The Sustainable and Resilient Farming Systems Intensification (SRFSI) project has established a comprehensive program of research into food systems innovation.
An important component of the research is field trials of new conservation agriculture methods and technologies. The project has established 40 research nodes consisting of one or more villages in a district; each node has 15 to 50 field experiments.
The experiments are exploring options to increase productivity, including:
• opportunity cropping, such as growing additional crops in the system (e.g. intercropping with maize or vegetables of other short-duration cultivars, and relay planting)
• diversifying crops and ways to intensify the cropping system (e.g. through advanced planting or supplementary irrigation with energy-efficient axial flow pumps)
• long-term conservation agriculture with small-scale mechanisation.
Research results to date
The pre-project season trials in four of the eight project districts demonstrated the potential for increasing productivity and promoting prosperity in the region.
Overall, yield is better or similar for conservation agriculture than for conventional practice—and conservation agriculture always saves water, labour and costs.
Trials in Bangladesh of growing maize with reduced tillage showed 8–11% increased productivity, with labour savings of 30 days per hectare, compared with farmers’ conventional practices. Similarly, wheat and chickpea trials showed up to 17% increased productivity for reduced tillage, as well as savings in water and labour.
In addition, intercropping trials showed that farmers could almost double their income by intercropping maize with leafy vegetables, rather than growing solely maize. Opportunity cropping trials are continuing on 12 sites, testing different options depending on local needs.
Long-term trials with rice continue. Results so far in Bangladesh show that direct-seeded rice and unpuddled seeded rice provide a similar yield, with less labour, and lower fuel and input costs.
Along with developing new systems, the project is improving farmer skills through training and demonstration events. Altogether, 171 events have been organised across the eight districts, including training in crop management techniques and machinery operation, and demonstrations of intercropping and new stress-tolerant varieties. These events have attracted 6,481 people, of which 30% were women.
Project partners have also helped to establish community groups to disseminate knowledge, such as self-help groups in Nepal, a farmers’ group in Bangladesh, women’s self-help groups in Bihar and a farmers’ cooperative in West Bengal.