24 December, 2015

Improving upon success

The Central India Initiative partners Vikram Sarabhai Centre for Development Interaction to improve cropping practices to benefit tribal farmers

Improved cropping practices result in bumper agricultural gains for Taral

Taral Maljibhai Manabhai, a marginal farmer from Kheroj, a village in Sabarkantha district of Gujarat, is the head of his small five-member family. Sabarkantha is characterised by a semi-arid climate with an annual average rainfall of 710mm. Rainfall is highly erratic in this district, and consequently, yields of kharif crops such as maize, pigeon pea and cotton are often uncertain, and low. It is against this background that the Vikram Sarabhai Centre for Development Interaction (VIKSAT), Ahmedabad, initiated the soil and water conservation programme in the region in 2011-12, through the watershed development programme. These interventions helped harness runoff water during the monsoon, thereby augmenting ground water and improving soil moisture in the agricultural land.

Building on these land treatment interventions, Tata Trusts, through the Central India Initiative, has been partnering with VIKSAT to improve cropping practices and the produce of the main crops grown in this tribal dominated region of Khedbrahma block, such as maize, pigeon pea, cotton and wheat.

Agricultural land measuring about 0.80 hectares (ha) is Maljibhai and his family’s sole source of livelihood. Here, following the regional tradition of rain-fed farming, Maljibhai grows maize, intercropped with pigeon pea during the kharif season. However, during the last kharif season, he grew maize in 0.20ha, and by adopting improved and recommended cropping practices such as using improved quality seeds, treating them prior to sowing and maintaining the crop geometry (proper row to row ( > 50cm) and plant to plant ( > 20cm) distances), was able to net an income of Rs11,430.

Enthused by the results, he was interested in other innovations, and upon further discussion, agreed to replace the old local seeds of pigeon pea with P-2001, an improved ear early maturing variety that was recommended by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) and introduced in the region by Collectives for Integrated Livelihood Initiatives (CInI) — the nodal agency for the Central India Initiative.

He cultivated this new strain on 0.40ha of land. The improved cropping practices, which included appropriate crop geometry, fertiliser application schedules and timely use of plant protection measures helped him increase production. For the first time, he harvested 7.9 quintals of pigeon pea and earned a net income of Rs23,740 — an increase of 107% in net income over what he earned by cultivating only maize.

On the remaining 0.40ha of land, Maljibhai cultivated maize, which yielded 8 quintals this year, netting him a further income of about Rs8,000. Since this pigeon pea was a short-duration variety and matured early, Maljibhai was also able to sow a small portion of his land with rabi crop – wheat – in a timely manner. CInI and VIKSAT have been extensively engaging with a group of over 900 farmers in this cluster of 11 villages, with the help of the local community-based organisations (self help groups and farmers clubs), in order to promote good agricultural practices that will help enhance the agricultural productivity of small and marginal farmers. The results of the last kharif (2013-14) and rabi seasons (2012-13) have been very encouraging.