of grains harvested from trial and control plots.

Since the yield was unprecedented, farmers did one recheck, this time, with the help of SAFBIN team. The community-based analysis, especially the cost-benefit analysis, revealed more interesting insights. The blended wheat cultivation model helped farmers reduce the input cost by Rs. 2000-3000 per acre as it reduced seed requirement, developed locally-made cheap inputs and used of indigenous cultivar of wheat.

Hariram Athiya is all smiles when he says “aapne hume ye jo anmol tohfa diya hai, use hum agle season se aur bare paimane par karege aur apni utpadan kshamta aur jyada badhayege” (We will adopt this valuable gift of improved cultivation on a larger scale from the next season. We are certain that this will further increase the productivity of our crops).

By Manish Kumar
District Project Officer, Sagar, Madhya Pradesh

Monday, 8 April 2013

Organic Farming Success Wows Farmer!

Mansukhlal Patel, a farmer Birpur village of Satna district never believed a wheat panicle could grow more than 24 centimetres. Now he does and thanks SAFBIN for giving him reasons to believe.

Wheat panicle (right) measuring 24 cms
SAFBIN programme, implemented by Caritas India, had started the promotion of adaptive agriculture in Mansukhlal’s village 2 years back. The programme has been helping smallholder farmers develop efficient agriculture models by blending indigenous practices and scientific agriculture methods. Smallholder farmers of Birpur, in the past two crop seasons, had refined and implemented several improved rice and wheat models on their farms. Mansukhlal, however, was not a member of smallholder farmers’ collective since he owned 4 acres of land which was more than the landholding threshold specified for a member of the collective. Though he was not a member of the collective, Mansukhlal regularly attended the meetings of the farmers’ collective.

As part of initiative to indigenise agriculture practices, which is a major component of SAFBIN, smallholder farmers were trained on preparing various botanical solutions for improving soil health and developing herbal solutions for repelling pests. “In one training on nutrient management I learned about Matka Khaad (manure fermented in pitcher pot) that could be made entirely with the materials available in my farm. I prepared Matka Khaad with cow urine, cow dung, gram flour and jaggery (molasses) and administered twice on the 25-decimal wheat field”, Mansukhlal says. He trusted the efficacy of Matka Khaad so much that he also slashed the application of chemical fertilisers by over 80 per cent, which was a calculated risk. Mansukhlal reduced the use of DAP to just 4 kg and applied Matka Khaad twice on the wheat field. When the panicle emerged, he was pleasantly surprised at the sheer length of panicle and the number of grains per panicle.

Mansukhlal in his wheat field
“I am seeing a panicle of 25cm or more for the first time in my life and that too, in my own field”, Mansukhlal says. Exuding happiness and confidence he said that the standing crop promises a very good harvest. While detailing on other benefits of his experiment Mansukhlal said that the new system of cultivation helped him reduce the input costs significantly. He spent a mere Rs. 60 for preparing the Matka Khaad that was sufficient for 25 decimal piece of land. Mansukhlal said that his wheat field had more robust plant growth and experienced lesser pest attacks as compared to adjacent fields.

“Though all inputs and materials were available with us, we did not know how we could prepare Matka Khaad. We were always told that chemical fertilisers were the only remedy for all agriculture problems. Now I know organic solutions much better than chemical fertilisers”, Mansukhlal said. Having realised the merits of organic agriculture practices, Mansukhlal now says that he would use only organic manure for his wheat cultivation. He is not disappointed over not being a formal member of the smallholder farmers’ collective of his village. “Yes, I am not a formal member of the collective, but informally I am like any other member of the group”, Mansukhlal says while thanking SAFBIN.


By Vivek Tripathi
District Project Officer, Satna, Madhya Pradesh