8 Sep 2015

Saguna Rice Technique (SRT) as convergence of CA and SRI in Rice based cropping system: An experience from Saguna Baug

Key Words: Conservation Agriculture, System of Crop Intensification, Saguna Rice Technology, Raised bed, Zero-Tillage

Picture 1: Team AKRSP-I Dangs with Mr. Chandrasekhar
Like any other day, I was reading Revitalizing Rainfed Agriculture (RRA) group mail which is a  frequent habit of mine to remain updated with the news on agriculture and livelihood development happening in different corners of India, for which Mr. Nemani Chandrasekhar and his consistent efforts need to be appreciated. This was when I came across Saguna Baug in Raigadh District of Maharashtra via NABARD Chief General Manager, Mr. Ashok Methil. The curiosity of personally visiting the site and seeing the activities made me decide upon for an exposure with the agriculture team. The curiosity was imminent as the agriculture team of Aga Khan Rural Support Programme-India is being mentored by Dr. Amir Kassam who is currently working as an adviser in sustainable agricultural intensification with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome, and who is Moderator for the FAO-hosted Global Platform for Conservation Agriculture Community of Practice (CA-CoP).  The organization is testing CA with farmers in the three regions Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar. Interest in the question of how Conservation Agriculture (CA) with its three principles of zero tillage, mulching/cover cropping, and maintaining crop diversity, can also be extended to the rice-gram rainfed cropping system of the Dangs tribal region of Gujarat, India led me to discover Saguna Baug for its zero-tillage, raised-bed rice cultivation.

Picture 2: Raised bed formation by tractor further
 to be used for sowing crops without tillage
Born and brought up with rice fields all around in my village Basghar (Utarakhand) and learning the Practical Crop Production course at Govind Ballabh Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, I always had the belief that for paddy cultivation, puddling (preparation of the land before transplanting) and a large quantity of water are inevitable for good economic yield. The System of Rice intensification, which has revolutionized the technique of cultivation of rice across the world, is now a very prominent technique which AKRSP-I has been promoting in its different programmatic regions. Farmers have seen a great change in their production from the technique which has been approved by many papers and research studies. So has the benefits of Conservation Agriculture been shown for reducing the cost of production for farmers and making the soil more sustainable for producing good crops year after year. In my previous account on Conservation Agriculture, Dr. Norman Uphoff in a mail conversation had asked the team ‘to converge CA and SCI’ which can become a win-win situation for farmers as well as for soil health in fast-changing climate.
cultivation of rice in a credited

As in 2014, the rainfed rice crops in Dangs region have faced a challenge with late rainfall turn out after the first shower began in the month of July 2015. Rainfall gaps in the rainfall as seen in previous two seasons led to a problem for managing the transplanting of young seedling of 14 days (an important step in SRI), as without adequate rainfall transplanting becomes difficult. The result is seen in over- mature seedlings for transplanting or the wilting of the seedlings in the nursery itself when rain gets delayed.  This was seen in the villages participating in the AKRSP-India program in the Dangs region. The number of farmers cultivating rice with SRI technique was reduced substantially, and those who did use the practices, used over-mature seedlings. This presents a challenge to farmers for continuing SRI when there are unpredictable changes of course for rainfall and wider gaps are seen.

The challenge is taken up by some farmers. A farmer named Shantilal Bheeka in village Timarthava of Subeer Cluster tried something different, keeping in mind the principles of SRI. This farmer confronted by the erratic rainfall tried sowing his rice directly in his puddled field in the month of July during the first shower of rainfall with spacing of 25*25cm, putting 2-3 seeds per hill. The crop stand of the direct-seeded rice shows good growth and vigor, although it is too early to comment on the results. The point noted here is that there is a felt need among the farmers to adopt direct-seeding with SRI principles. The direct-seeding technique using a drum seeder as being practiced in Vietnam and shared by Dr. Norman is very promising for confronting this emerging challenge for managing the right age of seedlings and in extreme cases preventing the morbidity of seedlings due to unavailability of supportive irrigation. The drum seeder directly places the germinated seeds in a well-prepared puddled field with spacing of 25*25cm and thus avoids the cost of transplanting. The Saguna Rice Technique as experienced in first hand with the help of the innovator farmer Mr. Chandrasekhar Bhadsavale in his Agro-Tourism farm has also lot to promise to meet the challenges mentioned above and for the convergence of SCI and CA techniques both in unison.  

Saguna Rice Technique (SRT), a name which he derived from the name of his farm Saguna Baug, is a technique in which rice is directly sown on a raised bed at equal spacing of 25*25 cm with the help of iron frame dibbler. Year after year, different crops can be taken on the raised bed as it has been practiced and promoted by Mr. Chandrasekhar Bhadsavale. He graduated in agriculture from Dapoli Agriculture University in 1970 and completed his post-graduate in Food Science and Technology from University of California Davis in 1972. After a quick stint in a MNC, he quit to come back to India and start his agro-tourism farm naming it Saguna Baug, in commemoration of his grandmother Saguna Bhadsavale.

As it is well known that human need leads to innovations, he was adversely affected by the washed-down top soil which would come in a river near his farm from upstream paddy fields. The river is one of the centers of attraction for swimming for tourists coming to his farm, so he decided to get something done with the soil washed into the river. He decided to do some trials on direct-seeded rice in his own farm so that an alternative can be given to the farmers cultivating rice by creating soil and water mud. Over the course of time and with knowledge gained from different discussions, he started his trial for raised-bed, zero-tillage rice cultivation. The technique although still is in its 4th year of adoption is doing fairly well, not only in the field trials which he has in his field for demonstration to various visitors but it also has become very popular among farming communities in adjoining districts. Over 600 farmers in 12 districts have adopted the unique technique of cultivating rice and are highly satisfied with the technique as reported by Mr. Chandrasekhar.

The major steps to adopt SRT which promises SRI and CA altogether:

Picture 3: Iron frame which is used for direct sowing
 of seeds of rice and many other crops at equal distance
1. When one has to start to adopt zero-tillage, the land is prepared using a plough to make it loose. This needs to be done only for the first (and last) time. Raised beds can be made with the help of either a tractor-mounted or bullock-driven bed former. In case of small land areas, it can also be done with the help of hand tools. The width of the bed is kept at 100 cm while the length will depend on the size of the plot, and from one furrow to the next furrow, the distance maintained is 136cm. The optimal height of the bed depends on the type of soil. The beds are recommended to be made (contoured) against the slope. This minimizes erosion.

2. A pre-designed iron frame with spacing of 25*25cm is used for making holes for seed placement. The frame can also be used easily for different crops like mung bean, groundnut, wheat, and cowpea as are already being done in the Saguna Baug.

3. To reduce weeds on the bed, a pre-emergence herbicide Oxyfluorfan 23.5% EC is used on the raised bed after the sowing is done in the field in the moist condition.

Picture 4: A SRT plot in its 4th year of incorporation 
under no till rice
4.For fertilizer application, briquettes of mixed fertilizer (urea and DAP) are applied in between the

5.  After the crop is harvested, the beds are then immediately sown with the next crop, saving the time of tillage operations. For management of weeds currently the SRT engages Glyphosate soon after the sowing of seeds, but a non-chemical approach is also being tested in Saguna Baug. Year after year these beds can be used for the cultivation of different crops with the help of the iron frame for sowing seeds

Let’s have a look on the technique and what it promises to the small and marginal farmers in the rice-based cultivation, especially in the rainfed regions. Let’s consider it one by one:

1. The technique promises to reduce the cost of production of the farmer up to 40% as seen by the farmers who have adopted the technique as the costs involved in ploughing, diesel, hiring a bull, transplanting , hand hoeing etc. are totally removed. Year after year the same raised bed is used for raising crops.

2. When compared to traditional techniques, the technique can increase production up to 2.5 times as reported by the farmers when compared to the traditional method of cultivating rice.

Picture 5: Soil with Earthworms
3. The techniques improve soil health in terms of soil organic carbon and the populations of earthworms, flora and fauna which facilitate soil to regain its natural vigor and resilience of the soil against cracking. The first plot used with Saguna Baug has seen its organic carbon rise from 0.3 percent to its current 2.5 per cent. Moreover each and every plot can be seen to be rich in earthworm population, and the soil turned by them surely is a healthy sign of sustainable production.

4. In the direct-seeding technique, the dependency on rain for transplanting is reduced, and farmers can reduce their risk of erratic rainfall pattern and nursery losses.

Picture 6: Leaf lamina comparison of
 traditional cultivated and SRT rice
5. After every crop, ploughing and land preparation take away crucial time, and residual moisture gets evaporated in the soil. With reduced duration of time between harvesting and sowing of the next crop, cropping intensity can be increased. In 23 plots which are managed by Saguna Baug have seen to raise three crops which were earlier limited to just two as the water retention capacity increases in the zero-tillage method and time is saved.

6. The erosion of rich top soil with the puddled water or by the action of sheet erosion triggered by rainfall can be avoided with this technique. Mr. Chandrsekhar measured that the puddled soil wash constitutes 20 per cent of rich soil from other fields, which he metaphorically calls as ‘the blood of our land.’

7. More importantly, the technique saves water a lot when practiced in irrigated condition as the integration of drip irrigation with this technique can do wonders in saving water.  

The raised-bed, zero-tillage method of cultivating rice, which is also named as SRT, is one such method which is now becoming popular among farmers to a great extent in the nearby villages. The team of AKRSP-I went to visit the farmers who have adopted the technique. We first visited the village named Mograj, which is not very far from the Saguna Baug. Mr. Prashuram, a marginal farmer from the village, learnt the technique from Mr. Chandrasekhar, trialed the technique and adopted it in his own field. After gaining confidence in it he made the whole village adopt the technique to cultivate rice as everyone could see the promise which it gave in making production rise while reducing the costs of production. He narrated, referring to his 0.75 acres of land, “In traditional method I used to engage 14 persons for a day to finish the transplanting, while in SRT now I now finish the direct-seeding just with 8 labor-days, which is a huge saving of money and time”. Regarding the situation of rainfall he said, “Rain this year is 40 per cent lower than normal. In spite of this fact we have a good crop stand in the field and now we do not have to worry about nursery losses due to unavailability of water. Crop stand can withstand moisture stress in a better way as has seen in previous two years”. While finishing his discussion, he also mentioned, “The women of the village are in a better position as before more number of women were involved in the transplanting of seedlings, and now the drudgery has been reduced for them too”. There were many other farmers who were sharing their experiences on how this technique has benefited them in terms of enhancement of livelihood, but one more case is worth sharing.

A farmer named Mr. Ram Panwar from Katkari tribe owned approximate 1 acre of land in a remote
Picture 7: Field visit of Mr. Ram Panwar, a marginal farmer
location with uneven terrain of the hills passing through forest. Due to this geographical challenge, bullock owners would not come to his field to plough the land or to puddle for the transplanting of rice. He along with his wife cultivated rice with traditional methods using their own plough with hand labor which was a tedious task. He narrated his story that, “I would go to work as a laborer in adjoining villages to earn some money, and after earning some money I would return with my wife to my own field to transplant my own rice which took us a long time. After learning about the new technique, I along with my wife made the beds and started to cultivate rice with SRT. The result was so astonishing. Earlier I would get 4 guni (bags) of rice; now I can have 12 guni of rice as seen in the previous two years. This is a huge difference for me”.

The experience of this farmer made us realize how this technique can revolutionize problems of labor, production and remoteness of land for a small farmer. The team of AKRSP-I decided to visit the farmer’s land based on his narration. It took us a 15-minute walk in uneven topography of ghats through the forest to reach his farm. After reaching his plot, one can see the crop’s superior phenotypic performance as the flag leaves were rising high in uniformity across the whole plot and with broad leaf lamina reflecting a healthy crop. Soil health improvement with no-till and proper maintenance of space. Our team was completely satisfied with the technique as the challenges are common in Dangs as it is seen in hilly terrain of Raigadh District.

Picture 8: Sugarcane crop under zero
 tillage practice
Saguna Baug, have also trialed the technique of cultivating Sugarcane with the method and is said to be water saving in nature. Sugarcane saplings were used for transplanting on the bed of size 100 cm in width. Sapling were transplanted on the bed with just one row on each bed with a space of 2.5 feet from plan to plant. This system of sustainable intensification has lot to give in terms of productivity as it was phenotypically evident by the crop stand in his field as well as it is water saving when integrated with drip irrigation system. As planet is going to suffer dearth of water in which irrigation and drinking water is of prominence. As agriculture sector is highest contributor for water extraction. The technique assures to reduce the use of water in rice and sugarcane, which comprises the large chunk of water use for the production, as with zero tillage water holding capacity of soil will increase and frequency of irrigation support can be reduced. I am very much in consent that this is high time for all the development sector organization to promote this technique in their respective working are and also influence the policy maker to push this further for the adoption at national level.

This exposure visit has given us a lot to think about: how one can add to the cause of sustainable intensification for enhancing livelihoods in rainfed agriculture by this convergence of SRI and CA in the form of SRT which Mr. Chandrasekhar has given to world. The team AKRSP-I have decided to take and adopt this technique with the farmers and learn along with them to enhance a finest way of developing this technology by adding missing values like mulching and minimal use of herbicides. We are hopeful to that.

Picture 9: Saguna Baug: An aerial view of SRT Rice field

1 comment:

  1. Hi Gurpreet,

    Thank you for the wonderful post. I am an environmental planner and a documentary photographer. I am documenting the role of SRI, SRT and other practice of crop intensification as an climate change adaptation practice. Would be glad if you could share a little more about such practices all over India. I am kind of on a deadline so would appreciate your quick response. Thank you. You may mail me on: envirorohit@gmail.com