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Soil health: Key to improved yields

Farmers in Rajasthan are addressing the issues of yields and income by focusing on improving the soil health. By increasing the organic carbon content in the soils, these farmers, especially women, are able to grow nutrition gardens with high yield, resulting in better nutrition and better incomes for the family.

Healthy harvest from manure rich kitchen garden

Healthy harvest from manure rich kitchen garden

Vermicompost is prepared and applied to the gardens. In turn, waste leaves from the vegetable production are recycled back to produce vermicompost.

Soil health holds the key for the income and livelihoods security in the rural areas where the economy is predominantly agriculture based.

There are various studies, which show that the soil health has deteriorated over time owing to faulty land use and soil management practices. Lack of organic matter reducs the water retention capacity of the soils, which also affects the crop productivity.

Practices of applying farm yard manure, crop rotation, mixed cropping, inter-cropping, keeping land follow, and summer ploughing gradually stopped/reduced over time as increased attention was given to the use of chemical fertilizers and monocultures aided by government policies.

Applying vermicompost to fields
Applying vermicompost to fields

The initiative

Joint Initiative for Village Advancement (JIVA), a project implemented by PYXERA Global and funded by John Deere Foundation, has agriculture and income security as one its three main focus areas. The project is being implemented from January 2013 in three villages of Sakrawas panchayat in Ralmagra Block of Rajsamand district in Rajasthan, which lies in semi-arid tropical zone.

Realizing the importance of soil health in bringing sustainable improvement in the agricultural income of the rural households, efforts were made to improve the soil quality. Demo-plot based trainings were provided to farmers. Training revolved around three main crops in the area. A total of 18 demo farmers were selected during 2013 and 2014 and on an average 25 farmers attended each of the training.

Awareness was created on activities like summer ploughing and integrated soil nutrient management. Farmers were trained in collecting soil samples and have been helped in understanding the results of the soil tests. Awareness on the importance of use of manure was created.

After the training, farmers have started showing increased interest in activities like summer ploughing, soil testing, composting, vermicomposting, vegetable production and crop rotation. Farmers, including the women farmers have learned the process of collecting soil samples. They collected 132 samples in 2013 and 208 in 2014 and sent it for testing. Soil tests showed that the soils are rich in Potash and slightly deficient in Phosphorus. Most of the soil samples were low in organic carbon content. The average organic carbon content was 0.354 percent and none of the 132 soil samples taken in May 2013 had more than one percent organic carbon content.

Farmers were encouraged to convert the cattle dung and agricultural waste into compost and/or vermicompost. All the demo farmers were supported by paying part of the cost of constructing Nadep and vermicomposting pits. Another 34 farmers installed vermicompost pits on their own.

Presently, 52 farmers in three villages have produced 100 kgs to 4550 kgs vermicompost and more farmers are showing interest. Some of the farmers are using their existing places like abandoned manger for getting an experience of producing vermicompost before increasing the scale of production. Women are taking lead role in making vermicompost. However, some women farmers, were not comfortable in touching the earthworms with their hands and this became a constraint for scaling-up as even the interested farmers were not opting for it. JIVA introduced a simple tool which can be used to stir the compost without hurting the earthworms and farmers do not have to worry of touching the earthworms. This is also comparatively a more hygienic practice.

Women are also being trained on nutrition gardens. They grow vegetables for household consumption and sell surplus quantities, if any. Around 25 women have set up nutrition gardens with vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, tomatoes, chili and brinjal. Some women have also grown carrot, radish and coriander leaves. Vermicompost is being applied to the gardens. In turn, waste leaves from the vegetable production are recycled to produce vermicompost.

Results

Results of the 208 soil samples taken in May-June 2014 showed that the average organic content has increased to 0.457% from 0.354% in the previous years. The increase in carbon content could be partially attributed to the various measures taken to improve soil fertility, especially the application of vermicomposting. Also women who raised nutrition gardens using vermicompost harvested good yields. Around six women harvested more than 500 kilograms of vegetables.

One year of project experience shows that soil health is central to improve yields, which the farmers do recognize and scaling-up of such practices is faster if promoted in a participatory manner.

Purshottam Jangid, Monu K Rathore Ranveer, S Shaktawat and V Khatana

Joint Initiative for Village Advancement (JIVA), Railmagra, Rajsamand district, Rajasthan
Email: vkhatana@pyxeraglobal.org