04 Feb 2020

Reinventing agriculture with new farming practices

By Jincy Chacko

For Joginder Shah, a smallholder farmer from Sitamarhi, Bihar, learning about the usage of a zero tillage machine was a paradigm shift. Not only did it increase his rice production, it also led to increased profits and savings thereafter.

Joginder Shah

India is one of the top producers of rice and wheat. Poor infrastructure and lack of information have left farming communities at the mercy of nature. India’s food grain production doubled between 1970 and 2000s. Farmers with less than two hectares have contributed to half the production of rice and wheat output and 40 percent of the wheat output. The efficient use of agri-inputs and farm mechanization enables small landholders to generate more income from the same piece of land.

In the regions of Haryana, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra, low groundwater levels and water scarcity pose intense stress to agriculture. The problem intensifies as farmers have small landholdings and high input costs, such as labor wages, while returns in terms of productivity and profits still remain low.

In the prevailing practice of rice cultivation, the practice of puddling the crop is used. Seeds are sown in waterbed nurseries, and saplings are transplanted to the field. This traditional method of nursery seeding is labor intensive, with field preparation and transfer of seedlings from nursery to the field, and also water intensive. The situation is worse in regions with water scarcity. The entire process puts a heavy financial burden on the farmers.

A general perception prevails that farmers with small landholdings do not benefit from mechanization. However, the Sehgal Foundation team has demonstrated that successful mechanization of small landholdings is possible with adequate training and with the creation of shareable infrastructure at subsidized rates. One such promoted practice is direct seeded rice (DSR). DSR refers to a method of preparing the rice crop from seeds sown in the field rather than by transplanting seedlings from the nursery. DSR is proven to be a cost-effective and farmer-friendly method. It does not require labor and constant shifting of saplings from one bed to the other, which reduces the necessity for excess water.

Use of a zero tillage machine is a viable mode that makes direct seeding possible. Sehgal Foundation teams inform, educate, and demonstrate the usage of zero tillage machines in all intervention areas across the country.

Zero tillage machines can simultaneously till land, sow seeds, and supply fertilizers and micronutrients. Zero tillage saves time, labor, and costs involved in sourcing water. The key to enabling farmers to realize the benefits of farm machinery and modern agri practices lies in their training and capacity building, otherwise the lack of know-how on using the machinery effectively leads to non-adoption.

“My livelihood has improved a lot in the last three years since using the machine. I gain up to ₹10,000 from one bigha and save approximately ₹15,000 in one harvesting season.”—Yadavlal, East Champaran, Bihar

Periodic khet divas (field days), kisan prashikshan (farmer trainings), and kheti pradarshan (field demonstrations) attend to every query a farmer has on using the machinery. From informing to training and conviction to facilitation, the foundation team stands by community members at each step to help ensure that the technology finds adoption.

As of March 2019, 5,562 acres of land had benefited from zero tillage. The machinery also paved the way for entrepreneurship in farmers who own zero tillage machines and offer the services to other farmers on an hour or per acre basis, providing them an additional source of income. This creates a positive chain reaction for improved livelihoods that includes better education of farmers’ schoolchildren, access to better health facilities, improved hygiene, and healthy food habits, all of which ensure a more dignified life to those in rural communities.