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Barren to bountiful: a successful livelihood security option for resource-poor farmers

posted Oct 15, 2015, 1:29 AM by Rowena Baltazar ‎(IRRI)‎
by Y.P. Singh, V.K. Mishra, Sanjay Arora, D.K. Sharma, and Sudhanshu Singh

Agriculture in vast areas of Uttar Pradesh is affected by soil sodicity and salinity. In the past, technologies have been developed to manage these soils for crop production to meet the demand of food for the burgeoning population. Mr. Abhay Shankar Trivedi, a farmer and former primary school teacher from Narsinghauli Village, Sitapur District, Uttar Pradesh, inherited 16 ha of severely salt-affected land, which has been left untilled and barren since the time of his forefathers; they were not able to make the land productive because of poverty and the lack of knowledge on reclamation technology. Mr. Abhay Shankar Trivedi is married and has a son and two daughters. His son, Shrishant, had an interest in farming, but Abhay persuaded him to pursue higher education.  
In 1977, Abhay left his teaching job and Shrishant graduated with a degree in computer science. By this time, the full responsibility for the livelihood and food security of the family members lay on the younger man’s shoulders. Though having already obtained a degree, Shrishant was still more interested in agriculture than in getting a job and preferred to make his 16-ha sodic land productive. One day, he listened to a radio talk broadcast by All India Radio in Lucknow on “reclamation methodology of salt- affected soils”. It was delivered by a scientist from the Central Soil Salinity Research Institute (CSSRI). Shrishant went to the CSSRI Regional Research Station in Lucknow and sought out the help of experts on the protocol for reclamation of salt-affected soils. CSSRI scientists elaborated on effective reclamation technology, which involves applying gypsum at 50%, followed by ponding of water to flush out the sodium salts and, thereafter, cultivating salt-tolerant rice and wheat varieties developed by the institute.

A 16-ha block of sodic soil belonging to Mr. Abhay Shankar Trivedi.

Although he was convinced and had agreed to take up the technology to reclaim his barren, sodic land, the cost of reclamation was beyond what Shrishant can afford. In addition, gypsum was not easily available in the open market. He sought the help of the project manager of the Uttar Pradesh Land Reclamation Development Corporation (UPLDC) in Sitapur in April 2012 and requested for available gypsum. The project manager arranged to supply 500 bags of gypsum (25 tons) at subsidized rates. Following reclamation protocol, Shrishant was asked to install a tube well at his farm to meet the water requirement necessary for leaching salts after gypsum application, and for use in crop production as well. Immediately, Shrishant applied for a loan and, by May 2012, Shrishant managed to install a diesel-operated tube well to start reclamation. Initially, he made bunds on 8 ha of his land and leveled them with a tractor-mounted leveler. Before gypsum application, he also collected soil samples and had them analyzed in Sitapur’s soil testing laboratory. After leveling, he applied gypsum to his fields according to the gypsum requirement. The gypsum was applied in only 3.2 ha of the land, and the fields were ponded with water for 10 days to leach down the salts. Out of the remaining 8 ha, 4.8 ha were applied with press mud from the local nearby sugar mill. According to Shrishant, the total expenditure for the reclamation of 12.8 ha of land was Rs. 160,000. In kharif 2012, Shrishant planted NDR 359, a traditional rice variety, on all 12.8 ha of treated land. He harvested a good crop with an average yield of 3.22 t ha-1, and sold it in the local market for Rs. 9,000 t-1. In rabi 2012, Shrishant sowed Lok-1, a traditional high-yielding wheat variety, and harvested an average yield of 1.6 t ha-1, which fetched him Rs. 12,000 t-1. After harvesting the wheat, Shrishant grew Sesbania in 8 ha of his land and mixed it into the field 40 days after sowing.

Lok-1, a traditional variety of wheat.

In 2013, Shrishant purchased gypsum and reclaimed his remaining 3.2 ha of land, following guidelines given by CSSRI scientists. They suggested growing CSR 30a scented, salt-tolerant basmati rice varietyon his farm. Shrishant grew CSR 30 on 4 ha of land and NDR 359 on 12 ha. He followed the package of practices for cultivation of basmati and harvested 2.62 tha-1 from the 4 ha. He sold basmati at Rs. 56,000 t-1 and earned Rs. 448,000, with an average income of Rs. 112,000 ha-1. However, traditional variety Narendra 359 only yielded 3.62 t ha-1 and was sold at Rs. 13,000 t ha-1, getting an income of Rs. 324,000 from the 12-ha land, with an average income of Rs. 27,000 ha-1.

In rabi 2013-14, following the advice of the CSSRI scientists, Shrishant grew salt-tolerant wheat variety KRL 19 on his 16-ha land, and followed all matching management practices developed for salt-tolerant varieties. He harvested wheat with an average yield of 3 t ha-1 and sold it at Rs. 12,800 t-1. In two years, Shrishant reclaimed his salt-affected soil and earned a net income of Rs. 600,000
800,000. He paid off his loan and purchased a tractor. In 2014, Shrishant was advised to grow CSR 30 on the same land. With his efforts and the adoption of scientific approaches and technical support from CSSRI, Shrishant’s barren land has become bountiful. The successful reclamation of salt-affected soils paved the way for more and more farmers’ lands to be productive.  

Salt-tolerant wheat variety, KRL 19.