Friday, October 1, 2010

Drop by Drop- Bumper Crop

On a fateful day in September 2003, Ramrao, a farmer from Yavatmal district of Maharashtra thought of committing suicide, due to repeated crop failure and mounting debts. Though he didn’t succeed in his endeavor, today after seven years into his rebirth (that’s how he puts it) is a happy and prosperous man. Sitting on a charpai in front of his one storey pakka house, he cheerfully talks about cotton cultivation on his four acres of land, benefits of growing Bt cotton, implying the improved agronomic practices and his desire to buy more land in future between the sips of hot tea. And what has brought about this change of fortune and attitude is not Bt cotton alone, but also the use of drip irrigation in his cotton fields.

In India, cotton accounts for 30% of agricultural gross domestic product. In this year, it emerged as the largest cotton growing nation with a total of 106 lakh hectare under it, surpassing the earlier record of 104 lakh hectare land in USA. It has also witnessed an increased production of two and half times in last five years and expected to become the single largest producer of cotton at the end of this season.

The meteoric rise in cotton production can be attributed to myriad factors like applying out of the box solution on the farm and shift in improved agronomics practices. One of the key factors responsible for its growth has been the introduction of Bt cotton. “When it was first introduced, it Bt cotton hardly had any significant area under it, but with the much popularity of the Bt hybrids in terms of lesser bollworm incidences, thus resulting in significant increase of yield and the total economic return to the farmers, today it has touched to an unimaginable level of 92%,” says Dr. Kranthi, Director, Central Institute for Cotton Research, Nagpur. “What is more interesting is that cotton hybrids are now grown both in the rainfed and irrigated regions.”

But it is not that Bt cotton is the only element that has changed the cotton cultivation in India. Since time immemorial cotton has been the main cash crop of Indian farmers. However, due to several factors, its cultivation had become non viable for the farmers. But with the international prices of cotton shooting up in last couple of years, farmers are willing to experiment and risk money on cotton cultivation. Drip irrigation, a highly efficient but capital intensive system of surface irrigation is increasingly finding its way in the cotton fields. So next time you happen to visit the cotton belts of Maharashta and Andhra, don’t be surprised if you find drip pipes laid out beautifully in cotton fields.

As cotton cultivation is mostly limited to dry land area and inconsistent monsoon playing hide and seek, surface or subsurface drip irrigation has proved to be the saving grace for dejected farmers and increased productivity has revived their hopes. It can save electricity, labour and 50% of irrigation water against the surface furrow irrigation. In this water saving technology which enables water directly to the roots of the plants maximizes the production through increase in crop yield. Other advantages of drip irrigation are protection of environment through conservation of soil and fertilizer resources.

Several changes in cropping system have been observed, as farmers are going for intercropping the Bt cotton along with sorghum, other than the non-bt variety. Once, there was heavy loss due to the weeds but now a day, cotton farmers are managing it well with the judicious application of herbicides, like Roundup (Glyphosate), a selective herbicide of American giant Monsanto added with one or, two manual weeding. We are also noticing the rising trends of water application through drip irrigation in cotton, and with more usage of micro-irrigation, water efficiency is improved, added with the better crop condition and the higher yield.

Since the initial coast of establishing drip irrigation being quite high and only big farmers can afford such an investment, small and marginal farmers have come out with some cost effective and innovative techniques. They bought large stripes of uncut “guthka” packets from the manufacturers and placed it parallel to the crop. It is tied at one end and fills it with water. After that they apply a needle prick in the plastic stripe adjacent to each crop, which effectively works like a desi drip without any electricity. These indigenous methods are nothing but an extension of India’s famous “Jugad technology” and seem to be working well for the farmers.

It can facilitate the early sowing of the crop in case of late monsoon, particularly in the water scarce cotton belts. Thus, the early development of crop will minimize and curtail the weed population. It will also result in the emergence of early flush, hence harvesting is pre-poned. The basic advantage of such a scenario results in easy and cheap availability of labourers meant for cotton harvesting. It also caters to better market price.

- Nitin Kumar -

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