Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Promoting science-based nutrient management system for achieving sustainable food systems in the Indo-Gangetic Plains

The Indo-Gangetic Plains (IGP) of India are among the most fertile tracts in the world.  It is known as the country’s breadbasket where important food crops are grown on millions of hectares (ha), particularly rice and wheat. 

However, farmers here predominantly practice the rice-wheat cropping system with intensive use of resources. They often apply excess fertilizers to get higher yield but actually cause wastage of resources, higher incidence of pests and diseases, and soil and groundwater pollution.

In the last few decades, the excessive use of chemical fertilizers has resulted in soil degradation, reduced soil fertility, and micronutrient deficiencies.  This along with depletion of ground water due to  excessive drawing  for irrigation and mismanagement of natural resources, have contributed to stagnant productivity in the IGP and high  greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from rice based agri- food systems. 

The scenario is further aggravated by crop residue burning and the non application of organic fertilizers resulting in reduced soil carbon. Soil carbon is vital to land-based efforts to mitigate carbon emissions, remove atmospheric carbon dioxide, and enable soil to deliver multifaceted ecosystem services. Digital  tools can play a critical role for transferring scientific outcomes on integrated soil nutrient management to farmers on a timely basis and at scale.

A digital tool for precise nutrient management

In Eastern Uttar Pradesh (UP), which is also a part of this fertile tract, the International Rice Research Institute has been promoting the Rice-Wheat Crop Manager (RWCM). RWCM is a web-based decision-support tool for precise nutrient management that can be accessed through a smartphone or computer connected to the internet. 

Using the principles of site-specific nutrient management (right source, rate, time, and place), RWCM offers field-specific nutrient management advisories to farmers based on their responses to the app’s built-in questionnaire.  On-farm evaluation trials using RWCM have increased rice and wheat yield by 0.5-1 tons/ha/season with a net added benefit of USD 100- 150/ha/season.

Scientific research to adoption of recommendations by farmers 

To communicate the benefits of the RWCM among farmers, IRRI South Asia Regional Centre (ISARC) in Varanasi organized numerous training sessions and farmers' meetings in Eastern UP. ISARC, with the support from different stakeholders, has reached more than 8,000 farmers in 2022, about 44% of them were women farmers. Precise nutrient management practices were applied to 2,100 ha of farmlands in Eastern UP during 2022 as test plots. Over 500 extension agents and progressive farmers from Grameen Foundation, DCM Shriram Foundation, and Bayer CropScience were trained to operate the tool, and deliver recommendations to the farmers in these areas. 

Scaling for Sustainability

A customised  training session on precise nutrient management through RWCM and on preparation of bio-inputs was organized by IRRI for Indian Army personnel, agriculture graduates, and progressive farmers. 

On request from the Indian Army unit, eleven army personnel were trained as trainers on preparation of bio-inputs, such as vermicompost and vermiwash (liquid extract developed from vermicompost), with an objective to scale the learnings beyond intensive agriculture systems. The trained personnel further train their units and  will replicate these to improve the soil health and agroforestry systems around their premises in their respective base camps.

IRRI  through its collaborating partners is motivating farmers who have been using excessive amounts of fertilizer to adopt optimum fertilizer recommendations through RWCM and  preparation and use of bio-inputs to improve soil health and system yields. 

With an increase in the use of smartphones, increased investment in digital infrastructure and mobile data penetration in rural India, we hope to use this opportunity for scaling up of  digital tools like RWCM for widespread adoption of improved nutrient and crop management recommendations in India. 
Using multiple channels for the dissemination of the tool, the aim is to reach out to smallholder farmers thereby improving nutrient-use efficiency and farm productivity along with making agriculture more sustainable in the years to come. 

Contributed by: 
Ajay Kumar Mishra, Senior Associate Scientist - Soil Science, ISARC
Pidikiti Pavithra, Intern, ISARC
Sheetal sharma, Senior Scientist - Soil Science and Research Lead - Digital Tools


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