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    Assamese villagers become trailblazers in adaptive agriculture

  • Date : 08 August, 2018

     From seed banks to rainwater harvesting, one village on the Brahmaputra has spread innovative agriculture through the region – as farmers battle against worsening floods and droughts


    Harendra Neog, a farmer in India’s northeast state of Assam, recounts how his family would bathe their cattle in ponds every Bohaag Bihu, the celebration of the Assamese New Year. It is a tradition in which everyone participates in outside their homes. “But this time in April during Bihu the ponds were almost dry,” he said.

    Thres overcome the challenges of climate change.

    Traditionally, farmers in Assam practise mono-cropping, which means they grow a single crop on their land every year – usually rice.

    Harendra Neog was no exception. “In 2010, the Joha [variety of] rice I grew on three bigha (about 4,000 square metres) of land suffered a lot as a result of no rain. There were cracks on the earth…we see floods, but a drought-like scene? Never before,” he said.

    Once the dry weather abated, Neog, known locally as one of the more enterprising farmers, decided to grow maize. It was a bumper production, he said, but with little thought about the market demand, he again suffered losses.

    Around this time, Neog’s village, Chamua, in Assam’s Lakhimpur district, was chosen as a model village under the National Initiative on Climate Resilient Agriculture’s (NICRA) as part of the All India Coordinated Research Project for Dryland Agriculture (AICRPDA). The project began in 2010 to deal with the projected problems faced by agriculture due to climate change, the foremost being a decline in yield. This decline has a direct impact on the ability of the poor to achieve financial independence, as well as for India to remain food secure. A 100 villages were chosen where researchers would support farmers in the village introduce climate change resilient farming practices, which could then be adopted in other villages if they proved successful.

    Small changes, step by step

    The first change farmers in 62 households made was to diversify crops and introduce multi-cropping. They were also told about the how long different varieties of rice took to mature in order to better plan crop patterns.

    “Until that meeting we had a very vague idea about how many days a particular rice variety takes to mature and its yield,” said Moniprobha Neog, a woman farmer of the village. “This helped us go for the short-duration, high-yield varieties.” The villagers were also given different varieties of seeds.

    Harendra Neog, for instance, agreed to try the deshang rice variety—its maturity duration was 105 days (a short duration) and it gave a good yield. After this harvest, he tried growing potatoes. “Potatoes takes 90-100 days to mature, and I got 30 quintals (3,000 kilogrammes) from 1 bigha (1,337 square metres) land,” he said, which was a very good yield. After potatoes, he sowed vegetable seeds that grow in the Rabi season (during the monsoon). In all, Neog grew 22 varieties of crops in a year, bringing  rich dividends.

    “With crop diversification farmers not only reduce their chances of losses due to climatic aberrations, but also increase their profit margin,” said Pallab Kumar Sarma, chief scientist, AICRPDA, at the Biswanath College of Agriculture. If rice fails because of a late monsoon, a farmer can make up for it with other crops, Sarma explained.

    Average temperatures in Assam have increased by 0.01 degree Celsius per year between 1951 and 2010, and annual rainfall has decreased by 2.96 mm per year, according to data from the India Meteorological Department (IMD).
 















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EDITOR'S NOTE

19 Jan 2016

Crop insurance scheme brings cheers

In view of the growing volatility in the agriculture sector caused by vagaries of nature as well as market fluctuations, it is heartening to see the new Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY)