Posts Tagged ‘sustainable intensification’

Tailored targeting needed: new study assesses the impacts of sustainable intensification on farmers in the Indo-Gangetic Plains

By Marcia MacNeil

A farmer at work in a wheat field in the Indian state of Bihar. Photo: M. DeFreese/CIMMYT.

Sustainable cropping system intensification – for example, planting legumes in the off season – is a well-documented conservation agriculture (CA) agronomic practice in wheat-rice cropping systems.  While the benefits of this practice for environmentally sustainable production are clear – including providing near-permanent soil cover and improving soil quality while yielding an additional protein-rich crop for consumption or sale – the implications for individual smallholder farmers have been less well examined.

Scientists from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), Wageningen University & Research (WUR) and partner organizations recently studied how rearranging cropping patterns would affect five different types of smallholder farmers in the rural state of Bihar, in the Indo-Gangetic Plains of India.

The results, published in Farm-level exploration of economic and environmental impacts of sustainable intensification of rice-wheat cropping systems in the Eastern Indo-Gangetic plains in the European Journal of Agronomy found that the economic benefits and ease of rearranging cropping systems differ widely by farm type.

The Indo-Gangetic Plains are an important agricultural area for cereal production in India, with rice-wheat cropping systems covering around 10.3 million hectares. However, continuous intensive cultivation of these crops has led to soil degradation and over-use of limited freshwater resources. Farmers in the rural state of Bihar are particularly vulnerable to climate change-related heat, drought and flood risks, and face a growing challenge to maintain their crop productivity while protecting natural resources.

The study authors, including CIMMYT scientists ML Jat and Santiago Lopez-Ridaura, chose 5 Bihar farmer types to evaluate: the Farm Manager, with the largest farm and most family members to provide labor; the Wealthy Farmer, with large land and livestock holdings; the Arable Farmer with no livestock and a mango orchard as a main source of income; the Small Farmer, with less than 1 hectare of land, 3 animals and 4 family members, and the Marginal Farmer with only 1/3 hectare of land, completely cultivated with wheat and rice, and 10 family members.

“Using an optimization model, we measured the trade-offs between the environmental benefits and the profitability of intercropping with mung bean for these different types of farmers,” said Lopez-Ridaura. “We found that these trade-offs can be extensive.”

On the positive side, the study authors found that intercropping with mung bean had allowed all five farmers to save water, increase soil organic matter content and decrease nitrogen losses on their farms.

“The environmental benefits of intercropping are undeniable,” said WUR’s Jeroen Groot, co-author of the study. “However, we found that making the switch to sustainable cropping intensification was not equally financially beneficial for all farm types.”

The Farm Manager and Wealthy Farmer had more options to favorably rearrange their farms, resulting in the best outcome on multiple objectives. The Arable Farmer, Small Farmer and Marginal Farmer showed considerably smaller potential to improve the overall performance of the farm.for m

“In practical terms, our results suggest that policies and programs for sustainable intensification of cereal-based cropping systems in Bihar should use strategies that are targeted by farm type,” said Jat.

“A participatory approach to developing these strategies, including input from farmers, will improve understanding of the challenges and opportunities in targeting investments for sustainable farming practices.”

Read the full article here.

This research was conducted by CIMMYT, Wageningen University & Research, the Borlaug Institute for South Asia (BISA) and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).  The research is a product of CIMMYT Academy through a student research project with Wageningen University and supported by the CGIAR Research Programs on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and Wheat Agri-food Systems (WHEAT); the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR); and all donors who supported this research through their contributions to the CGIAR Fund.

African small-scale mechanization project winds down after strong results

This story by Vanessa Meadu was originally published on the CIMMYT website.

Demonstration of a minitiller, Naivasha, Kenya. (Photo: CIMMYT)

Smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe and Ethiopia have embraced small-scale mechanization thanks to an innovative CIMMYT-led project, which is now drawing to a close. Since 2013, the Farm Mechanization and Conservation Agriculture for Sustainable Intensification (FACASI) project has helped farmers access and use two-wheel tractors that significantly reduce the time and labor needed to grow, harvest and process their crops. To ensure long-term sustainability, the project and its partners helped support and develop local enterprises which could supply, service and operate the machines, and encouraged the development of supportive government policies. The project was funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), as well as the CGIAR Research Programs on Maize and Wheat.

“Mechanization is a system not a technology

From its inception, FACASI went beyond simply providing machinery to farmers, and instead envisioned mechanization as a way out of poverty. “Mechanization is a system, not only a technology,” said Bisrat Getnet, the project’s national coordinator in Ethiopia and director of the Agricultural Engineering Research Department at the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research. “Mechanization needs infrastructure such as roads, fuel stations, spare part dealerships, maintenance centers, training centers and appropriate policies. This project assessed which measures are needed to sustain a new technology and addressed these with direct interventions,” he explained.

The FACASI project worked to introduce and develop new small-scale machines, including two-wheel tractors, small shellers and threshers, and small pumps, in African rural settings, collaborating with local engineers, farmers and manufacturers. This included adapting a range of attachments that could be used to mechanize on-farm tasks such as planting, harvesting, transporting and shelling. In parallel, the project developed local business opportunities around the supply, maintenance and use of the machines, to ensure that users could access affordable services and equipment in their communities.

The project initially worked in four countries: Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Researchers saw significant potential for mechanization to reduce the labor intensity associated with smallholder farming, while encouraging application of conservation agriculture techniques and developing rural service provision businesses. In its second phase, which began in 2017, the project focused on strengthening its efforts in Zimbabwe and Ethiopia.

“In my view the most innovative aspect enabling FACASI’s success was the concept of combining engineering and business modelling, with an understanding of the political, legislative and policy situations in the four countries,” said Professor John Blackwell, an Adjunct Professor at Charles Sturt University who reviewed FACASI and also invented and helped commercialize several successful machines in South Asia, including the famous Happy Seeder.

“FACASI has proven that small mechanization is viable in smallholder settings,” said CIMMYT scientist and project coordinator Frédéric Baudron. “It has shown smallholders that they don’t have to consolidate their farms to benefit from conventional machines, but that machines can instead be adapted to their farm conditions. This, to me, defines the concept of ‘appropriate mechanization’,” he said.

Conservation agriculture planter manufacturing in Arusha, Tanzania. (Photo: CIMMYT)

Benefits to local communities

During its course, the project improved the efficiency and productivity of smallholder farming, reducing labor requirements and creating new pathways for rural women and youth.

The reduction in the labor and drudgery of farming tasks has opened many doors. Farmers can save the costs of hiring additional labor and reinvest that money into their enterprises or households. With a small double-cob sheller producing one ton of kernels in an hour compared to up to 12 days by hand, women can do something else valuable with their time and energy. Entrepreneurs offering mechanization services — often young people who embrace new technologies — can earn a good income while boosting the productivity of local farms.

Mechanization has shown to sustainably improve yields. In Ethiopia, farmers using two-wheel tractors were able to reduce the time needed to establish a wheat crop from about 100 hours per hectare to fewer than 10 hours. In trials, maize and wheat respectively yielded 29% and 22% more on average, compared with using conventional crop establishment methods.

Local female artisan, Hawassa, Ethiopia. (Photo: CIMMYT)

Impacts now and into the future

According to its national partners, FACASI has laid the groundwork for cheap and practical two-wheel tractors to proliferate. In Ethiopia, there are currently 88 service providers whose skills has been directly developed through FACASI project interventions. “This has been a flagship project,” said Ethiopia national coordinator Bisrat Getnet. “It tested and validated the potential for small-scale mechanization and conservation agriculture, it proved that new business models could be profitable, and it opened new pathways for Ethiopian agriculture policy,” he said.

In Zimbabwe, the project has also set the wheels of change in motion. “FACASI demonstrated an opportunity for creating employment and business opportunities through small-scale mechanization,” said Tirivangani Koza, of Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement. “With the right funding and policies, there is a very wide and promising scope to scale-up this initiative,” he said.

Read more:
Explore the FACASI Hello Tractor knowledge platform to learn more about conservation agriculture and small-scale mechanization

Small but mighty: The introduction of mung bean has transformed rice-wheat food systems in Nepal

This story by Alison Doody was originally published on the CIMMYT website.

A member of a women farmers group serves a platter of mung bean dishes in Suklaphanta, Nepal. (Photo: Merit Maharajan/Amuse Communication)

Nearly 65,000 farmers in Nepal, 40% of which were women, have benefited from the Agronomy and Seed Systems Scaling project, according to a comprehensive new report. This project is part of the Cereals Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and supported by USAID.

One of the project’s most recent successes has been in accelerating the adoption of the nutritious and stress-tolerant mung bean in rice-wheat farming systems.

Rice-wheat is the dominant cropping system in the lowland region of Nepal. Farmers typically harvest wheat in March and transplant rice in July, leaving land fallow for up to 100 days. A growing body of evidence shows, however, that planting mung bean during this fallow period can improve soil fertility and rice productivity by as much as 25%.

“The mung bean has multiple benefits for farmers,” says Narayan Khanal, a researcher at CIMMYT. “The first benefit is nutrition: mung beans are very rich in iron, protein and are easily digestible. The second benefit is income: farmers can sell mung beans on the market for a higher price than most other legumes. The third benefit is improved soil health: mung beans fix the nitrogen from the atmosphere into the soil as well as improve soil organic content.”

Commonly used in dishes like dahl, soups and sprout, mung beans are a common ingredient in Asian cuisine. However, prior to the project, most farmers in Nepal had never seen the crop before and had no idea how to eat it. Encouraging them to grow the crop was not going to be an easy task.

Thanks to dedicated efforts by CIMMYT researchers, more than 8,000 farmers in Nepal are now cultivating mung bean on land that would otherwise be left fallow, producing over $1.75 million of mung bean per year.

The newfound enthusiasm for growing mung bean could not have been achieved without the help of local women’s farming groups, said Timothy J. Krupnik, CIMMYT senior scientist and CSISA project leader.

Mung bean selection and cleaning process at Poshan Food Product (PFP) Ltd, in Butwal, Nepal. (Photo: Merit Maharajan/Amuse Communication)

Bringing research and innovations to farmers’ fields

Introducing the mung bean crop to farmers’ fields was just one of the successes of Agronomy and Seed Systems Scaling, which was an added investment by USAID in the wider CSISA project, which began in 2014. The project aims to move agronomic and crop varietal research into real-world impact. It has helped farmers get better access to improved seeds and machinery and strengthened partnerships with the private sector, according to Khanal.

CSISA support in business mentoring and capacity building of seed companies to popularize newly released, biofortified and stress-tolerant wheat varieties has led to seed sales volumes tripling between 2014 to 2019. The project also led to a 68% increase in the number of new improved wheat varieties since the inception of the project.

Nepal’s National Wheat Research Program was able to fast track the release of the early maturing variety BL 4341, by combining data generated by the project through seed companies and the Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC) research station. Other varieties, including Borlaug 100 and NL 1327, are now in the pipeline.

Empowering women and facilitating women’s groups have been critical components of the project. Nepal has seen a mass exodus of young men farmers leaving the countryside for the city, leaving women to work the farms. CIMMYT worked with women farmer groups to expand and commercialize simple to use and affordable technologies, like precision seed and fertilizer spreaders.

Over 13,000 farmers have gained affordable access to and benefited from precision agriculture machinery such as two-wheel ‘hand tractors’ and ‘mini tillers.’ This is a major change for small and medium-scale farmers in South Asia who typically rely on low horsepower four-wheel tractors. The project also introduced an attachment for tractors for harvesting rice and wheat called the ‘reaper.’ This equipment helps to reduce the costs and drudgery of manual harvesting. In 2019, Nepal’s Terai region had almost 3,500 reapers, versus 22 in 2014.

To ensure the long-term success of the project, CSISA researchers have trained over 2,000 individuals from the private and public sector, and over 1,000 private organizations including machinery manufacturers and agricultural input dealers.

Researchers have trained project collaborators in both the public and private sector in seed systems, resilient varieties, better farming practices and appropriate agricultural mechanization business models. These partners have in turn passed this knowledge on to farmers, with considerable impact.

“The project’s outcomes demonstrates the importance of multi-year and integrated agricultural development efforts that are science-based, but which are designed in such a way to move research into impact and benefit farmers, by leveraging the skills and interests of Nepal’s public and private sector in unison,” said Krupnik.

“The outcomes from this project will continue to sustain, as the seed and market systems developed and nurtured by the project are anticipated to have long-lasting impact in Nepal,” he said.

Download the full report:
Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia: Agronomy and Seed Systems Scaling. Final report (2014-2019)

The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) is led by the International Maize and Wheat Center (CIMMYT), implemented jointly with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). CSISA is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

CIMMYT and Pakistan: 60 years of collaboration

This story by Mike Listman was originally published on the CIMMYT website.

A wheat field in Pakistan, ready for harvest. Photo: Kashif Syed/CIMMYT

new fact sheet captures the impact of CIMMYT after six decades of maize and wheat research in Pakistan.

Dating back to the 1960s, the research partnership between Pakistan and CIMMYT has played a vital role in improving food security for Pakistanis and for the global spread of improved crop varieties and farming practices.

Norman Borlaug, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and first director of CIMMYT wheat research, kept a close relationship with the nation’s researchers and policymakers. CIMMYT’s first training course participant from Pakistan, Manzoor A. Bajwa, introduced the high-yielding wheat variety “Mexi-Pak” from CIMMYT to help address the national food security crisis. Pakistan imported 50 tons of Mexi-Pak seed in 1966, the largest seed purchase of its time, and two years later became the first Asian country to achieve self-sufficiency in wheat, with a national production of 6.7 million tons.

CIMMYT researchers in Pakistan examine maize cobs. (Photo: CIMMYT)
CIMMYT researchers in Pakistan examine maize cobs. (Photo: CIMMYT)

In 2019 Pakistan harvested 26 million tons of wheat, which roughly matches its annual consumption of the crop.

In line with Pakistan’s National Food Security Policy and with national partners, CIMMYT contributes to Pakistan’s efforts to intensify maize- and wheat-based cropping in ways that improve food security, raise farmers’ income, and reduce environmental impacts. This has helped Pakistani farmers to figure among South Asia’s leaders in adopting improved maize and wheat varieties, zero tillage for sowing wheat, precision land leveling, and other innovations.

With funding from USAID, since 2013 CIMMYT has coordinated the work of a broad network of partners, both public and private, to boost the productivity and climate resilience of agri-food systems for wheat, maize, and rice, as well as livestock, vegetable, and fruit production.

Download the fact sheet:
CIMMYT and Pakistan: 60 years of collaboration

An environmental look at WHEAT research

As we recognize the 50th year of Earth Day, the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT) looks back on recent impactful research to increase crop productivity while conserving natural resources.

WHEAT and its lead research partner, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), are proud of our research to move the needle on improving the environmental sustainability of farming and food production.

Plant resistance to insects

The 24th biannual session of the International Plant Resistance to Insects (IPRI) workshop, held at CIMMYT headquarters this year, featured innovative insect resistance solutions to the global threat of crop pests. Their goal: to reduce the use of pesticides.

Conservation agriculture

WHEAT and CIMMYT research has consistently shown the wide-ranging benefits of conservation agriculture practices such as zero tillage, crop rotation and soil cover – for crop performance, water use efficiency, farmer incomes and climate action. This research helps governments in South Asia — a global “hotspot” for climate vulnerability – develop policies to prioritize and encourage these techniques.

Appropriate fertilizer use

Research by WHEAT scientist Tek Sapkota has identified the optimum rates of nitrogen fertilizer application for rice and wheat in the Indo-Gangetic Plains of India — minimizing dangerous greenhouse gas emissions while maintaining crop productivity.

Reducing residue burning

A  study  by a global team including WHEAT scientist ML Jat shows that replacing rice residue burning with no-till farming practices raises farmers’ profits, cuts farm-related greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 78%, and lowers the choking air pollution that plagues the region each winter. These findings support Indian government policies including a US$166 million subsidy to promote mechanization such as the Happy Seeder.

Earth Day 1970 gave a voice to an emerging public consciousness about the state of our planet. With the same consciousness, we at WHEAT continue to work on research solutions to sustainably increase the production of nutritious wheat for improved livelihoods throughout the world.

Systems thinking at work in South Asia’s food production

This story by Emma Orchardson was originally published on the CIMMYT website.

A farmer uses a tractor fitted with a Happy Seeder. (Photo: Vedachalam Dakshinamurthy/CIMMYT)
A farmer uses a tractor fitted with a Happy Seeder. (Photo: Vedachalam Dakshinamurthy/CIMMYT)

International agricultural research has come a long way since the Green Revolution of the 1970s – from a tight focus on crop improvement to a wider quest for sustainable food systems. Our original objective, as the founders of International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and other CGIAR Research Centers were fond of saying, was to increase the pile of grain. Now, we strive to achieve food and nutritional security in ways that also enhance rural livelihoods, reduce environmental degradation, and boost agriculture´s resilience. 

In 2009, state governments in Northwest India implemented a policy designed to reduce groundwater extraction by prohibiting the usual practice of planting rice in May and moving it to June, nearer the start of monsoon rains.

Although the policy did succeed in alleviating pressure on groundwater, it also had the unexpected effect of worsening already severe air pollution. The reason for this, according to a recent study published in Nature Sustainability, is that the delay in rice planting narrowed the window between rice harvest and sowing of the subsequent crop — mainly wheat — leaving farmers little time to remove rice straw from the field and compelling them to burn it instead.

Even though burning crop residues is prohibited in India, uncertainty about the implementation of government policy and a perceived lack of alternatives have perpetuated the practice in Haryana and Punjab states, near the nation’s capital, New Delhi, where air pollution poses a major health threat.

Decades of research for development have enabled researchers at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and other partners to identify potential solutions to this problem.

A farmer checks the drip irrigation system at his rice field in India. (Photo: Hamish John Appleby/IWMI)
A farmer checks the drip irrigation system at his rice field in India (Photo: Hamish John Appleby/IWMI)

One particularly viable option focuses on the practice of zero tillage, in which wheat seed is sown immediately after rice harvest through the rice straw directly into untilled soil with a single tractor pass.

In a new blog published as part of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ Field Notes series, CIMMYT scientists Hans Braun and Bruno Gerard discuss the combination of agronomic and breeding conditions required to make zero tillage work, and propose a fundamental shift away from current incentives to maximize the region´s cereal production.

Microsatellite data can help double impact of agricultural interventions

Study of smallholder wheat farmers in India shows data from small satellites can quantify and enhance yield gains

This story by Mandira Banerjee was originally posted in the University of Michigan Newsroom.

A young man uses a precision spreader to distribute fertilizer in a field. (Photo: Mahesh Maske/CIMMYT)

Data from microsatellites can be used to detect and double the impact of sustainable interventions in agriculture at large scales, according to a new study led by the University of Michigan (U-M).

By being able to detect the impact and target interventions to locations where they will lead to the greatest increase or yield gains, satellite data can help increase food production in a low-cost and sustainable way.

According to the team of researchers from U-M, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), and Stanford and Cornell universities, finding low cost ways to increase food production is critical given that feeding a growing population and increasing the yields of crops in a changing climate are some of the greatest challenges of the coming decades.

“Being able to use microsatellite data, to precisely target an intervention to the fields that would benefit the most at large scales will help us increase the efficacy of agricultural interventions,” said lead author Meha Jain, assistant professor at the U-M School for Environment and Sustainability.

Microsatellites are small, inexpensive, low-orbiting satellites that typically weigh 100 kilograms (220 pounds) or less.

“About 60-70% of total world food production comes from smallholders, and they have the largest field-level yield gaps,” said Balwinder Singh, senior researcher at CIMMYT.

To show that the low-cost microsatellite imagery can quantify and enhance yield gains, the researchers conducted their study in smallholder wheat fields in the Eastern Indo-Gangetic Plains in India.

They ran an experiment on 127 farms using a split-plot design over multiple years. In one half of the field, the farmers applied nitrogen fertilizer using hand broadcasting, the typical fertilizer spreading method in this region. In the other half of the field, the farmers applied fertilizer using a new and low-cost fertilizer spreader.

To measure the impact of the intervention, the researchers then collected the crop-cut measures of yield, where the crop is harvested and weighed in field, often considered the gold standard for measuring crop yields. They also mapped field and regional yields using microsatellite and Landsat satellite data.

Collecting the crop-cut measures of yield. Photo courtesy of: CIMMYT
Collecting the crop-cut measures of yield. Photo: CIMMYT

They found that without any increase in input, the spreader resulted in 4.5% yield gain across all fields, sites and years, closing about one-third of the existing yield gap. They also found that if they used microsatellite data to target the lowest yielding fields, they were able to double yield gains for the same intervention cost and effort.

“Being able to bring solutions to the farmers that will benefit most from them can greatly increase uptake and impact,” said David Lobell, professor of earth system science at Stanford University. “Too often, we’ve relied on blanket recommendations that only make sense for a small fraction of farmers. Hopefully, this study will generate more interest and investment in matching farmers to technologies that best suit their needs.”

The study also shows that the average profit from the gains was more than the amount of the spreader and 100% of the farmers were willing to pay for the technology again.

Women applying fertilizer via traditional method. Photo courtesy of: CIMMYT
Women applying fertilizer via traditional method. Photo: CIMMYT

Jain said that many researchers are working on finding ways to close yield gaps and increase the production of low-yielding regions.

“A tool like satellite data that is scalable and low cost and can be applied across regions to map and increase yields of crops at large scale,” she said.

Read the full study:
The impact of agricultural interventions can be doubled by using satellite data

The study is published in the October issue of Nature Sustainability. Other researchers include Amit Srivastava and Shishpal Poonia of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in New Delhi; Preeti Rao and Jennifer Blesh of the U-M School of Environment and Sustainability; Andrew McDonald of Cornell; and George Azzari and David Lobell of Stanford.