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Water saving in agriculture in Morena

Farmers raised drought tolerant varieties of wheat. Photo: Amita Bhaduri

Farmers raised drought tolerant varieties of wheat. Photo: Amita Bhaduri

Equipped with innovative approaches that cut down on water consumption, farmers in Nidhan village of Madhya Pradesh have started looking for ways to grow two crops in a year. The village has been guided by the local Krishi Vigyan Kendra in their efforts to undertake water use efficiency in agriculture.

Nidhan, a village in Madhya Pradesh, is about 30 km away from its district headquarter Morena. Located in Joura block of the district, the village receives an annual average rainfall of 450 mm concentrated in the months of July and August. While much of the village depends on rainfed agriculture, the main source of irrigation in the rabi (winter) season is borewells. There are recurrent droughts in the village and most borewells dry up during low rainfall years.

The topography of the village is such that there is water logging in the lowlands due to which they are left fallow during the kharif season. At the same time, the uplands in the village face frost problem during the winters. Pest and diseases of crops are common. Also, there is poor access to improved seeds and farm machinery in addition to shortage of labour.

Pearl millet, pigeon pea, wheat and mustard are the major crops grown in the village. Pigeon pea followed by wheat in rabi season is considered to be a sustainable cropping system in the region. However, the area under pigeon pea has been shrinking over years for several reasons. Firstly the erratic rainfall patterns makes it difficult for farmers to take up timely sowing and planting. This pushes the growing period of the crop which already has a longer duration of maturity of 220-250 days. Also, owing to severe frost in winter, diseases like wilt and sterility mosaic affect the crop, reducing the yields. The longer duration of the crop does not allow farmers to take up a second crop, which they are willing to do for earning better income. It has also been observed that wheat grown after pigeon pea has reduced yield owing to temperature rise during the month of March. This problem seems to be widespread in the entire Central Indian belt where pigeon pea crop was a dominant crop all these years.

Immediate sowing of wheat with minimal land preparation saved energy while bypassing the paleva irrigation and saved water.

Finding solutions

One solution to this problem was thought to be developing short duration varieties. But these varieties required irrigation facilities. Also it was observed that if the sowing of short duration pigeon pea is done before first week of July and harvested before first week of December, the field has to undergo 5 to 8 tillage operations and pre-irrigation. This delayed the sowing of the wheat crop. Generally each day of delayed sowing will result in yield reductions of 1 – 1.5 per cent per day. Also the next crop required high inputs in the form of energy, seed, nutrient and irrigation resulting in high costs.

Alternatively, the local Krishi Vigyan Kendra of the area, as a part of National Initiative on Climate Resilient Agriculture (NICRA), planned to promote new approaches in management of irrigation. This national project launched in year 2011 aims at enhancing resilience of Indian agriculture to climate change. Given the presence of Krishi Vigyan Kendras in every district of the country they were entrusted with the responsibility of directing and organizing the demonstrations in 100 vulnerable districts of the country.

Drought tolerant varieties of wheat were introduced. Planting dates of wheat crop that faces terminal heat stress was advanced. Shifting from the age-old method, the farmers of the village along with the Krishi Vigyan Kendra started experimenting with various options.

The farmers from Nidhan began participating in meetings held at the Krishi Vigyan Kendra. They introduced minimum tillage in their farms. This entailed one harrowing, two ploughing followed by planking and sowing of wheat variety GW-366 or MP-4010. The sowing was done in line through seed cum fertilizer drill. Green manuring was also tried using dhaincha (Sesbania).

Dry sowing methods for planting wheat after pigeon pea crop were tried. This was to save time taken in seed bed sowing and first irrigation, locally known as paleva irrigation which can easily take up 10-15 days. Immediate sowing of wheat with minimal land preparation saved energy while bypassing the paleva irrigation and saved water. This also ensured a uniform crop stand. Alarmed by the falling water level the farmers introduced water use efficient practices. The farmers started providing two irrigations. First, was provided immediately post sowing to ensure that the wheat crop germinates properly and the second was provided after 40 to 45 days of first irrigation. The fields were irrigated by making beds and channels so as to use water efficiently. The productivity of wheat thus achieved was 53.8 qtl/ha.

A total of 125 farm families of the village have adopted this approach. A comparison of yields was done for pre-irrigation before harvesting of pigeon pea and after harvesting of pigeon pea. It was found that the yields were around 11 per cent for the latter case. Zero tillage has been adopted by thirty two farmers of the village. They were involved in sowing of 50 ha wheat by zero tillage sowing method during 2012-13 resulting in production of an additional 112 quintals of grain. This brought about savings of Rs 1.88 lakh in the village. The innovative message of zero tillage cultivation of wheat has spread in neighbouring villages in the districts and around 200 ha in the district was covered during current rabi in 2013.

It can be safely said that these practices have produced higher yield and profit. The farmers see this as a new way of doing agriculture. And most of all, as a way of enhancing resilience of farming systems to changes in climate.

Amita Bhaduri

Programme Director, Society for Promotion of Wastelands Development 14 A, Vishnu Digamber marg, New Delhi – 110002
Email: amitabhaduri@gmail.com