Participatory rural appraisal techniques were used to identify poor crop establishment as a major constraint on rainfed crop production by farmers in India and Zimbabwe. Some farmers in both countries reported experience of soaking seeds in water before sowing in an attempt to improve establishment but the practice was neither widespread nor regularly followed. Armed with knowledge of safe limits for soaking, almost 1250 on-farm trials were implemented by farmers in India for maize, upland rice and chickpea between 1995 and 1998 and 91 trials for maize and sorghum in Zimbabwe in 1997–1998. In each trial, farmers were asked to soak seed overnight, surface-dry it then sow it in the normal way in a plot next to a plot with dry seed. The farmers in each village evaluated the trials during farm walks and group discussions. These group methods allowed farmers to assess the effect of seed priming over a wide range of soils and levels of management. Direct benefits in all crops included: faster emergence; better, more uniform stands; less need to re-sow; more vigorous plants; better drought tolerance; earlier flowering; earlier harvest; and higher grain yield. In India, where a post-rainy season crop is often grown on residual soil moisture or using supplementary irrigation, indirect benefits reported were: earlier sowing of following crops; earlier harvesting of those crops, which allowed earlier seasonal migration from the area in search of work for cash; increased willingness to use fertilisers because of reduced risk of crop failure; and use of time saved to grow a third crop (mung bean) instead of migrating. Subsequent uptake of on-farm seed priming by participants in the trials has been almost universal and spread from farmer to farmer exhibits characteristics similar to those of the spread of seed of desirable new varieties. On-farm seed priming is a ‘key’ technology — low cost with low risk to produce an immediate benefit, unlocking the farming system and giving the farmer reasonable access to further benefits.
Harris, D.; Pathan, A.K.; Gothkar, P.; Joshi, A.; Chivasa, W.; Nyamudeza, P. On-farm seed priming: using participatory methods to revive and refine a key technology. Agricultural Systems (2001) 69 (1-2) 151-164. [DOI: 10.1016/S0308-521X(01)00023-3]