Cotton is the major cash crop in Gadhar, a village in Raichur Taluk, having 450 households. Most of the farmers in the village depend on drylands for their livelihood, while a few have irrigation from open wells. Mono cropping has been in practice not only in this village but also in the entire region. Cotton, which was highly remunerative a few years ago, has gradually become less profitable with its heavy dependence on purchased inputs. Farmers use inputs mainly guided by the input dealers. Also, farmers procure loose seeds from the vendors for sowing directly in the fields. Over the years, the production costs in cotton have increased, soils have lost their strength and yields have begun to decline.
Towards a change
Taking note of the problems regarding the farm livelihoods in the region, Raichur Area Unit of the AME Foundation, selected this village to help the farmers to move towards sustainable crop production by adopting alternative farming practices, reducing the external inputs.
Discussions with farmers revealed that pest incidence, particularly sucking pests and bollworm, was the major factor affecting cotton yields. To manage the pests, at present, on an average, the crop is sprayed nine times during the crop period of which five were aimed at controlling Heliothis, and the rest against the sucking pests. On an average, the cotton crop yielded 3.5 qt/ac, which was much below its normal potential of 6 qt/ac. There were other factors affecting the yields, like poor seed quality, delayed sowing, improper soil and water management practices and inadequate organic manure application.
To enable farmers to learn to look at their crop in relation to the existing crop ecosystem and not in isolation, Farmer Field School (FFS), a discovery learning process, was considered to be most appropriate means. FFS was conducted in the cropping season of 2005, from June to December.
Here is an account of the performance of Shri Pratap Reddy, as an illustration of the result of AMEF’s intervention in general and FFS in cotton in particular. This case highlights the efforts of an individual farmer in adopting alternative practices and sharing them with others in the group and beyond.
Pratap Reddy, aged around 35, has done his formal schooling up to SSLC. He belongs to Lingayat community, is married and has two children. He owns 16 acres of land and manages it with the help of hired labour. Pratap Reddy has been growing cotton for quite some years. For him, cultivating cotton involved a number of routine activities like sowing the seeds directly brought from the seed dealer, applying pesticides the moment he observed the insects on the crop, and applying fertilizer as a standard practice. As a member of the group, Pratap Reddy was an active participant in the Cotton FFS. He used a plot of size 0.75 ac. for FFS events. On 0.50 ac., the cultivation practices followed were
as per the decisions in the FFS group and in 0.25 acre, the cultivation was according to his normal farming practices, as a control. From the experiments laid out, as a part of FFS, he learnt a lot about alternative farming practices in cotton.
Alternative farming practices adopted
Redgram was sown as a border crop, marigold seeds were scattered and lady’s finger seeds were sown in a ratio of 1:10 on the field. All the seeds were treated with biologicals prior to sowing.
Seed treatment: Seeds were treated with phosphobacteria and azospirillum before sowing as follows
For 750 gms of cotton seed:
◗ 20 gms of jaggery
◗ 50 gms of Phospho bacteria
◗ 50 gms of Azospirillum
Spread the seeds on a sheet or sack; pour the jaggery syrup over the seeds and dust the bioagents. Allow them to dry under shade for half an hour and sow them directly.
(Though recommended dose of bio-fertilizers is 200 g per acre of seeds, while treating, farmers felt that 50 g was enough to treat the quantity of cotton seeds per acre).
Pest management: Trap crops like redgram, marigold and bhendi were grown to manage pests like heliothis and spotted bollworm. He learnt about the role of useful insects like Trichograma, an egg parasite on heliothis. He had no idea that there could be some insects, which could benefit his crop. NPV, a bio agent and one chemical pesticide were sprayed once as a precautionary measure. The earlier practice was to spray pesticide whenever a larva or an insect was noticed in the field. These new measures helped in reducing the pesticide sprays from 9 to 4 during first year and from 4 to 1 spray during second year. The usage of pesticide reduced by 75% which was a major expenditure in the past. Nutrient management: Earlier, applying fertilisers and pesticides was more like a competition among the farmers. If one farmer used 10 bags of fertilizer, the neighbour would apply 12 bags. For the first season, Pratap Reddy did not reduce fertiliser application, but increased it with additional quantities of FYM from 2 tons/ac to 3 tons/ac and with vermi compost (2 q/ac). At present, he has also started supplementing fertiliser with compost, which he has learnt to prepare, on his own farm. Cotton becomes remunerative again Alternative practices have increased the cotton yield by 20% and the net returns by 44% in the very first year of transition from chemical farming to alternative, eco-friendly practices. The cost of production increased owing to his application of on purchased organic manure. As Pratap Reddy has started producing organic manure on his own farm, the cost of production is likely to be reduced in the coming years.
Costs and Returns in Rs/ac
|S.No||Item||Farmer plot||FFS plot||% difference|
|Seeds and seed treatment||280||290||-|
Towards holistic farming system
Regular interaction with AMEF and the internal discussions in the group, convinced Pratap Reddy to focus on natural resource management and recycling his farm wastes. During one of his study tours to LEISA farms, Reddy got convinced that additional plant biomass was crucial for producing more organic manure on the farm. Subsequently, he raised 10000 multipurpose seedlings for generating plant biomass. He planted them on field bunds and on the sides of the pond. He has also planted some horticultural crops like mango, tamarind and sapota. Having understood the importance of plant biomass, Reddy stopped the practice of burning the sunflower stalks and other crop residues. Instead, he incorporates them into the soil.
Pratap Reddy has also taken up certain support activities like vermicomposting and kitchen garden. He has grown brinjal, cucumber, tomato, ridge gourd near his home and lady’s finger in the cotton field. He feels he has sufficient vegetables for his home use now. He has dug a farm pond of 12 feet depth to conserve water. He plans to rear fish in future, based on the water availability in the pond.
Source : AME Foundation