Low External Input Sustainable Agriculture

System of Crop Intensification – Promoting a profitable crop sequence of finger millet and chickpea

SCI method in ragi resulted in higher yield

In distressed situations of drought and floods, tribal farmers of western ghats in Maharashtra adopted system of crop intensification (SCI), an agro-ecological method to create enabling conditions for the plant to grow to its potential. The traditional knowledge and innovative capacities of farmers proved to be effective in building climate resilient cropping system of finger millet and chickpea.


The western region of central India has become synonymous with drought, distress and poverty. The region also witnessed erratic, high intensity rainfall. Even in a year of average rainfall, the region faces acute water shortage, for irrigation as well as domestic use. Lack of drought proofing measures, knowledge of appropriate farming practices, highly variable rainfall patterns result in frequent crop losses. Crop losses also lead to increasing indebtedness of farmers. Thus, the region has witnessed large scale migration of landless and marginal farmers.

Akole block of Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra receives an annual rainfall of 700 to 1200 mm. This zone is predominantly a kharif tract suitable for single rainfed crop. Principal crops grown in kharif and rabi season are paddy, pearl millet, groundnut, finger millet, wheat and chickpea. While some farmers cultivate only finger millet crop in kharif season leaving land fallow during rabi, others, cultivate chickpea in rabi, making use of residual moisture. The finger millet-chickpea cropping sequence is scientifically a good cropping sequence of cereals followed by legumes, for improving soil health.

The normal practice of growing ragi by the tribal farmers includes preparing seedlings in a nursery, transplanting seedlings in the main field after onset of monsoon, without application of fertilizers and organic manure. The plant spacing is not maintained, thus, leading to low yields and decline in soil fertility. Chickpea is cultivated after harvesting finger millet. Seeds are sown behind the Baliram plough without seed treatment.  Fertilizers and organic manures are not applied. Also, farmers do not follow any preventive and curative measures for pest and disease management. Yield of chickpea has remained low, largely due to infestation of pod borer.

System of Crop Intensification

Box 1: Practices followed in System of Crop Intensification of finger millet

·         One ploughing was followed by two harrowings. Before last harrowing, compost was incorporated @ 5 tonnes/ha.

·         Seeds were treated with Azospirillium @ 25 gm/ kg of seed

·         Seeds were sown in nursery @ 5 kg/ha and 25 day old seedlings were transplanted at 25 x 25 cm spacing.

·         30 kg nitrogen and 30 kg phosphorus was applied at the time of transplanting.  30 kg nitrogen was top dressed at 30 days after transplanting.

·         Two sprays of amritpani were given at 30 and 45 days after transplanting for better growth and pest control.

In 2011, Watershed Organisation Trust, (WOTR), Pune initiated Climate Change Adaptation programme in 12 villages of Akole block of Ahmednagar district with support of SDC and NABARD. WOTR is an internationally recognised non-profit organisation dedicated to transforming lives of poor rural communities by building resilience to climate change. The programme included 1285 families having 1463 hectares of agriculture land. The goal was to demonstrate the innovative agronomic practices that would improve water, food, nutrition and livelihood security among the vulnerable sections of the society. The crop management strategy was developed based on WOTR’s experience with system of crop intensification in the states of Maharashtra, Telangana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Orissa.

Farmers started cultivating chickpea in rabi

Crop demonstrations were initiated in kharif season of 2012.  Five crop demonstrations were conducted in four villages of Akole cluster on finger millet crop on 0.20 ha area, each. Farmers were motivated to practise System of Crop intensification (SCI) methods. (Box 1) .

The results indicated that, average grain yield of finger millet (1562 kg/ha) was obtained in SCI plot as compared to farmer practices plot (1361 kg/ha) and there was an increase in 14.7% in grain yield in SCI plot over the farmer practices. The average net monetary return was Rs. 19,803 per hectare.

Table1: Effect of SCI on grain yield and monetary returns in finger millet

Sr. No. Name of the village No. of SCI plots Grain yield in SCI plots (kg/ha) Grain yield in farmer practice plots (kg/ha) % Grain yield increase Gross returns (Rs/ha) Cost of Cultivation (Rs/ha) Net  returns (Rs/ha)
1 Khadkibk 2 1592 1360 17.1 55720 33420 22300
2 Shiswad 1 1720 1485 15.8 60200 35921 24279
3 Wanjulshet 1 1467 1294 13.4 51345 34525 16820
4 Purushwadi 1 1470 1304 12.7 51450 35638 15812
Average 1562 1361 14.7 54679 34876 19803

Five farmers took up chickpea cultivation on the same piece of land during winter season. SCI methods were adopted. Seeds were first treated with Trichoderma, rhizobium and PSB, before sowing. Sowing of chickpea was done by two bowl seed drill at the spacing of 30 x 10 cm. Around 25 kg nitrogen and 50 kg phosphorus was applied at the time of sowing. Two tonnes of compost was applied per hectare. To control pests and diseases, 5% Neem Seed Kernel Extract was sprayed twice, at 30 and 45 days after sowing. Amritpani was sprayed at 25 and 40 days after sowing and  Dashparni ark was sprayed at 60 and 75 days after sowing, for the control of pod borer.

The results indicated that, average grain yield of chickpea was 1261 kg/ha in SCI demo plot as compared to farmer practices plot (1046 kg/ha). Thus, an increase of 20.3% in grain yield in SCI plot was realised. The average net monetary returns were Rs. 17759 per hectare.

Table 2: Effect of SCI on grain yield and monetary returns in chickpea

Sr. No. Name of the village No. of SCI plots Grain yield in SCI plots (kg/ha) Grain yield in farmer practice plots (kg/ha) % Grain yield increase Gross returns (Rs/ha) Cost of Cultivation (Rs/ha) Net returns (Rs/ha)
1 Khadkibk 2 1271 1018 24.9 50840 32940 17900
2 Shiswad 1 1223 994 23.0 48920 31754 17166
3 Wanjulshet 1 1702 1425 19.4 68080 41500 26580
4 Purushwadi 1 849 746 13.8 33960 24569 9391
Average 1261 1046 20.3 50450 32691 17759

Farmers realised a number of benefits with SCI intervention. Firstly, farmers started cultivating rabi crops – earlier practice was to leave the lands fallow. SCI methods helped in improving soil health with use of organic manures. Cost of cultivation was reduced by using bio-pesticides and with reduced use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Reduced cost of cultivation resulted in increased net returns. Also, by cultivating a second crop, the overall farm income improved.

Farmers learn to prepare bio-pesticides

Scaling up

Between 2012 and 2015, system of crop intensification (SCI) was promoted in various crops like paddy, finger millet, chickpea and groundnut. SCI was upscaled using various methods – demonstrations on farmers field, through Farmer Field Schools (FFS), training to local youth and through involving women groups.

Farmer Field School was conducted in each village to facilitate adoption by a group of farmers. Twelve sessions were conducted on SCI demo plot during the crop sequence period, at fifteen days interval.  During the FFS, farmers learnt the process of preparing bio-pesticide formulations like, 5% NSKE, Amritpani, Jevvamrit and Dashparni ark. In all, 48 FFS sessions were conducted in all four villages in which about 347 women and 453 men participated.

Women prepare jeevamrit during a FFS session

Scaling up of activities was done in 8 other villages through exposure visits to successful demonstrations, agri-exhibitions, agricultural universities and KVK. Crop demonstrations and FFS were organised. Farmers having undergone various learning processes, modified SCI methods  based on farm conditions, rainfall pattern, labour availability and made appropriate changes.

In all, the number of farmers in all 12 villages who adopted SCI was approximately 750 women and 1100 men farmers.

Farmers from these villages organised themselves into a Farmer’s Producer Organisation (FPO)  at Kohane village which now facilitates marketing of produce. Social institutions like VDC (Village Development Committee) and SMS (Samyukta Mahila Samiti) were formed at the village level as part of the larger rural intervention, which helped in implementing watershed activities in the village.

Nitin Kumbhar
Watershed Organisation Trust
2nd Floor, The Forum
Padmavathi Corner, Pune Satara Road
Pune– 411009, Maharashtra

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