On the East India Plateau endemic poverty is associated with food insecurity and civil unrest. Agricultural productivity is comparatively low, and there is a lack of irrigation infrastructure. Population pressure has pushed cultivation of rice (the staple crop) onto the medium uplands. Previous ACIAR research showed that the dominant traditional cropping system of monoculture paddy rice is poorly adapted to these terraced and bunded uplands. This project will explore a proposed new cropping system that retains rice as the staple food crop but moves to shorter-duration, direct seeded rice (DSR) using upland varieties. Not only has DSR been shown to be better adapted but its shorter duration creates an opportunity for growing a range of useful late kharif and early rabi crops.
This progress report describes the period from May 2014 to May 2015, focussed on the 2014 kharif season and following rabi season, and represents the second full year of the current project. During this time the project experienced significant success in the field experimental program, notably the development with farmers of aerobic Direct Seeded Rice and maize/legume intercropping followed by a non-irrigated mustard crop in the rabi season. The project also made significant progress in developing and understanding our unique process of engaging farmers in research that we believe is the key to empowering women and enhancing independent capacity for innovation. In addition to these research highlights the project is also scaling out project interventions to significant numbers of farmers. These project highlights are described in more detail below.
Aerobic Direct Seeded Rice continued to perform better than traditional transplanted rice in the medium uplands of the East India Plateau in the 2014 kharif. The 2014 monsoon arrived late and transplanting was delayed significantly and many transplanted rice crops failed to be harvested. In our on-farm, farmer-managed, paired comparison of transplanted farmer practice vs aerobic DSR, 23 out of 43 transplanted crops failed whereas only 5 out of 43 aDSR crops failed. This highlights the climate resilience of aerobic DSR and is a key attraction for farmers. Aerobic DSR also reduces menial labour performed by women (transplanting and hand weeding), freeing up women’s labour for more rewarding enterprises like vegetable cropping. Aerobic DSR crops are also harvested earlier than transplanted rice, facilitating earlier sowing of a rabi crop to better utilise residual soil water after rice.
Another significant development in more intensive and diverse cropping systems was the success of maize-legume intercropping followed by a non-irrigated mustard rabi crop. This intervention is replacing transplanted rice on the medium uplands in Churinsoro village and is being evaluated in our other research villages. Families are consuming a proportion of the three crops and also selling surplus production in local markets, improving family nutrition and increasing household income. The key to growing the mustard rabi crop without irrigation is the earlier harvest of maize allowing early sowing of mustard, compared to a rabi crop after rice. This highlights the need to evaluate early rice sowing combined with short duration varieties to enable earlier sowing of rabi crops following rice. This experimental result is consistent with our soil water modelling.
Research into the learning processes facilitated by engaging farmers in research is providing a clearer understanding of the essential components and will lead to a farmer engagement process that PRADAN and other organisations can implement backed by theory and practical guidelines. It appears that the Self Help Group is a key ingredient, providing a supportive environment for individual and group learning to proceed. The learning process is not a cheap or quick scaling out process, but the development in human capacity appears profound. In a separate initiative, a baseline household survey of 1,080 households was also completed in the reporting period. The survey is intended to separate the influence of normal PRADAN development activity or PRADAN + ACIAR research activity from the general population in terms of a range of production, income, nutrition, and empowerment variables.
Research interventions from LWR/2002/100 and LWR/2010/082 are being scaled out to significant numbers of farmers. Aerobic DSR has been promoted to more than 800 farmers in Chaibasa and more than 250 farmers in Purulia. A further 1,000 farmers have been exposed to aerobic DSR in Khagaria District, Bihar. More than 1,000 farmers have been engaged with the Crop Calendar planning tool in Purulia District. Scaling out will be expanded in three PRADAN Development Clusters in 2015 (North Odisha - Kolhan for Talaboru village; Jangal Mahal for Churinsara village; North Chotanagpur for Bhubhui village) potentially reaching around 30,000 households in these three DCs. A planned second round of the project household survey will quantify farmer adoption of practices and actual impacts on livelihoods.
This progress report describes the period from May 2015 to May 2016, focussed on the 2015 kharif season and following rabi season, and represents the third full year of the current project. During this reporting period project activity was focussed in three main areas; collecting a third year of experimental data comparing aerobic direct seeded rice with traditional transplanted rice, consolidating data collection and interpretation in other project areas, and scaling out project findings both within PRADAN and externally.
The 2015 kharif season was one of the driest on record in our research locations. The total rainfall amount for the 2015 kharif compared to the long-term (1971-2015) median kharif rainfall (498 Cf.1,120 mm in Churinsara, 844 Cf. 1,107 mm in Talaboru, 877 Cf. 1,137 mm in Bhubhui) provides some indication. The very late arrival of the monsoon and extreme low rainfall created many challenges for local farmers and impacted significantly on our field research program. Many plans had to be abandoned or modified as the season progressed. Despite the generally dry conditions, heavy rainfall at critical planting times also resulted in crop failures.
Despite the challenging low rainfall conditions, direct seeded rice continued to demonstrate advantages over traditional transplanted rice in all three research locations. Across 87 farmer field paired comparisons, 34% of traditional transplanted rice crops failed compared to 21% of the direct seeded rice crops failing. Furthermore, many of the direct seeded rice crop failures were due to pests like rats and squirrels eating seedlings and birds eating maturing crops. These problems may diminish if direct seeded rice became the dominant rice establishment system (the oasis effect) in the medium uplands. Other benefits of direct seeded rice such as reduced menial labour and earlier harvest allowing a second rabi crop to be sown, were confirmed.
During the reporting period project research activity has focussed on consolidation and integration. Research papers are in preparation on direct seeded rice, vegetable cultivation, groundwater resources, and a large Household Survey. A smartphone App, ClimAnalyser, was developed from research conducted in the previous project. Users have suggested the App continue to be developed and for future versions to include groundwater and crop water use requirements.
In this reporting period there has been a focus on scaling out. Project interventions such as the Crop Planning Calendar, Direct Seeded Rice, vegetable cultivation technology, and the process of engaging farmers as research partners are being scaled out internally to PRADAN, and externally to a number of government and non-government organisations. Scaling out activity has focussed on Jharkhand and West Bengal, but significant scaling out has also occurred in neighbouring Odisha and Bihar.
The project will continue through to the end of 2016 with a focus on interpretation and synthesis of research results leading to publications, and further scaling out of research findings within PRADAN and more widely. This focus follows the recommendations of the project Mid-Term Review.