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Asia: Spreading conservation agriculture, developing researchers

November 20, 2013

By M.L. Jat, Tripti Agarwal and Promil Kapoor /CIMMYT

Asia can benefit from site-specific conservation agriculture solutions to face challenges such as diverse ecologies, soils, production systems and an expected 30- to 50-percent hike in food demand by 2020. To train young scientists on conservation agriculture-based crop management technologies and encourage wider adoption of these practices in Asia, CIMMYT and the Borlaug Institute for South Asia (BISA) held the fourth “Advanced Course on Conservation Agriculture: Asia” from 17 to 31 October at Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), the BISA location in Ludhiana.

Photo: Ram Dhan Jat/CIMMYT-Karnal

Photo: Ram Dhan Jat/CIMMYT-Karnal

The course was organized in collaboration with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and PAU, with support from the CGIAR research programs on WHEAT, MAIZE and Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). Fifteen researchers from the national agricultural research systems and international agricultural research centers in Afghanistan, India and Iran attended.

“Punjab is considered to be India’s food bowl with 4.2 million hectares under cultivation,” said S.S. Gosal, director of research, PAU. “ut rice-wheat monoculture and rampant usage of water and pesticides are depleting resources. Adoption of conservation agriculture and crop residue management to maintain soil health and having long-term strategies involving suitable crop varieties, machinery, pest and nutrient management for conservation agriculture will reverse the trend.”

B.S. Dhillon, vice chancellor of PAU Ludhiana, explained the course’s objective was to build on existing research and train researchers to adapt conservation agriculture practices and incorporate farmers’ innovations. He praised CIMMYT’s role in starting partnerships and pushing for the wider adoption of conservation agriculture as well as engaging students, extension agents, service providers and farmers. “BISA-CIMMYT is serving as a common platform for research on conservation agriculture, sustainable intensification, precision agriculture, climate-resilient production systems, smart mechanization and developing a new generation of scientists,” he said.

M.L. Jat, senior cropping systems agronomist for CIMMYT and course coordinator, said the course was instrumental in promoting conservation agriculture in the area. “Significant efforts are being made by a range of stakeholders in the region to make conservation agriculture relevant to the needs of smallholder farmers,” he said. “However, from farmto community-level adoption, capacity development of stakeholders at various scales and levels to adapt conservation agriculture systems in diverse agroecologies has remained a major thrust in the region.” The comprehensive course included interactive presentations and field sessions.

Main sessions focused on laser levelling and field training, recent advances in conservation agriculture-based machinery in India and Mexico, hands-on training on calibration, operation of conservation agriculture machinery, measuring greenhouse gas emissions, precision agriculture and nutrient management and an overview of weed and water management in conservation agriculture systems. The participants also visited machine manufacturers and learned about the socioeconomic impacts of conservation agriculture. H.S. Sidhu, senior research engineer for BISA, CIMMYT consultants Ken Sayre and Raj Gupta and resource people from PAU, ICAR institutions and the International Plant Nutrition Institute contributed significantly to the course.

“The course covered in detail all aspects of conservation agriculture technologies,” said course participant Sadegh Afzalinia from Iran’s Ministry of Agriculture. “I will take along the learning and put my best effort to out-scale conservation agriculture technology in my country.”