When farmer Malho Marndi first adopted new, mechanised planting practices on half of her sixteen-hectare farm in Odisha, the other villagers called her “mad”, perhaps concerned about the potentially negative impacts it would have on her operational costs and yield. Marndi‘s quick adoption of new agricultural innovations, including seed drills that mechanically transplant crops such as rice, maize and wheat, instead had the opposite effect, turning her into a model farmer that others now emulate.
This is because she was part of a new project run by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), which helped introduce farmers like her to new planting practices combined with improved crop varieties. Farmers can use a machine to plant rice seeds using mechanical drills rather than the traditional method of growing seedlings in a nursery and then hand transplanting them into flooded fields.
During the 2022 kharif or “monsoon” season, Marndi harvested a yield of 5.6 and 6.4 tons per hectare from planting Arize 6129 and Arize 6444 Gold, respectively. This is far higher than the average 3.7 tons per hectare attained in the country on average.
Innovations like this will be essential to keeping the agricultural sectors of the world’s breadbasket countries equipped to feed a growing population in the future. India, for instance, is the world’s largest producer and exporter of cereal products, which includes rice, maize and millet. Other innovations include breeding programmes designed to increase rice’s nutritional profile, integrating fish production within flooded rice fields to boost incomes and nutrition while supporting biodiversity, and alternate wet-dry cultivation, which can dramatically cut between 30 to 70 percent of the rice sector’s greenhouse gas emissions without reducing yield.
As the G20 Agriculture Ministerial meeting is currently underway in Hyderabad, they are tasked with how to support further progress and collaboration in global food value chains. Innovation will be key in unlocking the gains they seek, but it does not – indeed, must not – focus on higher productivity alone. It also has the potential to better manage the agricultural sector’s use of finite natural resources like water and soil and to streamline the cultivation process, especially through access to more digital tools. This last goal will be key to attracting more young people and women into seeking opportunities working in the agri-food sector.
For Marndi, the case for innovation was a simple one. Not only does the new direct-seeding technique require her to use less water, it also saves her the time, costs and back-breaking drudgery of hand transplanting. It also makes bringing previously fallow land, which is often depleted of nutrients, back into cultivation easier. And although the direct seeding process requires less labour for the planting process, she is able to employ workers to help with weed management and post-production activities such as harvesting, storage threshing and packaging. She plans to expand this practice across the other half of her farm in the 2023 kharif season and hopes that more farmers like her can access the hands-on training and tools needed to overcome their risk aversion. This is especially important for female farmers, who would disproportionately benefit from exposure visits, technical support and selective demonstrations.
Advances like this could help India boost not only its productivity but also its advances towards the empowerment of women. It also shows how 21st-century innovations have the potential to generate the extra food we need for a growing population, in a more sustainable and equitable manner.
Regional Director, South Asia, CGIAR
Originally published on news18.com
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