25 November, 2020

Netting a few more beans

The Tata Trusts’ innovative vertical net trellis cultivation method offers higher yields and incomes for rajma farmers in Uttarakhand

Chandra Devi with her harvest of rajma
Chandra Devi with her harvest of rajma
Chandra Devi with her harvest of rajma
Chandra Devi with her harvest of rajma

Kidney beans, or ‘rajma’ as they are popularly known in India, are consumed all over the world for their nutritional value. In India, rajma is grown traditionally during the kharif (summer and monsoon) season and is considered a high-value cash crop.

According to Rajendra Koshyari, Area Manager, Agriculture, Tata Trusts, “Uttarakhand, in India’s Central Himalayan region, is known for its rajma, grown both in the high-altitude hilly regions and its plains. The state’s famous cultivars like Munsyari Rajma (from Pithoragarh), Chakrata Rajma (Dehradun), Harsil Rajma (Uttarkashi) and Joshimath Rajma (Chamoli) are known for their premium quality, unique taste and nutritional values.”

Farmers in the region have cultivated rajma the traditional way for ages. Seeds of local varieties are sown through dibbling on flat beds. Often, the germinating seedlings fall prey to worms that cut the emerging young seedlings at ground level. This reduces the number of plants that survive. To counter this, farmers often sow or dibble four or five seeds in the same place, which leads to overcrowding. The optimal plant-to-plant and line-to-line distance cannot be maintained.

These local varieties of rajma are climbers and need to be staked. Once the seedlings germinate, the farmers go to the forest to harvest bamboo, ringal and other trees with straight trunks for use as stakes. Since each plant has to be staked, farmers often end up with thousands of wooden stakes on every patch of cultivated land. This practice not only adds many hours to the farmers’ already-busy season, but the forest ecosystem is harmed by the inordinate amount of wood that needs to be collected every season.

Another impact on yield comes from the dense cropping of plants and the large number of supports which reduces sunlight. Due to the dense canopy, the lower leaves of the climbers turn yellow and fall off at a very early stage. The dense canopy also increases the occurrence of fungal diseases such as anthracnose, which severely affects the crop and leads to low yields and low-quality beans.

These factors meant that Uttarakhand’s farmers could not cultivate enough rajma to meet demand, even for popular varieties such as Munsyari Rajma. What was needed was a change in the planting practice to improve yield and quality. This is where the Tata Trusts stepped in. “The Trusts’ Mission Pulses programme, initiated through the Himmotthan Society [an associate organisation of Tata Trusts] in 2018, helped introduce better practices so that farmers could earn more money by cultivating this remunerative crop,“ says Dr Koshyari.

The programme had started with seed production and selection so that farmers had access to quality seeds. Ridge planting was introduced to save germinating seedlings from cut worm. Plant-to-plant and line-to-line distance was scrupulously maintained at 30cm and 120cm, respectively. Seeds were treated with Trichoderma, a fungus that promotes plant growth.

Himmotthan also introduced a new technique – a vertical net trellis system to provide support to the climbers. Instead of wooden stakes, farmers set up a vertical net supported by two poles fixed at opposite ends of each row. This allows climbers adequate space to grow and access to both light and aeration. The results were seen very quickly – the leaves remained green during the development of the beans, the number of beans per plant increased, and they were free of fungal attack due to better aeration.

Farmers who adopted this system have reported an increase in yield of at least 40 percent. Sati Devi, a widow hailing from Nirtoli village, Pithoragarh district, Uttarakhand, is one such farmer who benefitted from growing rajma using the new technique.

“Farming is my only source of income. I also have the responsibility of my children, and the losses I was bearing made life difficult,” says Sati Devi. Sati Devi grew seasonal crops on her land to support herself and her two children. She used to grow Munsyari Rajma but since she used traditional methods of cultivation, the quality and yield didn’t bring in much profit. She would only earn Rs70,000 from the sale of rajma beans.

Sati Devi started growing rajma with the vertical net trellis system in an area of 5 nalis (a land measurement used in the hilly areas of Uttarakhand; one nali is 200 square metres or approximately 0.05 acres). “Himmotthan gave us hope by introducing the vertical net trellis system for rajma,” she says. “Good seed quality, seed size and disease-free pods gave me an additional income of Rs20,000 from the sale of rajma,” says Sati Devi with a smile.

Similarly, Chandra Devi and her husband Yashwant Singh, living in Umdada village, Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand, depended on the income from farming to support themselves, their two children and her in-laws. Their annual income was Rs130,000, of which Rs65,000 was earned by growing Munsyari Rajma.

Like Sati Devi, they too had found that the rajma yield from traditional methods of cultivation did not meet their expectations. After consultation with the Himmotthan team, Chandra Devi and Yashwant adopted the vertical net trellis system on 4 nalis of land. The change led to them earning Rs15,000 more. This has encouraged them to adopt this technique for the next season and also promote its use amongst other villagers.

The use of the vertical net trellis also helps to preserve the Himalayan forest ecosystem, since the farmers are no longer dependent on cutting wood to stake the climbers. The Trusts’ Mission Pulses initiative will continue to take forward these interventions so as to benefit more farmers in the region.

Economic advantage from adoption of vertical net trellis system

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