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Training on weed control in direct seeded rice will boost farmers’ confidence

CSISA scientists address farmers’ concerns on Direct Seeded Rice method in Haryana
The Dry Direct Seeded Rice (DSR) method is gaining popularity in north India, thanks to the researchers, agricultural departments, and enterprising farmers of Punjab and Haryana who have made efforts to implement it on a large scale. Faced with the threats of depleting groundwater, shortage of farm labor, rising production costs, and climate variability, more and more farmers are adopting this alternative method of sowing rice. It promises to be both environmentally friendly and cost efficient.

Compared to the more widely used method where seeds are first germinated in a nursery and then the rice seedlings are manually transplanted to the fields, DSR involves sowing seeds directly in the fields with the help of a machine called a Multi Crop Planter. This technique has been popular in some developed countries of the world, including the U.S., but is new for farmers in India. The Ministry of Agriculture of the Government of India has been promoting this technique through its two flagship schemes, the National Food Security Mission (NFSM) and Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojna (RKVY). DSR brings many benefits to farmers—it reduces cultivation costs by 5,100 rupees (78 USD) per hectare, reduces water consumption by 25%, and increases profitability up to 4,600 (70 USD) rupees per hectare. “Moreover, when wheat is grown after a crop of DSR, wheat productivity has been found 8 to 10% higher than when grown after a crop of conventional cultivated rice,” says Virender Kumar from CSISA.

Reports find DSR effective in reducing emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas responsible for global warming. CCAFS and Greenhouse Gas Emission quantification project are studying the benefits of conservation agricultural practices, like zero tillage DSR, on greenhouse gas emissions. “For each tonne of rice production with conservation agriculture based management practices, on average 400 kg CO2 equivalent was reduced compared to conventional puddled transplanted rice,” says ML Jat from CCAFS.

Haryana promotes direct seeded paddy
The State Agriculture Department, Haryana Agricultural University, and Farmers Commission are now promoting the use of DSR in Haryana because of its benefits. Four years ago, only 226 hectares of area was under DRS in Haryana. This number has increased to 8000 hectares in 2012 and is targeted to cover 20,000 hectares in 2013. However, access to effective weed management and cost-effective herbicides still remain a challenge and will affect the success of this technology in the long term.

As with any new technique, the phase of building awareness, training and responding to farmers’ concerns is integral to making DSR technique successful. Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), a project funded by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID along with other stakeholders, launched a campaign in May to encourage farmers to adopt DSR in Haryana. The campaign included technical trainings on DSR for farmers and service providers, meetings with different stakeholders to identify and solve the problems of availability of inputs including machinery and seed, mass-media programs like radio talks, and distribution of pamphlets in the local language. The campaign reached the farmer at the field and village level for their direct feedback and to understand their problems. “Synergy between different public-private stakeholders, feedback from farmers, and technical inputs to the farmers at the right time are necessary after a series of intensive trainings to make a transformation like Direct Seeded Rice technology a success,” says B.R. Kamboj from CSISA. CSISA, in collaboration with IFC-Dunar Foods Limited and the Haryana State Department of Agriculture, organized a travelling seminar on 14 August in different villages of the Asandh block of the Karnal district. Farmers highlighted their concerns, which included late availability of the subsidized inputs such as seeds, herbicides, and machinery, and weed problems even after the proper application of herbicides.

Responding to various issues, representatives from the organizations suggested the application of preemergence herbicide, which prevent the germination of weed seeds such as pendimethalin, is necessary for effective weed management in DSR; on machinery, farmers could establish farmer cooperatives and pool resources to purchase the machinery; on less germination, sowing should be done by the expert service providers. It is also critical to use the proper setting of the sowing depth of the machine. The participants also visited the DSR fields of different villages including Balla, Salwan, Dupedi, and Padhana. While the crops looked very healthy, symptoms of zinc deficiency and excessive use of urea were seen. B. R. Kamboj demonstrated how to identify the weeds and advised on judicious use of pesticides for effective control of insects, diseases, and weeds. To ensure a good harvest from the DSR fields, the next step is timely control of insects and pests. Farmers must learn to identify the insect and pests and the right stage to control them. The Department of Agriculture will provide regular visits and trainings on insect pest management (IPM) in some identified DSR villages. “This will be a very important activity to build the confidence in the farmers to continue using DSR technique,” Kamboj says.