Promotion of rainfed rabi cropping in rice fallows of India and Nepal: pilot phase. Final Technical Report.
Rice is the most extensively grown crop in South Asia occupying nearly 50 million ha. Much of it is grown in the kharif (rainy) season. A substantial part of this area remains fallow during the rabi (postrainy) season because of several limitations, the prime one being limited availability of soil moisture. Previous PSP-funded research (R7541) has identified 14.3 million hectares of rice fallows out of 50.4 million hectares of kharif rice during 1999- 2000, using satellite imagery. Gross environmental conditions in these areas have been quantified using publicly available databases and a GIS approach. Technology is available from another DFID/PSP project R7540, that will facilitate the establishment and the growth of short-duration legumes on residual moisture in rice fallows, but the domain for such technology is unknown. This project was aimed to address the purpose, 'Methods to optimize cropping systems by agronomic means developed and tested' (PSP output 4). More specifically the constraints and opportunities for farmers in the study areas of India and Nepal and in similar situations are expected to be identified to make better use of their land by growing short-duration crops with minimal inputs in the rabi season on residual moisture after kharif rice has been harvested. For this the work was undertaken in a number of representative rice fallow areas in the Indian states of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh and in the Nepalese districts of Dhanusha, Jhapa, Morang, Saptari, and Siraha. India and Nepal have about 11.7 million ha and 0.4 million ha respectively out of a total of 14.3 million ha rice fallows in South Asia. This amounts to approximately 30% of total kharif rice area in those countries. Introduction of rabi crops on residual moisture can be expected to bring a substantial improvement of farmers economic conditions in these poverty ridden and deprived regions. The project was implemented in collaboration with GVT Eastern India Rainfed Farming Project, Ranchi, India; Catholic Relief Services - India Program, New Delhi, India; and Forum for Rural Welfare and Agricultural Reform for Development (FORWARD), and Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development (LI-BIRD) in Nepal. Socio-economic studies in the project areas have identified the major limiting factors to the cultivation of rabi crops under rainfed conditions, and explored opportunities for their sustained production. The major constraints to rainfed rabi cropping (RRC) are: rapidly receding residual moisture from the vacated rice fields; soil hardness; lack of short-duration varieties of rice that could facilitate timely sowing of rabi crops; lack of short-duration, drought escaping varieties of rabi crops; uncertain rabi rainfall. Farmers also lack information on soil moisture conservation and sowing technologies. Farmers are poor and lack sufficient capital to purchase critical inputs such as seed, fertilizers and pesticides. Access to institutional credit is limited. Grazing of crops by stray animals is a major limitation. Low volume of produce and lack of markets may be limiting. A stakeholders reporting and planning workshop was held at ICRISAT, Patancheru, 28-30 May 2002, with the following objectives: i) to review the results of the project activities; and ii) to develop a detailed project proposal on the same topic for possible further support by DFID/PSP. The workshop had 45 participants representing NARS, NGOs, DFID/PSP, ICRISAT and AVRDC. Results were presented and discussed and detailed workplans were developed for implementation during a phase 2 project. The event had wide Indian media coverage. The performance of variants of RRC technology was assessed and lessons were learned in representative rice fallow areas of India and Nepal. Despite generally poor outcomes to the farmers' trials, due to a range of reasons, farmers were adamant that the major constraints could be overcome by community action, i.e. early planting of primed seed of short duration varieties and planting in a block so that they can protect the crop from birds, cattle and human beings. Farmers were convinced by their 'hands on' experience with the trials that it is possible to grow rabi crops without irrigation. This pilot project has sensitised the farmers about the potential to grow a short-duration crop such as chickpea in rice fallows. Concerted efforts are needed to sustain the interest of the farmers in rainfed rabi cropping by timely supply of adequate quantities of seed and other inputs such as P fertilizer, Rhizobium culture, pesticides etc. and some training about the crop management.