Thursday, May 20, 2010

Farmers get lesson in conservation agriculture

Rajni Shaleen Chopra, 20th May 2010

To break the tradition of burning wheat straw after every harvest season, which has proved harmful for soil nutrients, an initiative has been taken to teach farmers about straw management and conservation agriculture.

Fifty farmers of 14 blocks from rural Punjab have been a part of a classroom-cum-field training project programme, an initiative launched by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) in collaboration with the Fazilka-based Jwalabai Nathu Ram Ahuja Trust, and Zamindara Farm Solutions.

Conservation agriculture, based on integrated practices such as zero tillage, crop rotations and permanent soil cover, is gaining ground internationally.
Under the programme, the farmers are being trained in ways through which straw burning can be avoided. In the first phase of the project, in March, groups of 30-35 farmers were given lessons on the ill-effects of burning straw and its devastating effect on the soil. The trust has now shortlisted 50 champion farmers, in whose fields demonstrations will be carried out on straw management.

Trustee Vikram Ahuja told The Indian Express the major issue in the state was paddy straw management. "The state produces approximately 175 million quintals of paddy straw, of which 90 per cent is burnt. The three options for usage of paddy straw are its use as raw material in power plants, sending it to other states as fodder, or conservation agriculture. This is a new concept, in which hi-tech farming equipment like the 'happy seeder' is used to sow wheat in standing paddy straw," he said.

The blocks where the project has been initiated are Muktsar, Malout, Lambi, Gidderbaha, Mamdot, Ferozepur, Zira, Gursarsahai, Jalalabad, Fazilka, Abohar, Khuian Sarwar, Makhu and Ghalkhurd.

Jagdeep Singh, a Sangrur-based farmer who has gone in for conservation agriculture, vouches for its "major benefits".
"Setting the field afire to burn straw kills the natural organisms in the soil that help plant growth and also leaves the land parched. Sowing wheat in standing paddy straw, hence, saves on multiple-irrigation, improves soil quality and increases the yield. Besides, farmers can save at least Rs 1,200 to Rs 1,400 per acre," he said.
An effort is also being made to educate farmers on not taking loans to buy farming equipment, but rent it.

Officials at NABARD's regional office in Chandigarh said the fields of these farmers where conservation agriculture is practised would act as demonstration units for other farmers in the area

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