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Farmer adaptations – Key for ecological sustainability

S. Kalavathi, A Abdul Haris, Jeena Mathew and V. Krishnakumar

Success in farming mainly depends on the understanding of the specificity of farming systems and their dynamic interaction with local agroecological factors. Small scale farmers from time immemorial evolved a lot of techniques to defend the adversities in farming. Farmers’ wisdom, their adaptive skills and innovative spirit play a key role in agroecosystem management. Such adaptations based on the local wisdom are crucial in attaining ecological sustainability.

Modified husk burial method resulted in uniform bearing in pineapple
Modified husk burial method resulted in uniform bearing in pineapple

Coastal conditions of Kerala are favourable for growing coconut, yet the productivity remains low due to poor physico-chemical properties of the soil. Apart from the poor fertility status of the soil, water logging due to precipitation variation and salt water inundation were observed as major impediments to successful cultivation of coconut in the southern coastal tracts of Kerala. This peculiar situation in the tract made it difficult for the farmers to take up cultivation of many of the intercrops and adopt year-round cultivation.

Several farm level climate-smart practices were evolved by the farmers to increase productivity and build resilience in the coastal tracts with climatic vagaries. These practices were further tested and refined incorporating scientific inputs from ICAR-CPCRI team in a participatory mode.

The initiative

CPCRI has been demonstrating a number of practices and technologies on management of coastal sandy soils in Alappad Panchayat of Kollam district and Arattupuzha Panchayat of Alappuzha district in Kerala. While demonstrating, the local wisdom and rich experience of a farmer couple, Shri. Devadas, and Smt. Sathyavathi, from Alappad Panchayat and another farmer Shri Babu Muthiraparambil, from Arattupuzha Panchayat paved a way in successfully refining the technologies to suit the requirements of coastal farmers. The demonstrations were undertaken in an area of 0.6 ha each in both the places during 2012 – 2015.

The soils in both the locations were found to be non-saline, having pH ranging from 4.5 to 6.3 with low levels of organic carbon, Potassium, Calcium and Magnesium and higher levels of Phosphorus, Manganese, Iron and Zinc. Adoption of management strategies, especially, crop residue recycling, resulted in the improvement in organic carbon status to the tune of 74 per cent in the main crop and 32 per cent in the intercropped area. Application of need based amendments and fertilizers resulted in the improvement in the content of potassium, magnesium and calcium. A reduction in the content of iron and phosphorus was also observed. The trend in the soil fertility change was similar in both coconut as well as in the intercrop. Agro-techniques like husk burial, balanced nutrition, integrated management and micro irrigation were adopted for enhancing productivity.


Among intercrops, pineapple was found to be the most ideal crop to withstand water logging.


To overcome the problems of water logging and salt water inundation, different intercrops like pineapple, banana (4 varieties), tuber crops, vegetables including cool season vegetables, fodder grass, ginger and turmeric were tested for their adaptability. Pineapple was found to be the most ideal crop to withstand water logging, followed by Nendran variety of banana, fodder grass and colocasia, among different intercrops. Various intercrops were planted using various adaptation measures like husk burial in the planting pits and application of coir pith compost under coastal sandy conditions and their performance was evaluated. The soils in both the locations were found to be non-saline, having pH ranging from 4.5 to 6.3 with low levels of organic carbon, Potassium, Calcium and Magnesium and higher levels of Phosphorus, Manganese, Iron and Zinc. Adoption of management strategies, especially, crop residue recycling, resulted in the improvement in organic carbon status to the tune of 74 per cent in the main crop and 32 per cent in the intercropped area. Application of need based amendments and fertilizers resulted in the improvement in the content of potassium, magnesium and calcium. A reduction in the content of iron and phosphorus was also observed. The trend in the soil fertility change was similar in both coconut as well as in the intercrop. Agro-techniques like husk burial, balanced nutrition, integrated management and micro irrigation were adopted for enhancing productivity.

Farmer adaptations and their impact

Farmers made some adaptations to the practices and technologies recommended by CPCRI in each of the intercrop and reaped good results.

a.  Pineapple

Pineapple was found to be the most ideal crop to withstand water logging, yielding fruits on an average 1.0-1.75 kg. While planting, husks were placed at the bottom of the trenches with concave surface facing up as recommended. Even though the pineapple plants with husk burial had more growth and vigour compared to control plants during the initial period, growth slowly declined after rainy season due to water logging inside the husks.  A modified method of sideways placement of husk around the plant, as suggested by the farmer showed better performance under water logged conditions. This has resulted in better growth, early bearing and higher fruit weight for pineapple (average 1.75 kg) compared to normal planted ones (average 1.00 kg).Majority of the plants (80%) planted with sideways placement of husk flowered during 50-60 weeks (average 57weeks) without flower induction. Plants in control plots were treated with Ethrel for flower induction during 57th week and flowering was completed within 6-8 weeks.

b.  Banana

Among different banana varieties, Nendran performed well, yielding bunches weighing an average of 7 kg/plant.Compared to Red banana, Njalipoovan and Robusta varieties, Nendran variety could survive from water logging due to short duration nature. In case of the variety Njalipoovan, even though found susceptible to water logging, farmers preferred to grow it due to the higher yield potential, demand, marketability and price of product. Planting of the same variety during normal planting time with and without husk burial resulted in lodging of majority (73%) of the plants and moderate reduction in yield levels due to poor finger formation. Farm level adaptations included advancement of planting time, planting of 4-5 months old suckers and earthing up with silt, green manure, coir pith compost, potash and modified husk burial for banana which helped to tide over the situation. All the plants were saved from lodging and the yield enhanced by 80%. Average yield of 13.5 kg/bunch for Njalipoovan and 22.5 kg/bunch for Robusta variety were obtained after following adaptive measures.

Burying husk in banana pits helped the plants from lodging

c.  Fodder crops

Generally fodder grass showed a decline in growth during rainy season in low lying areas due to water logging as manuring was practically ineffective. Farmers on the other hand tried applying biogas slurry in a channel parallel to the row of planting. By this, there was no water logging at the base of clumps and aeration was maintained, resulting in good growth and yield of fodder.

d.  Tuber crops

Tuber crops except Taro planted during normal planting time resulted in severe crop loss due to water logging. Farmers tried several adaptations. They planted short duration varieties of tapioca like Vellayani Hraswa, Sree Jaya, and Sree Vijaya. Planting time of Tapioca was advanced from February to October-November.  By adopting short duration varieties and advancing planting time of Tapioca, the farmers could get a reasonable yield (average 3.2 kg/plant). In case of elephant foot yam and dioscorea, the farmers retained the previous year’s crop in the field and obtained average yields of 6.3 kg/plant from dioscorea, 5.2 kg/plant from Gajendra variety and 13.5 kg/plant from Peerumedu, a local variety of elephant foot yam. Retaining previous year’s lost crop (elephant foot yam and dioscorea) in the field resulted in higher yield during off-season, enabling to obtain higher price thereby compensating the yield loss during previous year. In case of Tania, tuber formation was reduced due to prolonged and heavy monsoon, for which the farmers applied 1 Kg Trichoderma– enriched coir pith compost along with 50g of Muriate of Potash while earthing up, which resulted in doubling of yield.

e.  Vegetables

In case of vegetables, the better practice of planting coir pith compost enriched with Trichoderma sp. along with other organics was found to ensure better growth and 20-30% improvement in yield.Among the vegetables, amaranthus, bitter gourd, cow pea, tomato, cauliflower and cabbage performed well. Cauliflower weighing up to 2 kg and cabbage up to 2.50 kg could be harvested.  The farmers could get single plant yield up to 18 kg from bitter gourd and 4 kg from cow pea.

Economic viability of farmer adaptations

The yield of coconut showed improvement up to 59% and 55% respectively at Arattupuzha and Alappadlocations during 2014, over that of 2012. Due to the time lag in income realization from intercrops like pineapple and banana and partial crop loss due to water logging, the net profit from coconut based farming system (CBFS) during 2012-13 was only moderate.  However, Benefit-Cost Ratios of 1.95 and 1.59 revealed feasibility of the CBFS under coastal conditions, which prompted the farmers to undertake and validate adaptation measures against climatic vagaries. Through intensive crop diversification and cost effective adaptation measures, profitability of the system could be considerably enhanced. The net income from the coconut based cropping system varied from Rs.1.35 – 1.89 lakh during 2013-14 depending on the intensity of intercrops cultivated, which is around three fold to that realized during 2012-13.

Healthy plants with healthy fruits in Robusta banana

Conclusion

As farmers closely and regularly observe the effects of temperature, water, wind, and humidity on the processes of production, it is farmers’ wisdom that plays a key role in evolving climate resilient adaptations. Moreover, such farm level innovations are dependent on locally available resources, making them low cost intensive options to be adopted. Such farmer innovations, if encouraged and supported can lead to replicable models of small scale sustainable farming systems.

Dr.S.Kalavathi

Principal Scientist (Agrl. Extension)

ICAR-Central Plantation Crops Research Institute

Regional Station, Krishnapuram.P.O.

Kayakulam, Kerala, India

E-mail: kalacpcri@gmail.com