SATrends Issue 32                                                                                                                   July 2003

Big change with small doses

  • Big change with small doses
  • Farmer Participatory Research different kinds of participation
  • Reaping success along with private sector
  • SAT Survey
  • 1. Big change with small doses

    Preparing the micronutrient mixture

    At times big changes require small interventions. The application of small doses of deficient microelements boron and sulphur to the soil in the watersheds being developed by ICRISAT has resulted in significant increase in crop productivity.

    The success was achieved in the watershed projects being implemented by an ICRISAT-led consortium of institutions in Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan in India. The Andhra Pradesh project is being implemented under the Andhra Pradesh Rural Livelihood Programme (APRLP) of the state government. The Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan projects are implemented under the Sir Dorabjee Tata Trust.

    The improved crop productivity due to the addition of boron and sulphur has encouraged the farmers to participate more intensely in the watershed development activities. It has also strengthened the belief of ICRISAT scientists that the participation of the farming communities in the watersheds is linked to the tangible financial benefits that individual farmers get in their farms. The interventions improved the crop productivity, which in turn facilitated a greater community participation in the watershed activities.

    The amendment of the soil with boron and sulphur at the Kothapally watershed in Ranga Reddy district of Andhra Pradesh resulted in the farmers harvesting 350 additional kilogram per hectare for sorghum and 616 kg/ha for maize.

    Applying it to the soil
    At the Milli watershed in Vidisha district of Madhya Pradesh, boron and sulphur addition resulted in 34 to 39% increase in soyabean yield. This resulted in a net profit of Rs 26,454 per ha. The farmers who had the interventions in their fields got a cost benefit ratio of 1:1.8, and those without the interventions got 1:1.3.

    Despite the drought in the watersheds chosen under the APRLP in Nalgonda district of Andhra Pradesh, there was an increase in crop yield due to boron and sulphur micronutrient amendments. The farmers recorded 17 to 125% increase in greengram yield in these watersheds.

    In other watersheds of Andhra Pradesh farmers recorded an average increase of 72% in maize yields, 60% for castor and 28% for groundnut.

    The micronutrients in the soils in the watersheds have depleted over years due to changes in agricultural practices, fertilizer applications and productivity. The micronutrients are critical to increase the rainwater use efficiency in the watersheds. Micronutrient deficiency can also lead to inappropriate absorption of the macronutrients, which in turn would mean that farmers lose the money they invest into their crops.

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    2. Farmer Participatory Research different kinds of participation
    In recent years, ICRISAT like most agricultural R&D institutions has increased its emphasis on farmer-participatory research (FPR). Rather than simply developing new technologies and expecting farmers to adopt them, researchers now work together with farmers to identify and test technology options that are practical and relevant to smallholder conditions. Clearly, FPR works. But there are many different kinds of FPR, and some work better than others.

    Most FPR methods fall under one of three broad categories: research-led, researcher-managed (RLRM); researcher-led, farmer-managed (RLFM); and farmer-led, farmer-managed (FLFM). For example, in RLRM, farmer input is limited to providing fields and labor for the trials. Researchers make all the decisions what experiments to conduct, which fields to use, when to weed the crop, etc. In contrast, in FLFM, farmers make all the decisions, including choosing what experiments to conduct. Researchers play a very limited role.

    Which approach is best? A recent ICRISAT study compared the three approaches in terms of various parameters: adoption of the new technologies, changes in research/extension practices (if any) as a result of FPR, and the costs involved in each approach. Fieldwork was conducted in six case study areas in Zimbabwe and Malawi, chosen to represent different agro-ecological zones, population densities, and market conditions.

    Adoption: Adoption levels, particularly for crop and soil fertility management technologies, were highest under RLFM. This is because promoting a new management practice is far more difficult than, say, promoting a new variety. Learning-by-doing is the key, and the RLFM approach promotes just this.

    Changes in research/extension practice: Extension staff report that FPR in general (but especially RLFM) has improved interactions between researchers, extension staff and farmers. Researchers in both countries have now adopted the Mother-Baby trial approach (classic RLFM) for on-farm testing, not only for crop and soil management, but also for new varieties.

    Cost comparisons: Various costs were factored in background studies, literature review, researcher and extension staff time, workshops, village meetings, training, as well as costs of implementing the trials, data analysis, and dissemination. RLFM is the most expensive, because it involves substantially more interaction with the community, training, travel etc. But it provides the greatest impact per dollar spent, as measured by adoption rates, changes in farmer knowledge and understanding, changes in research and extension practices, and the degree of farmer empowerment, ie, farmers' willingness to try out even demand new ideas.

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    3. Reaping success along with private sector

    Pearl millet seed production by a private company

    More than three years ago ICRISAT started on an initiative in India working with the private sector seed companies to rapidly improve the quality of sorghum, pearl millet and pigeonpea seeds, using advanced breeding technologies.

    When the program started, ICRISAT was among the earliest international agricultural research institutes to start on the path of collaborating with a consortium of private sector partners.

    The initiative has obviously been successful since the number of partners has grown over the years. For sorghum the number of seed companies in the consortium increased from 7 in 2000 to 13 in 2003. For pearl millet it grew from 9 in 2000 to 16 in 2003. And, this year even pigeonpea was added for consortium research. Two seed companies have already joined for pigeonpea research while a third has expressed interest.

    The partnership has been able to strike a win-win situation both for ICRISAT and the private sector companies. While ICRISAT could develop high-quality hybrid material, parental lines and information, the private sector could use it at the right time.

    For the private sector it also meant getting benefit from the economies of scale for R&D work. ICRISAT provided the research infrastructure and experience, while the private companies knew the market realities for selling the seeds.

    The groundwork for the consortium, however, was the widespread availability of hybrids that could trace their lineage to ICRISAT's research. In the case of sorghum, for instance, half of India's 10 million hectare under the crop is planted with hybrids. Of the 50 hybrids in use about 30 are based on ICRISAT-based parental lines, or on proprietary parental lines developed from ICRISAT-bred improved germplasm.

    The partnership research focuses on critical areas that can help develop better seeds quickly. For instance, one of the areas of focus for sorghum is on the development of seed parents with large seed size and shoot fly resistance; and development of cytoplasmic male sterility (CMS) systems and characterization.

    A private sector sorghum breeder choses from
    among the male-sterile lines at ICRISAT for his work

    Though the consortium for pigeonpea research started only this year, ICRISAT's partnership with the Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company (Mahyco) began in 1998. The results from this partnership included the development of genetic male sterility based high-yielding and disease-resistant hybrids. This, however, was developed later into the cytoplasmic male sterility system hybrids.

    Where is the consortium headed for in the future? It could further improve resource mobilization and make more use of biotechnology.

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    4. SAT Survey

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