SATrends Issue 65 April 2006
1. Action speaks louder than words

Field days are key to agricultural technology dissemination. Farmers visit 'model' plots planted and managed by other farmers; they see performance for themselves; discuss advantages and disadvantages, labor requirements, market opportunities, and other factors. When convinced, they adopt these technologies on their own farms.

Over 1100 farmers (425 of them women) attended a recent field day in Zimbabwe's Chiredzi district, as part of the CGIAR's Water for Food Challenge Program. It was organized by Zimbabwe's Agricultural Research Council, the national research and extension services, and Chiredzi Research Station, with back-stopping support from ICRISAT.

The Challenge Program targets seven river basins around the world, with pilot R-for-D projects that will serve as a testing ground for improved technologies and dissemination methods. The objective is to improve water-use efficiency in agriculture, and thus improve food security, nutrition, and incomes among smallholder farm households.

ICRISAT leads the work in the Limpopo basin in southern Africa. Our partners include CIMMYT, IWMI, the NARS in South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Botswana, universities, NGOs, farmer groups and the private sector. The project, titled Increased food security and income in the Limpopo Basin through integrated crop water and soil fertility options and links to markets, will benefit over 10,000 poor households.

The participants were from three districts in Zimbabwe; national researchers from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa; staff from ICRISAT and CIMMYT; and LIMPAST, a rural development organization in South Africa.

The visitors examined two fields (chosen from over 200), all equally well managed by farmers under the project. On view were drought-tolerant sorghum, pearl millet and groundnut varieties, techniques for soil fertility management, and simple water conservation methods. Demonstrations were designed as paired plots, ie, a single improved technology side-by-side with the corresponding traditional practice or variety.

The response was staggering. Some farmers had traveled 400 km to participate. The hosts were closely questioned by enthusiastic, knowledgeable farmers, who were particularly impressed with the sorghum variety Macia (an early-maturing, high-yielding variety that is widely grown in five countries) and with the practice of planting in shallow basins to conserve rainwater and maintain adequate moisture levels around the root zone. Moisture is usually a limiting factor in most parts of the Limpopo basin; and such technologies can ensure food security even in a bad year.

The participants included Hon. Silas Hungwe, President of the Zimbabwe Farmers' Union. "This is the first time that scientists are translating science into practice by touching base with farmers," he said. "If I had known that this was going to be so impressive, I would have asked the Vice President of Zimbabwe to come along."

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2. Flower power!

You must have heard the term "She's not just a pretty face."? This term can also be applied to the lovely marigold flower, which is not just beautiful to look at, but is also a useful diagnostic tool where Botrytis grey mold is concerned.

Botrytis grey mold (BGM) is a disease, caused by the fungus Botrytis cinerea, that mainly attacks the reproductive structures of plants, especially the chickpea plant. Flower abortion is a common symptom of the disease. The disease remains undiscovered until the signs of damage become visible on the flower canopy (Fig. A). As a result, fungicides cannot be applied early enough to control the disease. The predictive models (as described by Shtienberg and Elad in 1997), to estimate disease severity and timing are based on complex mathematical calculations, and they do not account for inoculum pressure. To identify an alternative indicator for reliable diagnosis, forecasting, and management of BGM, ornamental plants commonly grown during the chickpea season as a collateral host of Botrytis cinerea, were evaluated.

Controlled environment investigations on host pathogen interaction were carried out with marigold (Tagetus erecta L.). Flowering plants of marigold when spray-inoculated with B. cinerea (3 x 105 conidia mL-1) from chickpea and incubated in an environment (15C and 100% RH) needed for BGM development, produced symptoms on the leaves, flowers, flower buds and stems. Six days after inoculation (DAI), dark lesions were observed on a fully blooming flower (Fig. B). Concurrently, all the young buds appeared completely rotted, but did not support sporulation. By 12 DAI, masses of wind blown grey sporulation on flowers and flower buds were clearly visible (Fig. C and D). Between 15 and 20 DAI, profuse grey sporulation was observed on all the aerial plant parts (Fig. E).

The early infection of B. cinerea, seen as a mold on the marigold, clearly identified its usefulness to farmers as a diagnostic tool to predict BGM epidemics. This is true especially in the disease management of chickpea. Marigold as an indicator plant to apply prophylactic fungicidal protection to chickpea crops in Nepal has been successfully validated. Infection of B. cinerea on the flowers of marigold and Dahlia, grown at Ishurdi and Jessore in Bangladesh, indicates the possible integration of this farmer friendly, low-cost BGM forecasting system.

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3. "Watershed Plus" Incomes

Eight years ago, women from the Banjara (nomad) community in Madhusudangarh in Guna district of Madhya Pradesh didn't grow vegetables. Today, with the improved water availability in their fields through the Sri Dorabjee Tata Trust Project, the same women not only grow enough vegetables for their needs, they even make a small income by selling them in the local market. Since 2002, ICRISAT and BAIF (an NGO) have been working to implement 'watershed plus' activities through the project, which helped the villagers to make better use of natural resource management (NRM) practices.

"Our health and the health of our family members have improved since we started growing and consuming vegetables," said Samanta Bai. "We use the money to start thrift savings with our self-help group," added Nandita Bai.

According to Somnath Roy, Chief Program Coordinator for BAIF in Madhya Pradesh, when the soil and water harvesting structures increased water retention, the project officials could teach the Banjaras about vegetable cultivation. Covering an area of more than 5,000 ha, fifteen villages are part of the Tem river catchment. P Seshagiri Rao, BAIF's Regional Program Coordinator, says that the project has had a positive impact on around 10,000 families.

The project officials lent Sadaram Rs 14,000, to start a nursery to raise seedlings for the project. Sadaram generated an income of Rs 90,000 from this money, returned the loan, and went on to become an important nursery owner in the region. "Though I have only a bhiga of land (approximately 0.2 hectare), I have managed to get good value addition from nursery activities," said Sadaram. "We were landless laborers, and today eight members of my family have employment through this nursery. We don't go out for work."

Mangey Lal and family with tropicultor.

Vegetable cultivation and nursery raising were a few among the portfolio of activities initiated as part of the 'watershed plus' activities. According to SP Wani, ICRISAT's Regional Theme Leader on Watersheds, the activities were designed to optimize the returns from the NRM activities so that the farmers got the best advantage.

Mangey Lal has been successfully using ICRISAT's tropicultor to sow his fields. He also changed from grain cultivation to grain plus vegetables plus fruit cultivation.

Vermicomposting, integrated nutrient management, integrated pest management and biodynamic composting are among the other activities initiated. The latest addition is the satellite-linked resource center.

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