Striking green gold in Nalanda

A wonder farm technique which has put the district on the global agricultural map is filling granaries in Bihar

pankaj

Pankaj Kumar | April 17, 2013




On January 16, 2013, president Pranab Mukherjee presented the Krishi Karman award to Bihar for a significant increase in production of paddy in 2011-12. The 7.2 million tons produced was 50 percent more than its previous highest yield of 4.6 million tons.

Agriculture minister Narendra Singh accepted the award, which consisted of a trophy, a citation and '10 crore, on behalf of Bihar at Rashtrapati Bhavan. The president also presented an individual award to Sumant Kumar, a farmer from Darveshpura village in Nalanda district, for setting a new world record with production of 22.4 tons per hectare of paddy using SRI methods.

SRI methods, used on more than 3 lakh hectares in the past season (about 12 percent of the paddy area), probably contributed about one-third of state’s increased production as the state agriculture department calculated an average SRI yield of 8.08 t/ha.

Three days before this, on January 13, Nobel laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz, inspired by the progressive farmers of Nalanda who catapulted the district on to the global agriculture map, had visited the farms in Nalanda that have been acknowledged worldwide for getting the highest yield of paddy, onion and potato in recent times using the scientific SRI method along with traditional bio-fertilisers.

The noted author and economist visited organic farms at Sohdih and said that it was amazing that the farmers of the district are prospering using traditional methods in farming that are healthy as well as more productive. He added that the achievements of farmers of the state and the district will definitely inspire farmers of other countries.

While the Bihar government observed 2011-12 as the ‘SRI year’ to promote the methodology in the entire state, the Nalanda district had taken the lead three years ago when the farmers here began experimenting with the farming technique on 10 hectares of land. The results were encouraging and the subsequent year, the total land under SRI methodology in the district had risen to 1,000 hectares. In 2010-11, this figure rose to 4,000 hectares and in 2011-12, to a record-breaking 25,600 hectares.

Encouraged by the experiment, chief minister Nitish Kumar launched the ‘SRI Vidhi’ agricultural campaign on April 14, 2012 in Patna to improve agricultural productivity across Bihar.

What’s SRI?
System of Rice Intensification (SRI) was developed as a methodology aimed at increasing the yield of rice produced in irrigated farming without relying on purchased inputs. Its main elements were assembled in 1983 by the French Jesuit father Henri de Laulanie in Madagascar after 20 years of observation and experimentation. But systematic evaluation and then dissemination of the system did not occur until some 10-20 years later.
Principles included applying a minimum quantity of water, instead of continuous flooding, and the individual transplanting of very young seedlings in a square pattern to give plants more room for root and tiller growth.

The spread of SRI from Madagascar to other parts of the globe has been credited to Norman Uphoff, director of International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York from 1990 to 2005. After seeing the success of SRI for three years, when Malagasy farmers previously averaging 2 tons/hectare averaged 8 tons/hectare with SRI, Uphoff was convinced of the merits of the system, and in 1997 started to promote SRI in Asia. Today, the spread of SRI is supported by SRI-Rice at Cornell University, an organisation devoted to advancing and promoting SRI knowledge globally.

Other than rice, SRI technique has also been extended to wheat, maize and pulses in Nalanda. A catchy slogan, now popular among the farmers here, summarises the essence of the methodology. ‘Pankti mein shakti’ (power lies in rows) teaches farmers in simple language how maintaining proper space between neat rows of plants allows them both sunlight and aeration. Another important element is the use of treated seeds to do away with the use of pesticides as much as possible.

SRI methodology also promotes organic farming as farmers are encouraged to use vermicompost – manure made by using earthworms on cow dung – to decrease use of chemical fertilisers.

A nursery is of immense importance in SRI methodology. Seeds are planted here 8-10 days before sowing the crop. After they sprout, very young seedlings, mostly with two leaves only, are taken out of the nursery and sowed in the paddy field with great care. In case of paddy, a gap of 25 centimetres between the plants is maintained; in a wheat field, this distance can be reduced to 20 centimetres.   
 
The Nalanda experiment
“Earlier, the farmers here used 50-60 kilograms of harmful chemical fertilizers, like di-ammonium phosphate (DAP), in their wheat and paddy crops. But after switching over to SRI method, it has been reduced to half,” says Kundan Kumar, a subject matter specialist here.
SRI method saves water, uses lesser seeds and gives a higher yield. No wonder that the lure of maximum yield with low investment brought the farmers to SRI as bees come to the hive.

“Traditionally, for an acre of paddy crop one needed to sow 40 kilograms of seeds. Using SRI methodology, not even 2 kg of seeds are fully utilised. And the yield is 40 to 50 percent higher,” says Pramod Kumar, a farmer from Belauwa village in Nalanda. In 2012-13, the acreage of paddy crop using SRI method has risen to 36,000 hectares, which is more than 20 percent of the land under SRI cultivation here. In the coming years, this is expected to grow by 30 to 40 percent of the total land using the method in Nalanda.

In case of wheat too, statistics show increase in the popularity of SRI methodology here. Beginning with mere five hectares in 2008-09 here, this figure had reached up to 5,000 hectares in 2011-12 in Nalanda. 
 
Going by data provided by different government agencies like food corporation of India, state food corporation, and primary agriculture credit society regarding the paddy crop procurement in Nalanda, the procurement rose miraculously to 1.42 lakh metric tons in 2011-12 from the mere 59,953 metric tons in 2010-11. Similar trends were observed in the procurements statistics of wheat, maize and pulses.

“Use of SRI methodology has brought down the cost of cultivation here. Sowing of seeds is 50 percent cheaper and the yield is 40-50 percent higher. That’s why the methodology is so popular here,” says district agriculture minister Sudama Mahto.

While the increased production has filled granaries of farmers here, the methodology is also providing employment avenues to farm labourers. “We have trained around 10,000 farm labourers in seed plantation as instructed under SRI Vidhi, because we need trained hands to sow paddy crops. We are going to increase this human resource base in 2012-13 to increase the yield,” says district magistrate Sanjay Kumar Agrawal.
 
The road ahead
The use of this innovative farming technique has changed the face of agriculture in Nalanda and has brought the district from the dungeons of backwardness to the forefront of global accolade. Part of the credit must also be given to an NGO called ‘Pradan’, which initiated the work on the methodology here as early as 2007. Buoyed by this success, the Nalanda district agriculture officers with permission from the district magistrate brought the experiment to the paddy fields in 2008.  

There has been no looking back since.
“During the drought years (2009-10 and 2010-11), the entire state was worst hit and Nalanda was no exception but farmers using the SRI methodology went on to record bumper paddy crops despite odds,” says Mahto. For the Rabi crop this year, the state has set the target of bringing 3 lakh hectares of wheat fields and 4 lakh hectares for maize under the SRI methodology. The government now wants to bring 50,000 hectares under SRI technique to sow grams and 25,000 hectares for lentils.

Pankaj has been stationed in Noorserai, Nalanda. It is part of a project Governance Now is running with Affiliated Network for Social Accountability – South Asia Region (ANSA-SAR).

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