So shall you reap…!
In the hot, dusty, water-starved regions of Mahboobnagar, Andhra Pradesh, is a small village whose rice fields stand shoulder-high. This is Damarigedda village. 14 farmers here stand with happy faces as they take away 31% more bags of rice than their neighbouring farmers. These 14 farmers, like any other farmers of the area, face the daily anxieties of irrigating their thirsty fields, and find themselves having to choose between the short term benefits of expensive chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which while increasing yield, ravage the soil, and the long term benefits of more organic farming methods that might not necessarily provide the same high yields in the short term, but ensures healthier crops and more sustainable production. At the same time, they also face higher transportation, processing and input costs. This situation is not confined to this region. All over the world there are scientists, farmers, governmental, and non-governmental organizations scratching their heads hard, looking for solutions. Major crop failures are an almost annual occurrence now, as a result of overworked soil and climate destabilization. Food prices have now been rising for several years.
The Indian government is currently faced with a pretty sticky problem – how to make sure we have 2 million more tonnes of rice every year to ensure our food security. The high increases in yields during the Green Revolution are now showing signs of stagnation. The intensive use of irrigation, fertilizers and pesticides which at one point led to the increase in yield are now the cause of environmental degradation.
To begin with, the required increase in rice production is going to apply further pressure on an already dire water management situation. Rice production consumes more water than most other non-meat products. It takes three to four thousand litres of water to grow a single kilogram of rice! In India, where water is a scarce and precious resource, farmers are facing problems with irregular water supply and scarcity given increasingly unpredictable monsoons and salinisation of ground water. And although our rice productivity per hectare is extremely low we are still the largest consumers of water per capita (239 m3/capita/year) with regard to rice production.
So what then would be the solution for small and marginal farmers? Can something be learnt from the Damarigadda farmers?
Rangaswamy and his team from WOTR identified 14 volunteer small and marginal farmers who were interested in experimenting with SRI (System of Rice Intensification) and helped them set up demo fields over a total of fourteen and a half acres. With the help of regular village level meetings in these areas to share the demo farmers’ experiences, local farmers and villagers have become more interested to adopt the new techniques in their own farms.
At these meetings, their neighbours are convinced when they listen to farmers like Laxmappa and Bheemappa, who have experimented with SRI on their fields, and are able share actual, hard data on the cost savings and increase in yield.
At the regular meetings set up by WOTR AP, the 14 SRI farmers are not just able to ask each other questions about the SRI experience, but can also boast to their neighbours about how while conventional Paddy cultivation needs 20 kilograms of seed per acre, their demo fields needed just 2 kilograms. In addition, the farmers were able to show an impressive 34% input cost savings on their demo fields, as they use organic compost and manure and reject expensive chemical fertilizers and pesticides. They reported finding the rice plants stronger, healthier, more resistant not just to insect activity, but also to the strong cyclonic gales that whip across the countryside. The rice plants had stronger tillers (stems) and larger root systems which were able to reach deeper into the soil, binding it to the earth and also reaching deeper into the soil for nutrients that their counterparts in the conventional paddy fields are not able to reach. The SRI rice plants were yielding between 55 to 60 straws with an average of 115 seeds per straw, whereas their conventional counterparts were yielding between 32 to 36 straws with an average of 45 seeds per straw. The soil is healthier, the plants are stronger, and the farmers are happier as they walk away with an average increase in rice harvest of 31%. And while there might be many sceptics out there, the farmers in Damargidda are pretty pleased, for really it is more how you sow than what you sow which determines how much you reap!
Case-story: V.Rangaswamy, WOTR-AP
Edited by: Saisudha Hejmadi-Acharya