Technologies for Maize, Wheat, Rice and Pulses in Marginal Districts of Bihar and Odisha

Farmer in the field at Nalanda District, Bihar. Source: (Flickr) Divya Pandey, IFPRI
Farmer in the field at Nalanda District, Bihar. Source: (Flickr) Divya Pandey, IFPRI

Despite rich in natural resources such as water, fertile soil, mineral reserves and sun,  Bihar and Odisha have not been able to capitalize upon their vast resources due lack of infrastructure (like roads, power and markets), concentration of the poor population with high density in most parts, weak institutions (such as credit, insurance, education and extension) and weak governance.

A recent chapter on Technologies for Maize, Wheat, Rice and Pulses in Marginal Districts of Bihar and Odisha summarizes the current state of agricultural productivity and the potential of different technologies in two of the most economically backward states in Bihar and Odisha, India for their principal crops, rice, wheat, maize and pulses. Focusing on marginal districts in the two states, the chapter assesses the suitability of different technologies to uplift the areas (districts) out of their current low level equilibrium (in terms of production performance) and thereby raise the standards of living.

The authors identify the marginal (backward) districts for these crops based on current yield and its performance over time. Subsequently, the choice of technologies for marginal areas for each case is analyzed ex ante. In this approach, the potential is assessed under conditions in which a given technology might not be widely adopted currently but has a comparatively high potential to deliver upon adoption.

The short listing of technologies for these crops has been done based on a clearing house approach in which, in consultation with different stakeholders, the potent technologies for districts have been chosen.

The identified technologies for

Rice: Varietal substitution towards (climatic) stress-tolerant, high-yielding varieties; Mechanized Direct Seeded Rice (DSR) technology; mechanization of agriculture promoted by custom hiring centers - specific promotion of the self-propelled paddy trans-planter machine; and use of integrated nutrient management, involving use of both organic and inorganic fertilizers.

Maize: Hybrid seed (particularly high yielding single cross hybrid seed).

Wheat: Surface seeding technique for rice-wheat systems; Zero tillage wheat with Resource Conserving Technologies (RCTs); and Laser land leveling (LLL).

Pulses: Stress-tolerant high-yielding varieties; inter-cropping of pulses with other crops; and technologies such as line sowing/seed drilling/zero tilling.

Following this, through a structured survey of the households, the reasons behind slow or poor adoption of available technological innovations were examined. The profile of the identified technologies in terms of their uptake over time is looked at, besides assessing the role of complementary inputs that affect the feasibility for the respective areas, as well as the prospects for adopters of technology to multiply. The real opportunities and constraints for technology adoption are gauged directly from the farmers, including their aspirations about crop choices and the technologies that exist to grow them. It was found that maize and pulses are the crops that farmers currently aspire to get into.

It was found that in both states, there is generally a significant lack of awareness of agricultural technology, more so in marginal districts of Odisha. Some modern technologies, like hybrid rice in Bihar, have become quite well known to the farmers, while others, like Systems of Rice Intensification, in spite of having existed for quite some time, have not yet broken the information barriers.

Authors highlight that farmers and farmers belonging to the lowest caste fare badly, both in awareness as well as adoption of technologies. Translation from awareness to adoption has been quite difficult for most technologies.

In general, the technologies related to varietal adoption have been comparatively successful in this regard. In many others, as they get more complex and there is a greater need for complementary inputs, adoption of certain technologies, even in the presence of awareness, has been difficult.

The chapter highlights that policies for technology promotion in the marginal districts have to take into account the current state, as well the aspirations, of the farmers. These aspirations relate both to the crops/activities that farmers want to engage in as well as different technologies that they want to adopt but cannot because of constraints.

Given the evidence of the disconnect between awareness and execution, a holistic approach taking into account the whole process of adoption from information to support in adoption will be needed. The state of the farmers dealing with illiteracy, small land sizes and social barriers mandate a tailored approach in technology choice for the lagging districts in Bihar and Odisha.

Risk-Management Increases Resilience in the Face of Drought

Cross-posted from the FSP India website written by Jaspreet Aulakh

Nalanda District, Bihar Source (Flickr): Divya Pandey, IFPRI
Nalanda District, Bihar
Source (Flickr): Divya Pandey, IFPRI

Shocks of any form can be have a more pronounced effect in the developing countries like India where half of the population is engaged in agriculture, and the occurrence of droughts can deplete of productive assets, aggravate food insecurity, and entrench people further into poverty. During a drought year, studies show income falls by an estimated 25-60 percent while the per capita poverty rate rises by 12-33 percent.  In a new study to be published in October 2015, Pratap S. Birthal, Digvijay S. Negi, Md. Tajuddin Khan and Shaily Agarwal argue that drastic shifts in the drought management strategy from crisis management to risk management has improved the resiliency of Indian agriculture. Using rice, a water-intensive crop, to test risk-tolerance, the authors find a small decline (2.5 percent) in rice production in 2009-2010 over the previous level despite the rainfall deficit of more than 20 percent. They attribute this resilience to improvements in water management, technological advances in crop breeding, as well as the development of infrastructure and institutions engaged in delivery of advisory services, information, and inputs.

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Grappling with Climate Change Mitigation in Pakistan

Source: K.von Grebmer/IFPRI (Flickr)
Source: K.von Grebmer/IFPRI (Flickr)

Konark Sikka is an intern with IFPRI- South Asia office

Climate change has become more pronounced over the past few decades, and agriculture has been one of the most affected sectors due to impact of monsoon regime changes, droughts, and floods. A recent IFPRI policy note, Climate Change and Extreme Events: Impacts on Pakistan’s Agriculture, presents the results of two studies examining effects of drought and climate change on the country’s agriculture sector.

The study shows that intensive drought periods occur approximately every 16 years, which last from four to five years and are followed by wet periods. These droughts occur in the central and southern regions of Pakistan, which are the country’s agricultural powerhouses. This cycle of droughts poses an obvious challenge to water management. On the other hand, the fact that a cycle of 16 years could be tracked suggests periodicity, which provides useful insights for planning coping strategies.

Focusing on climate change across all scenarios, the authors project a decline in the yields of the key staples of wheat, maize and rice due to higher temperatures and the contraction of the growing season during the warmer season. Looking at both internal and external factors, such as the rise of international prices due to the impact of climate change, a decline in domestic production would pose a negative impact on Pakistan’s food security.

The authors suggest some policy-centred ways forward:

  1. Drought risk reduction and long-term climate change adaptation strategies should be integrated into agricultural development policies.
  2. Increase agricultural research, with a focus on improved irrigation efficiency through adoption of advanced irrigation technologies and management.
  3. Flexible trade policies in drought years, and changes in reservoir release rules ahead of droughts where reliable forecasting information is available, are needed in order to mitigate drought impact on agriculture.
  4. In order to improve irrigation and agricultural efficiency, the following measures are suggested: cultivar improvement programs, strengthening crop management research, expanding agricultural extension and education, strengthening infrastructure in rural areas, accelerating irrigation management reforms, allocating irrigation water more flexibly across provinces, and accelerating drip expansion.

A new regional strategy calls for modernization and transformation of the rice sector in Asia

Cross-posted from the ReSAKSS Asia written by Yifei Liu

FAO-rice-strategy-thumbnailAsian countries are undergoing structural transformation; the economy is shifting from agriculture to non-agriculture sectors, and laborers are migrating from rural areas to cities. Asia’s economic future depends on its ability to successfully fast-track structural transformation through policy that facilitates job creation and opens up new sectors and markets, according to Asian Development Bank. What does this mean for agriculture? As the sector with the lowest productivity, that still engages over 43 percent of Asia’s total employment, agriculture is also likely to undergo a transformation to a system that requires fewer farmers and greater mechanization, increased yields per unit area, larger farm sizes, , and improved value chain integration, among others.

For many Asians, rice is life and the staple that cannot be ignored in Asia’s agriculture landscape. Asia produces and consumes 90 percent of the world’s rice. Around 140 million people farm rice as their main source of income, and millions of rural poor are hired on rice farm as additional labors. As the main staple of food, rice expenditures make up a fifth of rural households’ total expenses in Asia.

Given the changing Asian economy and the importance of rice in the region, Asia and the Pacific countries worked together with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to develop a new regional rice strategy to facilitate agricultural transformation and ensure food security in the region. During the past decade, rice productivity growth has been slower than population growth, partly due to the slowdown in agricultural R&D investments during the 1990s to 2000s prior to the world food price crisis. The new strategy aims to provide evidence-based guidelines on how to modernize and transform the rice sector under various challenges.

The strategy sets 6 key objectives that cover a wide range of development aspects.  The first is to increase productivity, nutritional value and sustainability of rice systems through rice production with an integrated systems such as rice-fish, rice–legume, or rice-livestock.  The region should also consider expanding the production of improved rice varieties with enhanced micronutrients such as iron, zinc, or vitamin A to reduce malnutrition among the poor.

Mitigating and adopting to climate change plays a key role in the regional strategy. The cyclical weather pattern El Nino, brought drought to Southeast Asia and India sparked a surge in food prices (including rice) in 2007 and again in 2009, and is likely to again this year, according to the UN weather agency. Greater market integration and regional rice reserves may offer solutions to regional rice shortages and to mitigate high prices. In addition, improved technologies such as “climate change-ready” rice developed by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines can help reduce the amount of damage due to flooding, drought, and high salinity.

The strategy also finds the need to: enhance value chains and reduce post-harvest losses; conserve the environment and heritage; promote fair and efficient markets and trade; and improve organization of production, and empower youth and women. FAO urges governments to incorporate the latest research and development results into their rice policies and promote capacity building in adopting climate-resilient varieties/practices.

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To take or not to take, risks in technology adoption

Womnen farmer in rice field in Nalanda, Bihar, India. Source: (flickr) Divya Pandey/IFPRI
Women farmer in rice field in Nalanda, Bihar, India. Source: (flickr) Divya Pandey/IFPRI

It is widely believed that increased usage of new technologies directly affects the advances in agricultural development. The uptake and use of new technologies is highly dependent on several context-specific factors. Among other important factors, farmers’ perceptions of risks associated with the new technology as well as their ability or willingness to take risks greatly influences their adoption decisions. Farmers in developing countries face a wide range of uncertainty, not the least of which arises from climate variability, including droughts, which represent one of the most pressing constraints to rice production in unfavorable environments.

Despite the heralded benefits of new agricultural technologies such as drought tolerant cultivars (DT), widespread adoption of new technologies is often a slow process. Some factors that influence adoption decisions may not be directly visible, such as farmer preferences regarding uncertainty. When it comes to new technologies, uncertainty arises due to both risk as well as ambiguity. Risk arises because, while almost all new agricultural technologies tout increases in mean productivity, many perform optimally only under certain conditions. Deviations from these conditions may result in not only reduced yield benefits vis-´a-vis the traditional technology but also increased variance. Ambiguity, on the other hand, arises because new technologies are unknown and unproven in the minds of prospective adopters, who generally do not know the yield distribution of the new technology. Combined, aversion to both risk and ambiguity may lead to production decisions that are incongruent with deterministic profit maximization.

In a recent IFPRI Discussion Paper, Risk and Ambiguity Preferences and the Adoption of New Agricultural Technologies authors Patrick Ward and Vartika Singh analyze various behavioral parameters related to risk and ambiguity aversion collected through field experiments in rural India. The experimental design allows for the identification of several different parameters, accomplished over a series of five experiments, each comprising a set of choices between two options with different real payouts. Specifically, the authors find that risk aversion alone does not sufficiently describe individuals’ behavior, but rather they also find that individuals have a tendency to weigh outcomes differently and demonstrate aversion to potential losses. Using gender-disaggregated experimental data, the authors demonstrate that women are both significantly more risk averse and loss averse than men. Contrary to some previous findings in different contexts, Ward and Singh find no significant evidence of ambiguity aversion.

Coupling these behavioral parameters with a discrete choice experiment designed to study preferences for (DT) rice, they observe that farmers’ risk and loss aversion interact with their perceptions about the potential risks and losses associated with the new seeds. They observe that both risk aversion and loss aversion significantly increase the probability that farmers will choose the newer seeds: Farmers were more likely to experiment with new seeds that provided some form of yield benefit, whether it was a reduction in variability or protection against low-probability, high-impact extreme droughts. The role of risk and ambiguity preferences seems straightforward when it comes to a technology like DT rice, since the technology yields benefits specifically targeted to farmers with value functions, sensitive risks and potential losses. Considerable scope remains to explore the role of risk and ambiguity preferences on other agricultural technologies, especially ones in which the technology is less embodied in the physical product.

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