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  • Jul 10 / 2014
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Articles, in NEWS

Systematic approach to in-situ water harvesting assures irrigation

FARMER’S NOTEBOOK

sh01SM. J. PRABU

Special ArrangementAbout six inches distance from the sapling a plastic pipe is buried and s mall pebbles are put into it. Photo: Special Arrangement

During summer, the field is ploughed and furrows (one foot depth) are made. When it rains the water stays back in each of the furrows and sinks into the soil.

Fast changing climatic pattern, untimely rains and prolonged dry spells are creating problems for agriculture.

“While not much change in the total annual rainfall is noticed across the country, the distribution becomes the problem, with more heavy rainy days and prolonged dry spells in several places. Rain water harvesting at the farm level is one of the best solutions today as crops need only soil moisture and not water for growth. An integrated approach for this will help rain-fed farmers to save their crops,” says Dr. G. V. Ramanjaneyulu, Executive Director, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA) Secunderabad, Andhra Pradesh.

Good model

It would do well for other farmers across the country to try and replicate the rainwater harvesting model of a small farmer, Mr. Subash Sharma from Yavatmal district, Maharashtra.

Mr. Sharma has integrated several approaches to harvest most of the rain received on his farm.

One of them is increasing the soil organic matter. The crop residue is converted into a compost called ‘Ko sanjeevani.’

It is made using one tonne of cow dung, half a tonne of tank silt, 50 kg oil cake and 25 kg jaggery solution composted for a month. This can be applied for two hectares and can limit moisture evaporation to about 30 per cent.

During summer, the field is ploughed and furrows (one foot depth) are made. When it rains the water stays back in each of the furrows and sinks into the soil. If there is heavy downpour the furrows are opened for the excess water to flow towards the lower end of the farm where a channel is dug to facilitate it to run into a trench.

Any over flow from the trench leads to a farm pond. For every hectare the farmer has dug a small farm pond

Cropping system

In addition to managing water and soil, appropriate cropping systems with shallow and deep root systems are important to use the available soil moisture judiciously.

During previous season in the farm redgram and soybean were grown. Other cropping systems tried were red gram and bhendi, red gram and sesame.

In case of delayed rains short duration crops like bajra, mung, or leafy vegetables like palak and mung were grown. Fruit trees are also grown on the farm or bunds to help reduce wind speed and provide dry leaf for biomass.

Spacing

Lemon or citrus plants with 6 mt x 6 mt spacing or seethaphal with 4mt x 4 mt spacing between each plant is ideal for dry lands and space in between can be used for intercropping with annual food crops, according to Mr. Sharma.

But the major problem is in planting and rearing the trees during the initial stages, especially for the first 2-3 years. A simple approach evolved by the farmer can help establish a tree to grow well using just 180 litres of water a year.

About six inches distance from the sapling a plastic pipe of one foot length and three inches diameter is buried. Small pebbles are put into it and later the pipe is removed. When water is poured here (on the pebbles) it goes directly to the root zone and help the saplings to survive.

About two litres of water once every four days for two years will help the saplings to establish themselves and later the in situ water harvesting is sufficient for the trees to survive and give sustainable incomes.

Study

“In a study by CSA we have found that when it rains, for every one centimetre of rain received, over a hectare of land it amounts to about 1,00,000 litres of rainwater. Due to temperature and other factors the evaporation could be about 30 per cent which means about 70,000 litres of water would be available. If we can have an effective mechanism for harvesting 80 per cent of it (which comes to about 56,000 lit) even in areas with 500 mm rainfall (driest districts like Jodhpur and Anantapur) rain water can be effectively harvested per hectare which is sufficient to save a single crop of the farmers,” says Dr. Ramanjaneyulu.

For further information interested farmers can contact Mr. Subash Sharma, Choti Gujjiri Mohalla, Yavatmal dist. Farm is in Tiwasa village, Yavatmal district. Mobile no. 09422869620 and Dr. G. V. Ramanjaneyulu, Executive Director, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, 12-13-445, Street no-1, TarnakaSecunderabad-500 017, ph. 09000699702, email: ramoo.csa@gmail.com

  • Jun 17 / 2014
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Articles, in NEWS

Andhra’s Pesticide-Free Farming: An Inconclusive Experiment

http://forbesindia.com/article/real-issue/andhras-pesticidefree-farming-an-inconclusive-experiment/38018/0
The Andhra government’s department of rural development has implemented pesticide free farming on 30 lakh acres. But agricultural scientists say their methods are unproven and not as effective as claimed
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Image: Photographs by Harsha Vadlamani for Forbes India
Fatima Begum at a non-pesticidal management farm in Andhra Pradesh’s Medak district

 

Fatima Begum leans over to pluck a tomato from a vegetable patch. Without washing it, she begins to chomp on it rather theatrically, as if to make a point. “You can eat this just as it is,” she says. “No pesticides.”

It is a scorching hot March day in Neredgunta, a village about 100 km north of Hyderabad. The farm that Begum plucked the tomato from is part of the largest pesticide-free agricultural experiment in India. At 30 lakh acres, this experiment, known as non-pesticidal management, reaches 12 lakh farmers in villages across Andhra Pradesh. Begum, 35, coordinates the non-pesticidal management efforts in five villages, helping farmers adopt the system and advising them on the best practices.

Begum’s enthusiasm is palpable as she reels off tiny facts about the practice of non-pesticidal management. “These are called vaavil aakulu,” she says, handing me a bunch of leaves with serrated edges that she has plucked from the roadside. They are a component of a tonic which is excellent at warding off crop pests, she points out. Occasionally, she shouts out a stern word of advice or a wisecrack to the farmers we pass by. Begum’s zeal and loquacious endorsement of the system make her something of an evangelist.

Non-pesticidal management is being promoted in Andhra Pradesh by the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP), an organisation under the state’s department of rural development. As organic farming becomes increasingly popular in India, this Andhra experiment has gained prominence in the minds of environmentalists. For its scale alone, it is being hailed as proof that farming without pesticide is possible and viable. Perhaps the strongest evidence of non-pesticidal management’s popularity is that it was featured in June 2012 in actor Aamir Khan’s television talk show, Satyamev Jayate, as the answer to the evils of pesticide overuse in India.

Proponents of the system, whether SERP or the environmentalist groups, are hardselling it; they claim that crop yields under this system are similar to that of conventional farming. Further, because farmers do not spend anything on synthetic pesticides, their costliest agricultural input, they end up with much larger profits. With so many upsides, proponents believe, non-pesticidal management is the way to go for all of India. Given the right governmental support, they argue, it is a model that can replace conventional agriculture altogether.

Yet, the Andhra experiment is today at the heart of a bitter debate. While, on one hand, it is being hailed as a paradigm shift, on the other, it is regarded with scepticism by agricultural scientists. Even more interestingly, while the department of rural development promotes the practice across the state, Andhra’s department of agriculture rejects it.

The debate hinges on two issues. First, even though SERP claims that the system doesn’t affect crop yields, there is evidence of substantial drop in crop outputs in areas where this method is practised. It is a documented fact that organic farming, in general, suffers from this problem. This is because levels of nutrients, such as nitrogen, tend to be lower in land that is not artificially fertilised. Second, some of the methods widely used under non-pesticidal management haven’t been tested in controlled conditions yet. Whether panchagavya, a mix of the five cow-derived products (cow dung, cow urine, ghee, milk and curd), or brahmastram, a composite of neem leaves, custard apple, papaya, etc, scientists do not have enough data to state that these traditional formulations are as effective as the pesticides they seek to replace.

The yield disagreement
Figures from SERP show that non-pesticidal management has actually led to marginally higher yields in crops such as paddy, sorghum and cotton. This claim, though, is disputed. Although the farmers I met during my visit to Neredgunta and its neighbouring villages said their yields weren’t hurt after switching to non-pesticidal management, there were others who experienced a huge drop.

Manda Balarama Reddy, the head of a farmers’ association of Andhra Pradesh, is one of them. Reddy owns 6-7 acres of farm land on which he cultivates paddy, maize and vegetables. When he switched to pesticide-free farming a few years ago, his crop output dropped drastically. “If I get 10 tonnes from conventional farming, non-pesticidal management gives me only 6 tonnes,” he says.

Given such yield losses, there isn’t much incentive for farmers to switch to such alternative systems if they do not receive a premium price for their produce. According to the SERP website, though, only about 12 percent of farmers receive such premiums. Such a situation is not acceptable to ambitious farmers like Reddy. “Why would I work at a loss?” he says.

To Reddy, if non-pesticidal management is truly viable, farmers wouldn’t need prompting to adopt it. “Take the example of drip irrigation,” he says. “Nobody had to ask farmers to implement it because it was so obviously useful.”

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Image: Harsha Vadlamani for Forbes India
V Shashibhushan, the head of the department of entomology at Acharya NG Ranga Agricultural University

 

 

Narahari Rama Sharma, another farmer and a great believer in organic farming, also accepts that lower yields are the bane of non-pesticidal management. Yet, for ideological reasons, he refuses to give up. It also helps that he doesn’t depend on agricultural produce as his main source of income. Instead, he owns a plant nursery that takes care of his financial needs.

The difference in yields between organic crops and conventional farming is staggering in some instances. In Guntur this year, for example, sorghum farmers broke a record by harvesting a bumper crop of 7 tonnes per hectare. On the other hand, farmers growing the same crop with natural inputs harvested only one tonne per hectare in the district of Mehboobnagar.

Like Sharma, many of the farmers using non-pesticidal management have other sources of income. GV Ranga Rao, an agricultural scientist at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, says that when he visited Ennabavi, a village in Andhra that practises completely organic farming, he found most farmers there working other jobs. “Some were working on other farms. Some had sons who had an auto or a taxi. Not even fifty percent of their livelihoods are earned from their own land,” he told Forbes India in a phone interview.

Like several agricultural scientists, Rao believes that while non-pesticidal management is a creditable effort, it cannot realistically offer an alternative to conventional agriculture. If the system is to be more widely accepted, it must improve its productivity. Most importantly, it is folly to do away with synthetic pesticides and fungicides as the last resort, because the risk is too high during pest epidemics. “With a population of 1.2 billion, we can’t sacrifice our productivity,” he says.

Are traditional formulations really working?
The second objection against non-pesticidal management is the lack of scientific validation for the traditional formulations it relies on. In local parlance, such a formulation is called a kashayam.

For instance, panchagavya, a kashayam that has its roots in ayurveda, includes, among other ingredients, cow dung. This mixture is thought to boost plant growth and kill pests. Unless the recipe of panchagavya is precise enough to ensure that it contains the same amounts of nutrients and microbes each time it is prepared, it may not work at all. However, non-pesticidal management does not specify the type of banana to be used—whether chakkarkeli, amrutapani or green banana—and the constituents of each vary, sometimes hugely. Further, while some components of panchagavya, such as cow dung, may have plant fertilising properties, other components, like ghee, may be superfluous.

Similarly, depending on where a neem tree is grown, the amount of the pesticidal compound, azadirachtin, in its seeds fluctuates greatly, says AK Chakravarthy, the head of the department of entomology at the Indian Institute of Horticultural Research. This means that the seed may fail in its pesticidal action when not used in the right quantity. Without standardisation and adequate scientific validation, it would be hard to say what works and what doesn’t.

Sure enough, non-pesticidal management does not prescribe any standardisation and, in the villages I visited, farmers said they would use the products of whatever farm animal they had access to—whether cows, buffaloes or goats. Such high variability in the ingredients of organic fertilisers and pesticides mean they may be too effective—or not at all.

Additionally, very few farmers own cattle anymore to supply the products non-pesticidal management requires. This makes it economically unviable to ask for cow products to be applied on all agricultural land across the state.

The bigger question, though, is how effective these formulations would be during pest epidemics. They may work in some cases but fail in critical situations. This is because pest-management is complex. No one intervention, whether synthetic pesticides or kashayams, can ever work across crops, regions and seasons.

On one extreme, there are pests such as the pod borer, which often infests the pigeon pea crop. No pesticide is needed to tackle the pod borer because the most effective intervention is an absurdly simple, manual one. All farmers have to do is shake the branches of the pea crop. This gets rid of 95 percent of the pod borers. On the other extreme, though, are attacks by the rapacious mealy bug or the food borer. These pests require stronger measures, especially in areas where attacks are endemic. “There is no way non-pesticidal management will control these pests,” says Rao emphatically, “Often, even synthetic pesticides cannot.”

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Image: Harsha Vadlamani for Forbes India
GV Ramanjaneyulu, the executive director of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture

 

 

An ideological rift
It is concerns such as these that make scientists at Acharya NG Ranga Agricultural University (ANGRAU) wary of prescribing non-pesticidal management to farmers across the board. As V Shashibhushan, the head of the department of entomology at ANGRAU, says, “Any recommendation I make goes across the entire state. So, we have to be very, very careful when we speak. You are playing with farmers’ lives here.”

The proponents of non-pesticidal management, however, see this wariness as arrogance. They believe the university’s scientists have never made an earnest attempt to test their methods, instead focusing on technologies from multinational firms, such as genetic modification.

According to DV Raidu, an official at SERP who practises non-pesticidal management on his own farm, “It is stupid to ask for scientific validation for methods that are obviously working—like asking whether a cat has been scientifically validated to kill a mouse or not.”

Last year, though, the scientists at ANGRAU finally decided to take a closer look at non-pesticidal management. They began testing the interventions at 12 research stations across the country. These scientists have been applying kashayams such as panchagavya and brahmastram to plants under full-fledged pest attacks. To them, only tests under extreme conditions can offer believable proof of the system’s effectiveness: If non-pesticidal management only works when there are a handful of pests, it won’t pass.

The results will be out later this year but early findings haven’t been encouraging. If the final results are negative, non-pesticidal management may not receive the agricultural department’s backing anytime soon. This means the vital governmental subsidies and support needed to disseminate the system will not be forthcoming either.

Proponents of non-pesticidal management, though, are unfazed by such a prognosis. GV Ramanjaneyulu, the executive director of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture and a key figure in the advancement of non-pesticidal management, believes ANGRAU’s approach to testing is all wrong. According to him, non-pesticidal management is philosophically different from conventional agriculture, and the scientists are missing the point altogether. “They are focusing on the hardware, instead of the software,” he said when I met him at the centre’s Hyderabad office. “Their emphasis is on the kashayam and not the knowledge the farmer has. If they replace a pesticide with a kashayam to test its effectiveness, the kashayam will never match the pesticide in toxicity.”

The real advantage of non-pesticidal management, says Ramanjaneyulu, is that it strengthens the ecosystem, reducing the probability of pest epidemics altogether. Kashayams and other interventions are not meant to kill pests during a full-fledged attack, but to improve soil quality and restore insect biodiversity in the normal course of farming. “These scientists are trying to relate non-pesticidal management to what they already know about pesticides. It is like comparing tea with lime juice; they are two completely different things. It’s not going to work,” he argues.

The knowledge intensive system that Ramanjaneyulu talks about sounds nothing like mainstream agriculture as it is practised today. In such a system, standardisation won’t be needed, because farmers will be able to customise their interventions based on their own experiences. If the leaves of a particular neem tree aren’t bitter enough for adequate insecticidal effect, the farmer will know to use more of the same leaves. If an ingredient of panchagavya is unnecessary, the farmer will know to replace it. The burden of innovation will not lie with agricultural scientists alone, but will be borne by the one who benefits from it directly—the farmer.

Such a system will be a far cry from today’s plug-and-play farms that rely on store-bought technologies without much thought. Each farmer will need to go through years of trial and error to find his own optimal state. And the risk will obviously be higher.

Ramanjaneyulu accepts that non-pesticidal management is work in progress. While the original goal of the experiment was to cover 1 crore acres by 2015, it is unlikely that it will be met. The real challenge is to train more resource people, like Begum, who can work with farmers and to evolve more effective organic technologies.

As Begum tells me, non-pesticidal management isn’t a cakewalk. The vaavil aakulu she showed me have to be ground painstakingly, with a number of other ingredients, to prepare a single kashayam. Fields have to be ploughed in summer, so that exposed pests are eaten by birds. Dung has to be composted over months, in specially constructed brick composting pits. Trap crops have to be sown at precise intervals and insect traps need to be monitored closely. “Mehnat to karni padti (hard work is unavoidable),” she admits.

 

Read more: http://forbesindia.com/article/real-issue/andhras-pesticidefree-farming-an-inconclusive-experiment/38018/0#ixzz34siFyZSj

  • Mar 01 / 2012
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in NEWS, Quotes

Climate change threat to food produce in India, says study

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Date:Mar 1, 2012

‘Erratic rainfall and rising input costs forcing farmers to migrate’

“Unable to clear a loan of Rs 2 lakh, my son committed suicide. I had to sell my ancestral house and cattle to repay the loan,” says Lakshmi Devi, 48, of Pathakotha Cheruvu village in Andhra Pradesh’s Anantapur district. Devi’s woes did not end with the repayment of loan. Managing her farm is becoming increasingly difficult, partly because it is expensive, and mostly because of the  unpredictable weather. Changes in rainfall pattern have increased pest-related problems, especially during the flowering season, she says. Many, like her, are facing similar problems: erratic rainfall pattern affecting yield, pests and related diseases on the rise; and losses staring them in the face. Many farmers, like Devi’s younger son, choose to migrate.

Lakhsmi Devi, who grows groundnut on her 2.4 hectares, was one of the thousand farmers ActionAid India and Centre for Sustainable Agriculture in Hyderabad spoke to, for their study on climate change and agriculture. The study, carried out in 15 villages in three states, reiterates that a quarter of agricultural produce is under threat from climate change and that the small and marginal farmers would be impacted the most (see box: Study findings).

Most villagers in the districts under study complained of shift in the intensity and distribution of rainfall. “The rains are so scattered that at times it rains in the village, but the fields remain dry. The rainfall pattern was not like this 10-15 years ago,” said Birendra Sahariya, 40-year-old farmer from Sipri village of Lalitpur district.

G V Ramanjaneyulu of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture says the study did not find much variation in rainfall at the district level, but found the distribution of rainfall had changed vastly. “People resort to migration because there is little else they can do,” Ramanjaneyulu adds.

Early flowering of mango and mahua, an important non-timber forest produce, has also been seen in Odisha, says Ranjan Panda, convenor of Water Initiatives, which focuses on water and climate change links in Odisha. “Western Odisha is increasingly experiencing desert-like climate; the day time temperatures are increasing and the night-temperatures are decreasing,” says Panda. Referring to the study, he adds that more such studies are required to develop an in-depth understanding of how climate change impacts agriculture.

Farmers are also grappling with increasing input costs with respect to agriculture. In Anantapur district alone, cost of production has increased by 500 per cent in the past 10 years, whereas prices increased by 25 per cent. The study also notes that after manufacturers were given a free hand to fix the price, the cost of fertilisers, except urea, increased by more than 300 per cent. Despite this, there is an increased dependence on chemical fertilisers to meet soil fertility needs. “There is an urgent need to revisit agricultural practices,” says Kishor Tiwari of Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti in Nagpur.

Study findings

The study, by ActionAid India and Centre for Sustainable Agriculture in Hyderabad, covered five villages each in the districts of Lalitpur in Uttar Pradesh, Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh and Bolangir in Odisha. About a thousand farmers were interviewed from the 15 villages and some common impacts were found in all the three states.

These include changes in the distribution of rainfall, delayed monsoon, increase in pests as well as migration. In Anantapur district, for instance, the first monsoon showers would arrive by early June; now they arrive end of July. This has altered cropping pattern and has given rise to new forms of pests and diseases in the past five to six years. Also, farmers observed that the groundwater table in the district had declined by 30 to 90 metre in the past 10 years.

In Odisha, after the introduction of Bt cotton in 2005 in the water-deficit region, mono-cropping increased which led to losses and farmers resorted to migration. In Lalitpur, traditional crops and seeds had disappeared altogether from the villages. Also, rainfall in 20 of the past 28 years was less than the average rainfall of 1,044mm, with 2005 and 2008 being the exceptions, the study noted.

Farmers said that during the 80s, dew/fog was common in November and December. This was helpful in ripening of the crops such as pulses and mustard. But dew has not been there for the past 15-20 years and crops mature early and grains remain undeveloped.