18 Sep 2015
No. 1693




Greening the desert with pastures, orchards, legume crops, medicinal plants and potato farms

A woman farmer in her field in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India. Photos: P Panjiar/ICRISAT

New initiatives like on-farm trials for seed potato production have the potential of benefiting farmers in the arid regions of Rajasthan, India. Existing initiatives such as intercropping legumes with fruit trees and medicinal plants, developing community pastures for livestock, harvesting rainwater and making the most of scarce groundwater resources have already increased productivity and incomes of farmers.

To review the work done in Jodhpur, Barmer and Jaisalmer districts of Rajasthan and discuss future plans focusing on designing innovative and profitable farming systems in arid regions, a multi-stakeholder innovation platform meeting was held recently in Jodhpur, Rajasthan. Some of the major components discussed were:

  • Cultivating high-value, low-maintenance medicinal plants for extra income
  • Agri-horticulture systems with rainwater harvesting
  • Women-oriented livestock and fodder solutions
  • Seed production of moth bean
  • Seed potato production

Medicinal herbs add to farmers’ income

Identifying medicinal plants that grow wild in the region, motivating farmers to grow them as an intercrop that requires virtually no maintenance and linking them to a manufacturer of Ayurvedic (traditional Indian system of medicine) products has hugely benefited farmers.

The profits earned by farmers who grew shankhpushpi (Convolvulus pluricaulis) had attracted other farmers. Last year, 20 farmers in Barmer took up cultivation and this year, 120 farmers in five to six villages have joined them. Currently, shankhpushpi is sold at ₹ 24 (US$ 0.36) per kg and the seed is sold at ₹ 1,500-1,600 (US$ 22.7-24.2) per kg. A tripartite agreement with Dabur India Ltd, to buy back the produce is in place and technical backstopping in terms of training the farmers is being done by Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Barmer.
Another medicinal plant, jeevanti (Leptadenia reticulata), was introduced this year and is being cultivated by 15 farmers. Jeevanti is a climber and planted as an intercrop with fruit trees. A farmer can earn around ₹ 300-400 (US$ 4.5-6) per plant. 

Another medicinal plant arna (Clerodendrum phlomidis) which was used for fencing and roofing, now has a buyback rate of ₹ 15 (US$ 0.23) per kg.

Medicinal plants like shankhpushpi are easy to
cultivate and command a good market rate.
Photo: P Panjiar/ICRISAT
Covered tanks (tankas) are used to store
harvested rainwater.

Agri-horticulture with rainwater harvesting

Intercropping legumes like moth bean, green gram and cluster bean with local fruit trees – ber (Ziziphus mauritiana) and gunda (Cordia myxa) and medicinal plants is adding to the income of farmers. The leaves of the ber tree are used as fodder and the leaves of gunda are lopped and applied to fields for their anti-termite properties and for improving the organic content of the soil. Innovative techniques of watering fruit trees using a pitcher buried close to the roots helps conserve water in areas where groundwater is scarce. Traditional water harvesting structures called tankas are being improved with scientific inputs.

Women in these areas are being encouraged to grow fruit trees for improving household nutrition. In one women’s group, 20 women were given 20 fruit plants each and in another 40 women were given 10 plants each. These units were started last year in Govindpura and Mansagar villages of Jodhpur district; Dhirasar and Dhok villages of Barmer district and Didhu and Sankaria villages in Jaisalmer district.

Women-oriented livestock and fodder solutions

To empower women goat rearers, the goat value chain is being strengthened. Improved bucks have been provided to two women self-help groups. A weighing machine was provided so that the goats can be sold on the basis of weight. This improves their bargaining power. The women are now able to earn 25-30% more than what they were getting earlier.

Women also play an active role in managing community-owned silvi-pastures where fodder grasses like dhaman (Cenchrus ciliaris) and sewan (Lasiurus scindicus) along with fodder and fruit trees are grown. Four women groups in Jodhpur and Barmer play an active role in managing the pastures and harvesting and selling the grass as livestock feed. At the recent meeting, bylaws were also discussed for managing silvi-pastures.

Selling small ruminants on the basis of weight
improves the bargaining power of farmers.
Watering a fruit tree through a pitcher buried
near its roots helps conserve water.

Seed production of moth bean

Improved cultivars of moth bean planted by farmers for seed production at two locations in Jodhpur and Barmer will be ready for harvest by October. The seed producers have been linked to the Rajasthan State Seeds Corporation for certification and marketing.

Growing potatoes in the desert

To assess the suitability and economic viability of growing seed potatoes in the arid, sandy regions of west Rajasthan, on-farm trials have begun. Two production sites, one in Jodhpur and the other in Jaisalmer were identified.

Five farmers in Mansagar village of Jodhpur have during the past two years successfully raised seed potatoes on experimental plots that had access to groundwater. Based on the results, a decision was taken to introduce the crop in Didhu village in Jaisalmer for trials. These trials will be conducted over a period of two years. The entire value chain of seed potato production was discussed at the recent meeting.

“By employing systems tools and participatory approaches; incorporating local coping strategies and focusing on the whole value chain, integrated dryland farming is helping farmers improve productivity and income,” says Dr Shalander Kumar, Scientist, Resilient Dryland Systems, ICRISAT.

The meeting was held on 27 August in Jodhpur and was led by the International Potato Center (CIP). The meeting was attended by representatives of industries including Dabur India Ltd, PepsiCo and ITC Ltd, CGIAR centers, national research institutes, state agricultural universities, non-governmental organizations, Krishi Vigyan Kendras, state line departments and farmers. (See box for full list of participants.)

Case study

Mr Giana Ram (55 years) has a 4 ha rainfed farm in Dhirasar (Barmer district). The area has low annual rainfall of 280 mm and the soil is mostly sandy and partly loamy. He was unable to come out of the poverty trap due to very low productivity of local cultivars of pearl millet and legumes and frequent crop failures due to drought. Adopting the integrated farming system approach, he now grows pearl millet and intercrops legumes, fruit trees – ber and gunda, and medicinal plants – shankhpushpi and arna

Dr Shalander (L) with Giana Ram (2nd from left) on a part of his farm where he intercrops cluster bean with gunda fruit trees. photo: GRAVIS-ICRISAT

His farm depends entirely on rainwater. He has built a covered tanka with a capacity of 35,000 liters. He uses the harvested rainwater for drinking and watering the fruit trees. He uses the pitcher method for watering the fruit plants to use the water most efficiently.
This year, he was able to earn an additional income of ₹ 88,000 (US$ 1,330) by cultivating medicinal plants. In future, the yield from the improved cultivars of fruit trees that he has planted will bring him an extra income of ₹ 25,000-35,000 (US$ 378-529) per ha and he can also sell or use the leaves as fodder and green manure.

The productivity of the crops in his field has more than doubled as he uses improved cultivars of pearl millet and legumes procured from the state seeds corporation.

Following a soil test done on his plot that revealed nutrient deficiencies of nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur and zinc, he now uses the recommended amount of fertilizers. Giana Ram has become a model farmer in his region.

Project: Integrated Agricultural Production Systems for Improved Food Security and Livelihoods in Dry Areas

Investor: CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems

Partners: CGIAR centers in Western Rajasthan (ICRISAT, International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, Bioversity and International Potato Centre); research institutes - Central Arid Zone Research Institute, Arid Forestry Research Institute, State Remote Sensing Center; Non-Governmental Organizations - Gramin Vikas Vigyan Samiti; Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Barmer; industry partner - Dabur India Ltd; state agricultural universities, line departments of the state government and farmers.

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Developing country strategies with partners in Niger and Nigeria


Niger: To refine the country strategy framework, ICRISAT organized a meeting with key stakeholders. Partners and donors, who participated in the consultation meeting on
19 August, included the World Bank, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, International Fund for Agricultural Development, United States Agency for International Development, the European Union, 3N (Nigeriens Nourrissent les Nigeriens), University of Niamey (Faculty of Agronomy), Catholic Relief Services, Farmer Platform (Plate forme paysanne), the National Institute of Agricultural Research (INRAN), Federation of Unions of Farmers Groups of Niger - Mooriben, FUMA Gaskiya and National Network of Chambers of Agriculture of Niger (RECA).

The ICRISAT team will continue working on the country strategy document and getting all relevant inputs from partners to propose a clear implementation plan.

Nigeria: To draft ICRISAT’s country research and development strategy, a workshop was held from 31 August to 1 September to deliberate on the initial document drafted on 12 March.

A total of 27 participants representing strategic partners attended the workshop. This includes the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development; Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria; Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR); Lake Chad Research Institute, Centre for Dryland Agriculture-Bayero University Kano (CDA-BUK); Nigeria Stored Produce Research Institute (NSPRI); National Agricultural Extension Research and Liaison Service; National Agricultural Seeds Council; two seed companies and ICRISAT scientists.

Photo: A Inuwa, ICRISAT

During the workshop, gaps were identified in the document with regard to capacity development in breeding management systems and seed production, value chain development for production, processing and value addition in sorghum, millet and groundnut, digital agriculture, and media publicity integration of ICRISAT activities in Nigeria. Coordination plan of government, partners, donors in financing, co-financing, cost sharing, and leveraging existing resources and infrastructure were extensively discussed and presented by sorghum, millet, groundnut and seed system groups.

Based on the groups’ reports, recommendations were made on finalizing the draft document, with responsibilities assigned to ICRISAT scientists in Kano and two other partners – one each from IAR/ABU and CDA-BUK to merge the three commodity groups’ strategies into a final report for presentation to ICRISAT management and stakeholders.

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1st African Agribusiness Incubation Conference

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Dr Peter Carberry, Deputy Director General-Research, ICRISAT, has been awarded the 2015 Advance Global Australian Award in the Food and Agriculture Category for his work in the international agricultural sector. The awards celebrate the achievements of Australians and alumni living overseas who exhibit remarkable talent, ambition and exceptional vision. Dr Carberry first came to ICRISAT to complete his studies as a PhD student 30 years ago and then returned in January this year as the current DDG-Research.

Watch Dr Carberry talk about his work and association with ICRISAT: https://youtu.be/oCccu-xej0A

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Reader's Comment

Having toured almost all districts of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana and about 300 districts in India, I feel a different approach may be needed to fill the yield gap in the
13 districts of Andhra Pradesh. We need to also have an effective digital system in place, accessible through mobile phones in the local language. Both agriculture and agribusiness innovations/interventions may be needed for achieving the desired goals. Low microbial activity and zero humus due to excess usage of fertilizers, monocropping, bad farm planning, etc, are some of the issues that need to be addressed.

– DSK Rao,
Director, Gyantech Information Systems Pvt Ltd

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