Newsroom  Press releases  2002

7) Workshop on Rabi Cropping in Rice Fallows, 28 May, 2002

Scientists are meeting this week to discuss a problem of immense proportions. For uncounted generations, South Asian farmers, who till some of the world's most productive soils, have had to leave land fallow for months after harvesting a single crop of rice. Between cropping seasons, farmers traditionally just wait for the next rains, simply because there is nothing else they could do. The soil, once drained of the water that nourishes their rice, becomes hard as rock, making cultivation impossible. A total of 14 million hectares in eastern India, southeastern Nepal and northwestern Bangladesh have been, for hundreds of years, left fallow. A waste? Undeniably. An unsolvable problem? Fortunately, no. Growing legumes, especially chickpea (Cicer arietinum) may be the answer. The roots of this nutritious legume are so tough that they can penetrate as deep as one metre into the rock-hard soils.

ICRISAT, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, is hosting the international workshop,
which is funded by the UK's Department for International Development (DFID) Plant Sciences Research Programme (PSP). The workshop, which starts today (28 May) and concludes on Thursday (30 May), has brought together the main players in a major project concerning rabi cultivation in rice fallows in South Asia. The scientific meeting will investigate progress made in introducing and promoting legumes, primarily chickpea, into rice fallows after the rice has been harvested.

The workshop will investigate feedback from farmers, their problems and perceptions, and explore means of sensitising them to the possibilities of growing chickpea – using technologies developed by ICRISAT and DFID-PSP like rapid tillage, sowing short-duration crops and seed priming. The 3-day workshop will also scope out the possibility of scaling up the project for another 2½ years.

Dr CR Hazra, Agricultural Commissioner (GOI), will grace the proceedings. Participants include representatives of CRS and Gramin Vikas Trust from India, LI-BIRD and FORWARD from Nepal, and PROVA from Bangladesh. Also attending are Dr Dave Harris of DFID-PSP, Dr Shahidur Bhuiyan of USAID Bangladesh, Dr Shanmugasundaram from the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Centre, and Dr RK Gupta from the International Centre for Maize and Wheat Improvement.

Footnote: Chickpea in AP. In 1986 only 60,000 hectares were sown to chickpea in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh. By 2002 this figure had quintupled to 300,000. Even more impressive are the production figures: from less than 300 kg/ha in 1986 to more than 1000 kg/ha six years later. Putting these data together spells a tenfold increase in chickpea in the state. The significance of the penetration of chickpea into farmers' fields in Andhra Pradesh is important to understand
– the crop is nontraditional in southern India. In fact, southerners call it 'Bengal gram' because they're used to importing it from Bengal and other northern states.

by ICRISAT. All rights reserved.