Farmers pitch for new technique to increase yield as govt remains indecisive on GM mustard

By Times Of India on 02 Sep 2017 | read
NEW DELHI: At a time when the government remains indecisive on the fate of indigenously developed genetically modified (GM) mustard, farmers from several states have explored an alternative and claimed that the yield of oilseeds can be increased substantially even using traditional seeds through a new technique of cultivation.

They joined hands with a Madhya Pradesh agriculture department official in sharing their first-hand experience on practising the new method of cultivation - called System of Root Intensification (SRI) which involves planting of saplings instead of directly sowing of seeds in farms - and expressed their wish to adopt it in larger scale.

Under this method of cultivation, farmers transplant 8 to 15 days old saplings at relatively larger distance and use natural compost to the greatest possible extent. It also involves early and regular weeding and careful water management.

This technique is being used in 10 districts in Madhya Pradesh and several others in Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand and Rajasthan for mustard cultivation using high-yielding seed varieties which were developed by scientists of the premier public sector research institution - the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI).

"The SRI method is quite popular in cultivation of paddy. But, we have successfully used it in mustard and got very good result in Umaria and several other districts in my state", said Rajesh Tripathi, deputy director, department of agriculture in Madhya Pradesh.

Tripathi, currently posted in Balaghat district, told TOI on Friday, "One should, however, keep in mind that this method of cultivation can be better used in long duration (120-140 days) varieties of mustard. It can double the yield of such varieties. But, it is not recommended for short duration (110 days) variety".

Noting that this is a "labour intensive" method of cultivation, Tripathi said the farmers having small land-holdings and more working hands can use it effectively to increase yield.

Sharing his personal experience, farmer from Sundargarh district of Odisha, Felicita Topno, said he found two important benefits from adopting SRI practices in his mustard cultivation - one, reduction in the use of inputs including fertiliser and this means saving on costs.

"Secondly, this method does not require me buy seeds from any external agency season after season as we built our own seed stocks", said Topno, flanked by Tripathi and other farmers who were brought in here by civil society groups which have been been pitching for the use of this technique to increase yield instead of going for the GM mustard.

"India's oilseed import bill can be reduced substantially by putting in an effective extension system to promote SRI technique to increase yield of mustard", said Kavitha Kuruganti of the Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA).

Explaining how the principles of SRI have been incorporated into mustard cultivation in different parts of the country, Soumik Banerjee, a biotechnologist from Jharkhand, and Steering Group Member of the ASHA said, "The SRI allows farmers to use local resources, that too in lesser quantities, even as it increases rapeseed-mustard yields. In B. carinata, which is of course of longer duration, consistent successful results have been obtained. In B. juncea too, recent experiences have shown the high potential".

He wondered it was unclear why the government was not focusing on large scale promotion of such solutions. "Instead, crores of rupees have been spent wastefully on a hazardous, unneeded transgenic solution in the form of herbicide tolerant transgenic mustard", he said

Other farmers too shared their experience of using SRI during a press conference here on Thursday. It happened at a time when the environment ministry has to take a call on commercialisation of the GM mustard variety which was developed by a Delhi University institution.

Though the central regulator - Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) - had declared the GM mustard safe for commercial release last year, the ministry has still been in consultation mode before taking its final call amid strong opposition for commercialisation of transgenic oilseed from civil societies, farmer bodies, NGOs and the RSS-linked organisation - the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM).