From Poor Productivity to Bountiful Harvests: Technology Backstopping Pays Rich Dividends in Sodic Agro-ecosystem of Uttar Pradesh

The salt-induced land degradation adversely affects the productivity of ~7.0 Million ha area in India. The sodicity, salinity and related problems have diminished the economic value of ~1.4 Million ha area in Uttar Pradesh alone, posing serious risks to the ecosystem services and farmers’ livelihoods. Bringing such salt-impaired lands under the crop production can greatly contribute to the national efforts towards doubling the farmers’ income and achieving the land degradation neutrality. The salt-tolerant crops and cultivars are increasingly gaining the attention as a reliable and sustainable means to revive the salt-affected soils; given the high and often recurring costs of removing the salt from soil through chemical amendment-based and fresh water-intensive practices. This study was conducted with 21 farmers in five purposively selected Villages (Lazipar, Bibipur, Hasanpur, Chakwa and Bhakura) of Jaunpur District, Uttar Pradesh (2016-2018) with overall aim of empowering the farmers to deal with the sodicity problem.

Soil sodicity stress and other stressors

Based on the soil analysis and field transect walks, the agricultural lands in the study Villages were characterized as Sodic (Alkali) with soil pH2 ranging between 8.85-9.74 (mean 8.89). Additionally, some soils also had higher salinity (EC1.03-2.92 dS/m) and most of them were prone to waterlogging in the monsoon and post-monsoon months affecting the crop production (Fig. 1A). Our study farmers also informed that the climate variability (particularly erratic rainfall and seasonal anomalies), labor costs and stray animal impacts have steadily risen over the time, compelling them to rely almost exclusively on the rice and wheat crops for bread and butter.

From Poor Productivity to Bountiful Harvests: Technology Backstopping Pays Rich Dividends in Sodic Agro-ecosystem of Uttar Pradesh

Fig. 1 Adverse effects of soil sodicity on Wheat Crop (A), Scientists'-Farmers'-Interaction Meeting (B), Distribution of Soil Health Cards among the farmers (C) and Bumper Crop of Rice Basmati CSR-30 at farmers’ field (D).

Farmers’ capacity building and Soil Health Card distribution

After rapport building and personal interactions with some innovative farmers, the two Scientists’-Farmers’-Interaction Goshthis were organized in Hasanpur and Chakwa Villages, witnessing the presence of about 60 farmers (Fig. 1B). During these Goshthis, the farmers were informed about the improved technologies for salinity management, high yielding and salt-tolerant cultivars of the field and fruit crops, kitchen gardening for nutritional security, recommended agronomic practices for major crops and livestock management in the presence of Subject Matter Specialists from KVK, Jaunpur. The farmers were also encouraged to apply the local knowledge and resources (e.g., farm yard manure, crop residue management) to improve the quality of sodic soils. Subsequently, the Soil Health Cards alongside the agro-advisories were distributed among the beneficiary farmers to enable them for the better management of their soils and reduce the cost of cultivation (Fig. 1C).

Field impact of Basmati CSR-30

Based on the crop yield data, Basmati CSR-30 was found to yield between 1.40-2.21 T/ha (mean 1.63 T/ha) (Fig. 1D) under the varying levels of soil sodicity (pH2 8.85-9.74). The study farmers reported that subsequent to adopting the Basmati CSR-30, they were able to earn gross incomes between Rs. 44,800 and Rs. 70,400 per ha at a market price of Rs. 3,200 per quintal for this fine-grained Basmati Rice. This way, the farmers were able to ensure higher net returns (Rs. 22,800 to 48,400 per ha with cost of cultivation of Rs. 22,000/ha compared to a considerably lower net return (Rs. 18,000 to Rs. 35,000) from the other coarse-grained locally popular rice varieties sold at a MSP of Rs. 1,470 and Rs. 1,550/q (2016-17 and 2017-18) in the local markets.

Besides fetching premium price, the Basmati CSR-30 also displayed better adaptability in the sodicity-affected soils and needed fewer inputs than the locally popular coarse-grained rice varieties, the study farmers perceived. For instance, the farmers adopting Basmati CSR-30 were able to save on water pumping costs as skipping even upto 3 irrigations, especially, under the erratic rainfall conditions, did not adversely affect CSR-30 crop. This enabled many study farmers to save as much as Rs. 3,000/ha (~20 hr/ha/irrigation @ Rs. 50/hr) only from water saving. Moreover, the adoption of Basmati CSR-30 enabled our study farmers to tactically delay (opportunistic adaptation) the crop transplanting using sanda method of double transplanting to save on escalated labor and irrigation costs (farmers without assured irrigation facility) during the peak of rice transplanting.

Notably, CSR-30 crop grown by the sanda method (transplanted in first week of July) being more vigorous than timely transplanted crop also faced lesser weed intensity, helping the farmers to reduce weedicide applications as well.

Policy implications

The success of this intervention clearly reflects that disseminating the high yielding and salt-hardy cultivars to the farmers’ doorsteps is a sure-shot strategy to enhance the farmers’ income in the areas facing sodicity, climate variability and other confounding stressors; at least in the short-term. Notably, such interventions also provide the grassroots innovators with an opportunity to apply their traditional ecological knowledge and creativity to further enhance the acceptability of such planned (Institutional) recommendations.

The hybrid knowledge, thus created, will obviously be better suited to the local needs and will have a greater chance of diffusion to the adjacent areas grappling with these risks.

(Source: ICAR-Central Soil Salinity Research Institute, Karnal, Haryana)