Sun, Sep 21, 2014 - Page 14 News List

Climate-smart farmers turn to tech to save India’s breadbasket

With India’s food security once again at risk because of climate change and labor shortages, farmers in Haryana are adopting technology to ensure food supplies for millions

By Nita Bhalla  /  Thomson Reuters Foundation, KARNAL, India

Other new technology includes laser lavelers — tractor-towed, laser-controlled devices that produce a flat surface for cultivation, requiring 25 to 30 percent less water.

Farmers are being introduced to tools such as “Happy Seeders,” which can be attached to the back of tractors. These remove crop residues, blending them into the soil, preventing the practice of burning crop residues that has led to increased emissions and depleted soil fertility.

“We didn’t know anything about these advanced technology machines before,” said Manoj Kumar Munjal, 40, who farms an 8-hectare plot of land in Taorori Village.

“We have learned about these machines and set up a cooperative where we all put in the money together and bought machines and share them. Now everyone is using it,” he said.

Farmers also receive voice messages giving weather forecasts, informing them of new seed varieties and infestations.

However, these technologies do not come cheap. A laser leveler, for example, costs more than US$6,000.

In villages such as Munjal’s, farmers have clubbed together to buy new machinery, while in others, one farmer invests in the hardware and rents it out to others.

The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research said a similar project is under way in the eastern state of Bihar using lower cost techniques on smaller plots.

On his sprawling 36-hectare farm, Harpreet Singh crouched down amongst his rice paddy stalks and checked his tensiometer, a device planted in the ground to measure moisture content.

Singh said that over the past four years, his income has increased by 15 percent due to savings made on electricity for irrigation, diesel for residue burning, labor and fertilizers. However, it is the saving on water that satisfies him the most.

“Day by day, the ground water levels are going down and down. If we continue like this, it’s only a matter of time before we don’t have water to drink, let alone to farm,” he said.

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