Peer-to-peer learning among farmers is helping spread new concepts and techniques of sorghum and millet production among farmers in Sikasso and Mopti regions of Mali. It is also facilitating farmers’ access to production systems of these commodities.
To facilitate cross-learning, a series of farmer exchange visits were held during a Farmer Field School (FFS) and involved not only the targeted producers but also producers from neighboring villages outside of the project facilitating these efforts.
Since 2014, four technologies have been shared and adopted in FFSs. These include:
Integrated management of Striga and soil fertilization: The intercropping of sorghum with cowpea, or millet with cowpea provides effective management against Striga and contributes to improved soil fertility. Cowpea has three notable impacts: it fixes atmospheric nitrogen, acts as a cover crop to help retain moisture and acts as a trap crop for management of Striga.
Apron Star test: Apron Star is a seed treatment with fungicide-insecticide mixture for controlling downy mildew, damping-off diseases as well as for protection of seeds and seedlings against early season insect pests and soil-borne diseases. It has raised the production of millet and sorghum by up to 30% in Mali. Mr Debo Sanogo, producer and trainer at Kassanso, Sikasso region, had an interesting observation: “I made two plots: one with Apron Star and the second without Apron Star. I quickly noticed the difference between the two plots: almost all sown seeds have sprouted in the plot with Apron Star unlike the plot that has not received any dose. The difference was visible also in terms of growth, the vigor of the plants and yield. I am very happy with this product that has no adverse effect on the environment. I strongly appeal to all producers to adopt Apron Star that is easy to use and at an insignificant cost.”
Varietal testing: In 2015, hybrids and improved varieties such as Fada, Sewa, Pablo and Grinkan Yeraiwolo were compared to local varieties in Sikasso and Toroniou in Mopti. After nearly two years of testing, farmers have accepted the improved varieties in view of the advantages linked to the use of hybrid seeds and improved production techniques.
Microdosing: This is a practice that encourages smallholder farmers to use small amounts of fertilizer at critical stages of crop growth to maximize yields. The overall input requirements are reduced thus helping resource poor farmers. “Traditionally, for a hectare of millet/sorghum, a farmer uses three fertilizer bags (two bags of Di-Ammonium Phosphate [DAP] and one bag of urea) ie 150 kg in total.
FFS - a group-based learning process: FFS brings together concepts and methods from agroecology, experimental education and community development. During FFSs, farmers carry out experimental learning activities that help them understand new technologies and the ecology of their field.
The knowledge gained from FFS main plots, through ToT (Training of Trainers) will be replicated by participants (FFS Facilitators) in their own villages. A ToT is organized around 5 villages, each village providing 10 participants. These people organize in groups of five each, with each group forming a replication plot having technology similar to the main plot. Each group will reach out to between 25 and 30 participants who meet every two weeks for sharing information about different topics related to the production of millet/sorghum. The training on both levels (ToT and secondary plot) are season-long – from land preparation to harvest.
“If your crop just feeds you for a season, it’s time for you to change jobs,” said Mr Makono Kone, sub-sector chief of the National Directorate of Agriculture, Sikasso, to farmers in the municipality of Fama (Sikasso).
The exchange visits were held from 27 September to 4 October and were organized as part of the Africa RISING large-scale Diffusion of Technologies for Sorghum and Millet Systems in Mali (ARDT_SMS). The field days were organized by CRS (a project partner).
Farmers in the Indian state of Rajasthan consider short-duration pigeonpea varieties a boon as the crop requires fewer inputs, thrives well even under limited water conditions due to its deep root system, and matures in 120 days. This gives farmers the opportunity to grow postrainy season crops like wheat, chickpea and mustard.
Earlier, farmers avoided pigeonpea due to its long maturity period. But introduction of short-duration varieties in the region have encouraged more farmers to grow pigeonpea. Villages of Jaipur district (Padasoli and Badwa) are known as pigeonpea villages as traditional crops like pearl millet have been replaced by pigeonpea.
Karauli district of Rajasthan was originally a traditional area for pigeonpea. But over the last two decades farmers have stopped cultivating pigeonpea due to unavailability of quality seed. A progressive farmer Mr Himmat Singh of Malupada village of Karauli was selected to demonstrate the short-duration variety, ICPL 88039, developed by ICRISAT.
At the field day at Malupada village there were 200 women farmers among the 500 farmers who participated. To encourage more farmers to adopt improved pigeonpea technology in their fields, awards for the ‘Best Pigeonpea Famer’ were awarded to: Mr Gangashyam Singh (Satwas, Bharatpur), Ms Krishna Devi (Badwa, Jaipur), Mr Mool Chand Jat (Kherli Pichnot, Alwar), and Mr Gopal Sharma and (Nangal Bela, Dausa) for achieving high yields.
During the 2015 cropping season, more than 1,500 ha has been covered in nine districts of Rajasthan (Jaipur, Dausa, Alwar, Karauli, Sawai Madhopur, Bharatpur, Tonk, Dhaulpur and Ajmer) by the short-duration pigeonpea variety. Under the project, the area under pigeonpea in Rajasthan has expanded to more than 5,000 ha and its performance has encouraged more farmers to adopt this variety.
Chief Guest Dr SJ Singh, Local Coordinator and Director, Rajasthan Agricultural Research Institute (RARI), Durgapura, Jaipur, encouraged farmers to take advantage of improved pigeonpea technology developed by ICRISAT.
Dr CV Sameer Kumar, Coordinator and Senior Scientist, ICRISAT, elaborated on the package of practices in pigeonpea cultivation, selection of suitable variety for dryland conditions of Rajasthan. He explained the ‘one village one variety’ concept for seed production and also about farmers’ participatory seed production program, which can help farmers get quality seed at village level.
Dr Anupama J Hingane, Principal Investigator and Special Project Scientist, ICRISAT, briefed farmers about project activities and improved pigeonpea cultivation technology along with short-duration varieties and hybrids developed for Rajasthan. Further, emphasizing the role of women farmers in agriculture, she encouraged women to take up pigeonpea cultivation in their fields, and also get involved in various activities like seed production, post-harvest processing and other value addition activities like weaving baskets out of dried stalks of pigeonpea. She urged male farmers to support their wives and daughters. Convinced by the returns earned by the farmers in Jaipur district, 150 women from four other districts have expressed their willingness to take up pigeonpea seed production on their farms.
Mr Vijay Kumar, Senior Manager, ICRISAT, explained the advantages of early pigeonpea and dual cropping system. On this occasion, farmers shared their experiences in pigeonpea cultivation. Officers from Department of Agriculture, Odisha, were also invited to the field day.
Visits to the pigeonpea fields were organized by Mr Uttam Chand, Scientific Officer, ICRISAT, and team, giving farmers an opportunity to see on-farm performance and also interact with scientists.
The field day was organized on 15 October by ICRISAT in collaboration with RARI, Durgapura.
A recent study of credit opportunities for rural farmers in India has shown that financial institutions are failing to extend credit at subsidised interest rates to smallholder farmers, as emphasised by the government. Poor access to formal credit (due to inappropriate land records, cumbersome formalities and long delays) force households to take loans from informal sources such as private moneylenders who often charge interest rates ranging from 60-120% per annum. This is seriously hampering household income growth in these areas.
The situation is particularly acute in the eastern and semi-arid tropic (SAT) regions of India where non-institutional financial agencies accounted for as much as 44% of the outstanding credit in 2012-2013.
Access to financial services has been shown to be critical for smallholder farmers in these regions. “Farming is not remunerative for smallholder farmers as they are not getting sufficient income surplus from farming to meet their day-to-day expenses for the whole year. In such case, there is nothing left for purchasing inputs and making investments in farming the following year. In the absence of any assured credit from banks, they go to private moneylenders, who readily provide money, but at very high interest rates,” according to Dr Ranjit Kumar, Principal Scientist, Economics and VDSA Eastern India Coordinator.
VDSA data profile
Data for the study was collected from 1,194 households under the VDSA program. In eastern India, the states of Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha were selected and in the SAT region, the states of Karnataka, Maharashtra and the then undivided Andhra Pradesh were selected across the years 2010 to 2014. In each state, 160-180 households across two districts were surveyed regularly.
The study also highlights the precarious situation of formal agricultural credit in the eastern states when compared to the SAT states. The proportion of households in eastern states availing any agri-credit was half that of the SAT states. Many of the households in the eastern states avail no credit from any source and therefore, use low inputs in production relying on their own resources. Access to credit would have dramatically impacted the ability of these households to achieve a significant improvement in their household income during this period.
“Governments have been emphasising that rural credit should grow - and a lot of money has been pushed in this direction. However, this institutional credit is not reaching smallholder farmers,” says Dr Kumar. Aside from the low number of bank branches in the region, financial institutions still require lenders to have some collateral – which often smallholders cannot provide. There is an urgent need for government to develop a strategy whereby these farmers who can only lease land are also able to avail institutional credit.