Monday, March 16, 2020

German Minister of Economic Cooperation and Development visits APART, World Bank-funded IRRI project in Assam

Dr. Gerd Muller (Federal Minister of Economic Cooperation & Development, Govt. of Germany) holds a portion of a mat nursery as he is explained by Dr Sudhanshu Singh (Team Leader, APART project, IRRI Assam) about transplanting time and crop duration of BINA Dhan 11, a climate resilient rice variety.
27 February 2020, Assam - Dr. Gerd Muller, Federal Minister of Economic Cooperation and Development Germany, and a team of senior government officials with Consulate General for Kolkata Dr. Michael Feiner, Deputy Head of Mission Mr. Egon Kochanke, and Mrs.Gerti Muller-Hoorens, visited the Assam Agribusiness and Rural Transformation Project (APART) site.

The delegation visited various development project sites in Assam at Monoha village in Morigaon district, where they appreciated efforts of IRRI and partners to introduce climate-resilient rice varieties, scale-appropriate mechanization, and post-harvest solutions as part of the World Bank-funded APART project, to which IRRI is a technical partner. He said the project interventions would usher great gains in productivity and profitability for smallholder farmers, especially women and youth. IRRI and partners are also working under the project to ensure reach of relevant technologies across the rice value chain and are building capacity of farmers and agricultural extension workers for mechanical transplanting of rice. Enthused by the projects’ impact, Dr. Muller extended the German government’s complete support to IRRI and partners for strengthening project interventions to bring forth climate-resilient technologies and custom hiring centers for mechanized farming.

Facilitated by project teams of IRRI IRRI, Department of Agriculture (Government of Assam) and the Assam Agricultural University, the particular visit highlighted climate-resilient rice varieties that can withstand biotic and abiotic stresses, smart farming technologies and machinery that are resulting in better productivity and profitability for small and marginal farmers in Assam.

Assam hosts a rich genetic diversity of rice varieties, as rice is the state’s single-most-important crop with 2.54 million ha of gross crop area of the 4.16 million ha that contributes to 96% of total food grain production in the state. Flash floods and submergence are however common in rice-growing rainfed lowland areas here, which affects crop establishment and causes severe yield losses. Climate-resilient rice varieties, with suitable crop management practices encourage uptake among small and marginal farmers and reduce their vulnerability to climate change. Submergence–tolerant rice varieties developed by IRRI by introgressing the SUB 1 gene into mega rice varieties like Swarna, Ranjit, Bahadur and BINA Dhan 11 have been introduced under the APART project in Assam, where their superior resilience is being demonstrated in plots set up in flood-prone areas.

During the German delegation’s visit, scientists with farmers showcased BINA Dhan 11 demonstration plots with mat nursery management and mechanical transplanting activities. The delegates interacted with paddy and other crop farmers, who told them of how agriculture is pivotal to their lives in spite of climatic challenges like floods in the cropping season. Dr.Muller interacted with farmers and women members of farmer producer companies to better understand their role with custom hiring centers for accessing farm machinery, and how they are improving mechanization in the fields. The team also saw the latest farm machinery being used on fields like seed-cum-fertilizer drills, drum seeder, battery-operated power prayer, axial flow thresher, portable rice mill, and solar bubble dryer, being operated by local farmer producer companies..

“The newly introduced variety of rice, Ranjit- Sub 1 and BINA Dhan 11 and the new farm machines are available to us now. We can also afford these due to custom hiring center facilities (CHC). This is helpful for us, it relieves the pressure that we otherwise feel due to floods in the paddy-growing season. We are happy these facilities are available to us,” said a woman farmer from Monoha village.

IRRI Assam team and rice farmers explain Dr. Gerd Muller (Federal Minister of Economic Cooperation & Development, Govt of Germany) how a seed drill machine is used to sow seeds by correctly positioning them in soil, upto a specific depth. Before the seed drill, most seeds were planted by hand broadcasting, an imprecise process resulting in poor distribution of seeds and lower productivity.
Dr. Sudhanshu Singh, Team Leader for APART project in IRRI Assam and Senior Scientist (Agronomy) at IRRI South Asia, said, “IRRI and partners are thankful to the German Federal Minister of Economic Cooperation and Development and the delegation for interacting at length with the scinetist, farmers and extension workers and expressing their support for the APART project. The project at this phase is focused on covering more areas under stress-tolerant rice varieties like BINA Dhan 11, Ranjit- Sub 1, DRR Dhan 46 and helping farmers produce good quality seeds of climate-resilient rice varieties. Apart from imparting training on quality seed production, best management practices, alternative crop establishment methods, and post-harvest management, exposure visits within and outside Assam are being organized under the APART project to provide in-depth knowledge on these technologies.”

“Procuring machines is a big challenge as it is not a cost-effective option for individual small and marginal farmers in Assam. Establishing custom hiring centers (CHCs) by working with farmer groups provides a way out, and is one of our key project mandates. These CHCs facilitate mechanization across the rice value chain and make mechanization accessible to even small and marginal farmers”, added Dr. Kanwar Singh, Resident Consultant for APART project at IRRI.

IRRI is a technical partner of the APART project, launched by Hon’ble Chief Minister Shri Sarbananda Sonowal in September 2017, to improve the resilience of rice value chains for small and marginal farmers and agri-entrepreneurs in 23 districts of Assam. The technical guidance that IRRI is providing is improving rice production systems and management practices by promoting climate-resilient technologies, encouraging adoption, and facilitating market linkages. A key mandate of the APART project is to empower farmers with scale and gender-appropriate sustainable mechanization for improving agricultural outputs, as farmers with access to improved agricultural tools and technologies can shift from subsistence to more market-oriented farming, making it an attractive source of livelihood.

Until the first quarter of 2020 under the APART project, over 22,257 male farmers, 8,595 women farmers and extension functionaries have been trained to use modern farm machinery and effective and sustainable farming practices.

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