Imagine living in a place where the land is so dry it barely produces enough crops to sustain a small, family farm – let alone provide a stable agricultural income to its community. Now, add to that the challenge of that community being in a coastal area where most irrigation water contains too much salt, making it unusable for growing healthy, sustainable plant crops.
“In Gujarat, India, the increase in soil salinity and drought conditions on agricultural lands have caused a huge, negative impact on crop productivity and decreased the income and food security of local farmers,” says Harriett Paul, FAMU’s Director of the OIAP and Center for International Agricultural Trade Development Research and Training (CIATDRT) at Florida A&M University (FAMU).
The FAMU Office of International Programs (OIAP), led by Paul, has been actively engaged in an institutional partnership with the National Council for Climate Change Sustainable Development and Public Leadership (NCCSD) and the Vivekanand Research and Training Institute (VRTI) in Gujarat, India to help establish a Model Demonstration Farm for drought and saline tolerant crop trials. The demonstration farm creates a hands-on learning environment for farmers to learn how new or improved crop varieties perform under the environmental and climatic conditions of the Kutch district.
“We are very appreciative to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) F2F Program, implemented through the Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance (VEGA), for their support of our work in India to date. Approximately $285,000 has been awarded by VEGA in support of the FAMU CIATDRT’s work addressing climate challenges in Indian agriculture from 2016-2018,” states Paul.
Over the past two years, Paul and her staff have worked to engage some of the best scientists in the U.S. Land Grant Universities to engage with counterparts in India through the USAID Farmer-to-Farmer Climate Smart Agriculture Project to help farmers grow drought and saline tolerant crops. It is anticipated that the transfer and adoption rate of these climate-smart technologies will increase among local farmers through their engagement in hands-on demonstrations and from seeing first-hand the outcomes achieved from the demonstration trials.
Under the first of two FAMU USAID Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) Climate Smart Agriculture Projects conducted 2016 – 2017, FAMU recruited a team of 13 U.S. agricultural experts sent to the Gujarat State to work with university extension agents, researchers, trainers of agricultural non-governmental organizations (NGO), the State of Gujarat Agricultural Ministry, and progressive farmers in Anand, Junagadh and Kutch districts to encourage the use of improved practices. A total of 4,778 persons were trained by FAMU’s F2F volunteers in classroom settings during the first project’s period of performance.
“With the second FAMU USAID F2F project award for 2017 – 2018, our efforts concentrated on providing farmers in the Kutch district with opportunities for both identifying improved more resilient crop varieties for the Kutch district, as well as building on the knowledge and adoption of improved agricultural practices,” Paul said.
The assistance provided by the ten F2F volunteers during the second project includes 53 recommendations they shared with VRTI and farmers – to date, 17 have been adopted at an adoption rate of 32 percent that VRTI predicts will continue to increase as more demonstration crops are planted and equipment purchased.
These volunteers who gave freely of their time and expertise trained 1,396 persons in formal classroom settings and 1,419 persons received training at informal settings such as farm site visits. A total of 2,815 persons in India were directly assisted and benefitted from the expertise provided by this team of volunteers.
The final two F2F Volunteers to travel to India under the second project completed their two-week assignments in April and May, respectively:
Rishi Prasad, Ph.D., Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist at Auburn University, travelled to India April 14 – 27. He developed a GAP Analysis on current nutrient management practices and trained farmers and agricultural extension agents in the Mandvi district on “Integrated Soil Nutrient Management Strategies.” Prasad reported that he found farmers rarely sampled their fields for soil testing, and their nutrient management practices were very traditional and failed to maintain a healthy soil. He encouraged farmers to test their soils for nutrients and guide their nutrient management practices based on soil test results and university recommendations. He also educated them on the importance of soil health and keeping the ground covered for a longer period with relay or cover crops. He provided formal classroom training to 126 persons and informally assisted 10 additional persons in the field for a total of 136 directly assisted persons.
Ram Ray, Ph.D., a Research Scientist at Prairie View A&M University, brought some of Prasad’s previous recommendations to life when he travelled to India April 28 - May 11 and conducted six farm visits where he held field demonstrations and on-site analysis for soil and irrigation water qualities. Ray also trained 119 farmers, scientists and agricultural extension staff, during formal classroom settings, on “Best Irrigation Practices for Saline Soils.”
“Volunteers cannot do everything but definitely can do something, and by doing something (we) will definitely bring some difference,” said Ray. “I came to know, from farmers and VRTI researchers, that getting soil and water quality testing is a lengthy process for farmers. They were excited to see their soil and water quality report completed on site within a few minutes.”
Ray used portable EC and pH sensors during farm visits and noticed farmers were excited to know how they could get similar sensors to monitor their soil and water quality parameters on a regular basis. He stated they had thought the testing of soil and water was a complicated and time consuming process.
“Normally, they wait more than two weeks to get their test results. However, I gave them test results within couple of minutes,” said Ray. “I realized this was a big difference for farmers and VRTI researchers, but farmers could not immediately buy any of the suggested sensors. However, VRTI researchers are going to buy some shortly.”
Ray also visited the district agricultural science center at Mundra, Kutch and discussed how soil and water quality were analyzed in the soil and water quality lab. At the VRTI demonstration farm, he demonstrated how to use a drip irrigation system to regulate different amounts of water for selected crop varieties. The VRTI has both rain fed and drip irrigation farms. Two crops were planted: Aloe Vera and Agave – half of the crops had mulch, and half did not. He noted the Agave crop, where mulch was used, needed less irrigation water than the crop without mulch. He also met with VRTI to discuss the establishment of strong soil and water content, a soil and water quality monitoring system, and a sub-surface drainage system to control and reduce salt accumulation on the root zone of crops and on the soil surface.
A first time F2F volunteer, Ray credits this Climate Smart Agriculture Project with allowing most of the farmers and field technicians in the area to become involved and aware of techniques that can be used to reduce the salt accumulation on soil. He added that farmers learned many techniques they will soon adopt on their farms, such as how to avoid flood irrigation as well as how to apply micro-irrigation on saline soil and saline irrigation water.
“Overall, a positive impact on communities was observed, especially with the increased importance of soil and water quality monitoring, changing irrigation methods, using crop rotation and mix cropping to reduce salt content on soil,” said Ray.
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