SATrends Issue 33                                                                                                                   August 2003

The profit motive

  • The profit motive
  • Water management keeps farmers afloat
  • World Bank funds for upgrading Genebank
  • SAT Survey
  • 1. The profit motive

    Reaping benefits in the sorghum fields.

    Smallholder farmers are often reluctant to adopt new crop management practices. But adoption can be speeded up if crop management extension is linked to creation of market opportunities. ICRISAT and partners have realized this in a project that covers 13 drought-prone districts in Zimbabwe. The partners include the national research and extension service, farmer groups, NGOs, and the private sector.

    Activities include two sets of sorghum trials/demonstration plots. One set, run with support from TJ Commodities (a large private-sector grain trader) and CARE, focuses on low-cost soil fertility management, using a combination of farmyard manure and small amounts of chemical fertilizer. The other, supported by Chibuku Breweries and hosted by farmers growing sorghum on contract to the company, focused on crop management methods – early sowing, thinning, fertility improvement, crop rotation (sorghum/legume and sorghum/sunflower rotations for Striga control), moisture conservation (potholes, modified tied ridges), and plant spacing.

    Every demonstration site was monitored through the season. ICRISAT also installed rain gauges at most sites, to help farmers track the progress of the rains, and see for themselves how rainfall distribution affects plant growth.

    Results from the just-concluded season are encouraging. The demonstration plots were highly successful. Over 1100 farmers participated directly, and many others are showing interest in trying out the new methods. Over 6500 farmers attended the project field days.

    Farmers provided valuable feedback on different fertility amendments, in terms of technical results as well as relevance/affordability. Application of inorganic fertilizer, ie Compound D + ammonium nitrate, gave the highest yield increases, but farmers considered it impractical due to the high cost and unavailability of chemical fertilizers. They preferred a combination of farmyard manure and ammonium nitrate – the former applied at sowing, the latter as a top-dressing later in the season.

    Feedback on moisture conservation technologies was equally positive. Most farmers plan to use both moisture and fertility management technologies next season.

    Another unique feature of this program is the value it adds to drought relief efforts. Earlier, farmers simply received handouts of seed and fertilizer. Now they also learn how to get the most out of these inputs. They were also linked to markets – many families sold surplus grain for cash, significantly increasing their incomes as well as the impact of the relief program. Adding crop management demonstrations and market linkages to the relief program cost little, but greatly increased both short- and long-term benefits.

    2. Water management keeps farmers afloat

    This well had water at the bottom even after two years of drought.

    Narayan Reddy, a sorghum farmer in the central Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, pointed out two wells adjoining the fields near his village. “There's still some water in them at the bottom,” he said with some pride. “If we hadn't built check dams and percolation tanks, we would have had none.”

    Those water management techniques have indeed helped Reddy's village of Kothapally, which is home to about 1,500 people and lies about two hours away by road from Hyderabad, the state capital that is considered India's biotechnology hub.

    Reddy though had more on his mind than biotechnology aspirations when IPS met him in early July. “If it doesn't rain soon we're in trouble,” he said. “It's been two years of below-average rain and this village at one time had people migrating away. No rain and that could happen again.” (The rains however did come later that month).

    The women's society pose behind their vermicompost pit.

    The region does not get very much rain at all - about 760 mm a year, which hardly compares with, say the Konkan coast in western India, for which 3,500 mm a year is routine. Even so, the structures the villagers built have helped recharge the groundwater table around Kothapally.

    Inpart, they have been designed according to a water management model promoted by the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), which is one of the 16 global centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

    The management of the village's watershed, which began in June 1999, has increased water levels, expanded green cover and enhanced productivity of crops, particularly of maize and sorghum, says ICRISAT.

    Spearheaded by the crop research institute and including a consortium of partners, like the state government's Drought-Prone Areas Programme and the Rural Livelihood Programme, and centrally-run bodies like the Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture and the National Remote Sensing Agency, the Kothapally project has become a model of watershed development.

    Now, Reddy and his neighbours seem used to visitors descending upon them, displaying varying levels of interest in the systems and structures of rural Andhra Pradesh.

    But it is not really as rural as it seems out there in the fields of chickpea, maize and pigeonpea. The industries that surround the state capital - where the farmer's children seek to make their careers - lie just over the horizon.

    One of his sons, Reddy told IPS, has an MBA degree. Of the rest he said: “They work in Hyderabad and aren't as keen about farming as I am.” Reddy said they have jobs in the city and are considering setting up businesses of their own.

    Kothapally is blessed with rich black soil but little rain. It is not a poor village - according to ICRISAT the watershed programme has increased farmer incomes in the village to about 20,500 rupees (about 445 U.S. dollars) per hectare. The village children look healthy, are well clad and bright-eyed. Yet water is a luxury, which is why Reddy uses drip irrigation too in his fields: “It's worked well, and the government subsidy makes it affordable.”

    Then there's the compost that he feeds his sorghum crop with. Prepared from farm waste by vermiculture, it costs Reddy four rupees a kilogramme, but he knows his money is returning to the village economy - the group of women that maintains the vermiculture shed say they can save up to 30 rupees a day from their sales.

    The water management project had initially focused on implementing soil and water conservation measures and crop improvement techniques for individual farmers.

    An ICRISAT scientist said that when the project group first spoke to the village residents about trying out their techniques, Reddy had carefully sized them up, apparently gauging their sincerity before agreeing to cooperate. Thereafter, they contributed to build community structures.

    Indeed, according to ICRISAT, the Kothapally project is being replicated in China, Thailand and Vietnam with funding from the Asian Development Bank.

    Narasimha Reddy, resident of the village watershed association, explained how food production can be dramatically increased.

    “Much of our farm area was under cotton cultivation,” he said. Kothapally and the surrounding regions contain black soil, where traditionally cotton has been grown. ”But with this crop there were more expenses and less benefit.” The village elder also points to lower insecticide use as a cost saving.

    “Now we intercrop maize and chickpea, which gives us higher profit and helps control pests,” he went on. “We use an extract of the 'neem' seed to spray crops, and have planted a variety of pigeonpea that is high-yield – where earlier we harvested 50 kilograms per acre today it is 500 per acre.”

    Just as important for the village and the farmers is the improvement at the catchment level. The more than 100 water-harvesting structures the village has constructed can capture an extra 15,000 cubic metres of water.

    That can make the difference between a good and a bad crop for many of the village's farmers - or the difference between a degree and none for a farmer's son.

    (Excerpted from a report filed by Rahul Goswami, for the Inter-Press Service Asia-Pacific, after a visit to Kothapally on 1 July 2003).

    3. World Bank funds for upgrading Genebank

    Elijah Muange collects seeds from ICRISAT Director General Dr William Dar. CLL Gowda and HD Upadhyaya are also present.

    Elijah Muange works with ICRISAT-Nairobi. But he is on a special mission at the RS Paroda Genebank at ICRISAT-Patancheru. He is here to learn the latest techniques in genebank management, so that he can help in managing the upgraded facilities at Nairobi.

    In May, Sakile Kudita from ICRISAT-Bulawayo was at ICRISAT-Patancheru for a similar training. The training for both Muange and Kudita at the RS Paroda Genebank is a part of the World Bank-funded (US$ 1.3 million over three years) project for upgradation of the skills of key personnel, physical facilities and operational procedures at Patancheru, Nairobi, Bulawayo and Niamey.

    The RS Paroda Genebank, ICRISAT, Patancheru, India, is one of the largest genebnak in the CGIAR system, conserving 113,848 germplasm accessions of five mandate crops and six small millets. ICRISAT genebank has designated the highest number of accessions (110,396; 97% of holding) in-trust for the world community under agreements with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). ICRISAT is committed to conserving these collections for the long-term and making the germplasm and associated information available as global public goods.

    Upgradation in physical facilities include:

    • Modifications to the existing medium- and long-term cold rooms for safety
    • Enhancing the capacity at Patancheru and new facilities at three regional genebanks in Africa
    • Regeneration facilities for cross pollinated crops like pigeonpea and special facilities for maintaining wild Arachis species
    • Upgrading the seed health testing laboratory at Patancheru and facilities for germplasm safety back-up at Niamey

    Upgrading operational procedures include activities related to germplasm seed processing, storage as active, base and duplicate collection, regeneration of germplasm with critical viability/quantity, maintaining problematic species in special facilities, establishment of safety back-up and regional working collections, characterization of new germplasm and multi location evaluation of center's core collections, improvements in data quality and information management, seed health testing and increased access to the genetic diversity of in-trust germplasm for utilization by the plant breeders.

    Through the Genebanks ICRISAT has been storing for the global community seeds of its mandate crops. All the germplasm accessions are safely conserved in the medium-term storage, while 75% go for long-term storage in hermitically sealed aluminum foil packets at minus 20 degrees C.

    In 1994, ICRISAT placed its germplasm collection under the auspices of FAO, so that the world community could have unrestricted access to it. The Institute has supplied more than 660,000 accessions free of cost to scientists in over 140 countries for their research.

    In fact, some of the countries that faced civil strife have sought germplasm from ICRISAT's collection to rebuild their agriculture. Afghanistan and East Timor are the most recent examples.

    The World Bank funds will help strengthen these activities.

    For more information, contact

    4. SAT Survey

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