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A farmer's innovative success story
Nivedita Deka, Kabindra Borkakati, and Zahirul Islam | March 19, 2008 15:16 IST
Every year, the low-lying area is subject to deep flooding due to monsoons that cause the overflow of the Brahmaputra and Bhogdai rivers. For centuries, rice has been the major crop of the area, the staple of the local population.
During the kharif (wet) season, farmers monocrop sali rice; their next crop consists of seasonal vegetables, oilseeds, and pulses. Most farmers in the village are either marginal, having less than 1 hectare of farmland, or small, with a farm size of 1�2 hectares.
Most farmers have a primary education. The average yield of sali rice is only about 2 tons per hectare. The combination of small farms and poor yields is a formula for poverty in this area. Compounding this, the Brahmaputra and Bhogdai often cause flood damage to the Sali rice, contributing further to food insecurity and poverty for the local farmers. To improve livelihoods in such areas, farmers wanted to grow rice during the dry (boro) season.
Monsoons bring too much water but the dry season brings too little. Therefore, irrigation is a must for boro rice. To encourage boro rice cropping, the Assam state government started providing subsidies for low-lift pumps in the year 2000.
Five farms began boro rice cropping for the first time during the 2002-03 season, irrigating about 2.5 hectares of land using the pumps to lift water from the Bhogdai River. Although they had water for irrigation, the farmers lacked an appropriate variety of boro rice.
In their first boro season, they grew an unknown variety, the so-called No. 9, and two sali varieties�Luit and Lachit. No. 9 yielded about 5 tons per hectare; the sali varieties yielded about half that. From 2003 to 2004, Assam Agricultural University (AAU) at Jorhat initiated efforts to intensify boro cropping at Ganakabari, in cooperation with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)-funded project TAG 634: Accelerating technology adoption to improve rural livelihoods in the rainfed eastern Gangetic Plains.
The AAU research team provided farmers with modern boro varieties developed by AAU Kanaklata, Joymati, and Jyotiprasad�and offered information and technical support. In the 2003-04 season, 24 farmers cropped boro rice in a 27.5-hectare area. The AAU team promoted biofertilizer-based integrated nutrient management (BINM), which reduces the use of inorganic fertilizers and thus lowers production costs and water pollution. In the 004-05 season, 33 armers grew boro rice on 39 hectares nd, in the 2005-06 season, 25 armers cropped boro rice on 20 ectares.
The decrease in 2005- 6 was caused by severe rought, hich raised the cost of fuel and, onsequently, irrigation. Most armers who grew hese modern arieties harvested more than 5 ons per hectare, compared with the -tons-per hectare yield of sali rice, hich was often damaged by floods.
Most farmers have not abandoned sali rice; rather, they have adopted a boro�sali system. Boro rice is currently grown on about 30% of rice lands in Ganakabari. About 70% of the land is now under the sali�boro system; the other 30% is planted to boro only. Among the three introduced boro varieties, Kanaklata has become the most popular. Rajib Neog is a young farmer from Ganakabari village.
With a secondary education, he has more schooling than many farmers. His brother, a school teacher, has settled with his family in the nearby suburban town of Dergaon. His three sisters are all married and have settled in other villages with their families. Rajib, the youngest sibling, remained at the family house in Ganakabari village to look after his elderly parents and their 2-hectare farm. Cultivating mostly rice and seasonal vegetables, his family's life was difficult.
A receptive and technology-savvy farmer, Rajib saw the potential of boro cropping. In 2002-03, he was one of five farmers who cultivated boro rice for the first time in the village. In 2003-04, he adopted the Kanaklata and Joymati varieties, and BINM, on 1.2 hectares. Later, he increased the coverage to 1.5 hectares�75% of his land. In the 2004 05 season, Rajib had stunning success with his first attempt at growing Kanaklata. He reaped 6.25 tons per hectare, while yields of the sali varieties averaged 2.3 tons per hectare. Rajib's yield was the highest in his village. In the 2005-06 season, Rajib also harvested an excellent crop that yielded 6.3 tons per hectare.
In 2004-05, his total harvest was 8.5 tons; in 2005- 06, his total harvest was 9.95 tons. Rajib expected another bumper crop in the 2006-07 boro season. In addition to the higher yields of Kanaklata, Rajib grows the variety for its finer grain quality, good eating quality, and high market price. Currently, he is growing mostly Kanaklata and No. 9. By adopting the new technology package, Rajib has been able to grow more rice than he needs and he has become a relatively wealthy farmer. Occasionally, his brother collects rice from Rajib for his family's consumption.
Higher yields also mean that Rajib has become a grower of Kanaklata seeds. He stores most of his product until just before the next planting season and then sells it at a good price. In 2005, Rajib earned about 24,000 rupees (US$600) by selling 4 tons of rice seeds, and in 2006 he earned 36,000 rupees ($900) by selling 6 tons. In addition to income from rice farming, Rajib earns supplementary income by growing vegetables and raising goats and ducks.
People who know Rajib can see physical proof of his improved livelihood. In 2005, in preparation for starting his own family, Rajib used the additional income to construct an improved mud-walled tin-roof house. In July 2006, he married Pranita (Munu), who has become his constant companion. Rajib also bought a single-burner gas stove for cooking, which saves his family the time and labor of finding firewood for cooking. In Ganakabari and beyond, people quickly figure out who the prosperous farmers are.
Successful boro cropping with record high yields has brought a degree of fame to Rajib. Many seek his counsel: neighbors in his farming community, scientists at development agencies and nongovernmental organizations, and agricultural extension specialists at the state government's Department of Agriculture. In April 2006, Rajib achieved formal recognition as a successful farmer. Participating in a training course on seed selection and storage, presented at AAU by experts from the International ice Research Institute and Bangladesh, Rajib received from the NGO Jeuti a certificate of appreciation.
Jeuti�which means "light"�advocates and promotes the use of improved farming practices by poor farmers in Assam. By presenting the certificate, representatives from Jeuti recognized Rajib's achievements in growing Kanaklata. Since the training course, as a way of sharing his knowledge with other farmers, Rajib helped organize a self-help group for resource-poor farmers in his village. In recognition of Rajib's accomplishments, members of the group, named Bhogdaiporia, selected him to be the secretary�a position that confers higher social status. Only a few years previously, Rajib was a struggling farmer. Now, neighboring farmers ask him for seeds and seek his advice on modern cultivation practices.
Dr. Deka is an agricultural economist and Prof. Borkakati is an agronomist at Assam Agricultural University. Dr. Islam worked as an international research fellow at the InternationalRice Research Institute. This article was adapted from Rajib finds a better life by using dry-season (boro) rice technology: a case study in Jorhat District of the Indian state of Assam, a chapter in Technologies for improving rural livelihoods in rainfed systems in South Asia, edited by Zahirul Islam, Mahabub Hossain, Thelma Paris, Bill Hardy, and Joyce Gorsuch, and published by the International Rice Research Institute and online at http://tinyurl.com/2hjhy5.