Continued efforts, via public-private partnerships, to build resilience in dryland farmers are yielding multi-faceted benefits – about 100 farm ponds with 20,000 cubic meter capacity for better access to water, 21-44% higher crop yields, better nutrition and incomes through fruit and vegetable gardens, and greater awareness of technologies – for local farmers, in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana states in India.
As reported in an earlier article, the joint project by the Rural Electrification Corporation Limited (RECL), India, in partnership with ICRISAT Development Center, is building on work that began in 2014 in Wanaparthy district, Telangana; and Anantapur district, Andhra Pradesh. In the second phase (2020-2021) of this project, the primary focus is on
- enhancing access to water
- enhancing productivity through high-yielding climate-smart crop varieties and need-based fertilizers
- mechanization and infrastructure for operational/economic efficiency
- on-farm diversification
- mainstreaming of women farmers through nutri-gardens
- strengthening livestock-based activities.
Increased availability and access to water
Realizing that water scarcity is a significant challenge for farmers in this region, farm-level water storage solutions were developed on high priority. (http://drylandsystems.cgiar.org/outcome-stories/small-ponds-make-big-progress-among-farmers-india; https://www.icrisat.org/low-cost-drought-proofing-strategies-help-farmers-in-southern-india/).
Around 100 farm ponds have been constructed at both sites from 2020 till mid-Feb 2021, enabling quick access to water for 100 smallholders, and adding 20,000 cubic meter water storage capacity. Farm ponds are low-cost structures that help farmers quickly access water during the dry season and support system-level productivity. (Watch a video on this by clicking link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5z9we-Fg78Y)
Mr Ramachandra Reddy’s newly constructed farm pond in Kondampalle village is now ready for use, and he is already irrigating his fields using water from there. The nearby check dam constructed in 2017 through the project has ensured that groundwater is available at a depth of 3 m during the months of December and January. “Before the project, even drinking water was not available, and groundwater was available only at depths of about 180 m during the dry seasons,” he said. “The next rainy season will help us to fill our farm ponds and will ensure water availability in the case of a dry spell.” Similarly, in nearby Gonipeta village, a check dam constructed in 2017 has ensured that about 16 ha of land have water available throughout the year.
An assessment of groundwater during December 2020 showed a higher water level between 1.5-20 m in Wanaparthy and 1-14 m in Anantapur, mainly due to good rains this year. However, the watershed villages’ water level was around 1.1-1.8 m higher than adjoining non-watershed villages. In an earlier phase during 2014-2017, more than 100,000 cubic meter water storage capacity was developed.
Productivity enhancement through crop varieties and need-based fertilizers
Over 2,100 farmers witnessed on-farm demonstrations of high-yielding climate-smart crop varieties, need-based fertilizer management, and integrated pest management, during the rainy 2020 and post-rainy 2020-21 seasons. Those who adopted high-yielding groundnut varieties got higher yields compared to local prevailing varieties by around 22-23% with ICGV-91114, 44% with ICGV-350, and 21% with K-6. Need-based micronutrient application recorded a yield benefit of 10-27% in crops like paddy, groundnut, tomato, and onion. Additionally, application of deficient secondary and micronutrient fertilizers helped correct nutrient imbalances in 1500 farms, a key parameter for sustainability.
To bring women into the agriculture mainstream, more than 1000 women were aided in establishing nutri-gardens. Each woman was provided with 100-200 g seeds of two to three vegetables; one mini-sprayer; and vermicompost/fertilizer (macro/micro). On average, 25-30 kg yield was harvested in nutri-gardens by women in Anantapur, and most of which was used for household consumption.
Livestock too generally falls under women’s domain in this region and is a significant contributor to household nutrition and income. Four animal health camps (three in Anantapur and one in Wanaparthy) were conducted for livestock productivity improvement. Around 5,000 cattle/sheep/goats belonging to around 400 households were treated by local veterinary staff. Farmers were also provided mineral mixture, calcium supplements, vitamin B-complex injections, spray for ectoparasites for livestock, etc. To address fodder scarcity, around 200 fodder demonstrations were carried out during rainy 2020 and post rainy 2020-21 seasons. Around 60-75 women at each site were organized into self-help groups to promote livestock and women’s incomes. With system productivity in mind, around 13,000 fruit plants (mainly mango and guava) were planted by more than 900 households.
(For more success stories of women farmers, see next story – a Women’s Day special)
Capacity building and ICT for monitoring
A multi-disciplinary team of scientists and experts from ICRISAT regularly facilitate planning and guidance on project activities, which are implemented according to farmers’ demands and technical feasibility through scientific officers and NGO partners based at location. A team of five line-staff members, supported by NGOs at each site, helps reach out to farmers and share knowledge through meetings, field days, demonstrations, etc. The MPRO App and WhatsApp are key modes used for monitoring of field activities.
The RECL-ICRISAT watersheds are developing into exemplary sites to provide a proof of concept for scaling out critical and holistic on-farm solutions for climate resilience and for strengthening rural livelihoods. This will also provide the way forward for uplifting drylands and leverage social responsibility to mainstream the underprivileged while contributing to food security and ecosystem services.