This experience was embarked upon without any deep-based knowledge about chick peas. If anyone had asked me six months back to explain anything about the chick pea, a leguminous plant whose beans or dal are known as Chana, I really could not have done that, not even knowing what the plant looks like. In September 2013, our AKRSP-I staff sat with Dr. Satish Subedhar Ji and decided that we would try out SCI practices with chickpea crop in Dangs as this is a major rabi crop here. He shared his experience and ideas with us, and I well remember how my staff member Hitesh whispered to me: “Yogesh Bhai, it is fine that we get good SRI results with paddy, but these methods are not possible with Chana crop, and what Dr. Sahab is telling us is not applicable to our working area.”
We planned to do this as a pilot to see whether the ideas could be applied to chick pea crop. Subedhar Ji guided us to use some micro nutrients also, to supplement the potash (K) during pod formation; but we did not make this part of our strategy because we knew that these will not be available in the local area, and farmers will also not be able to pay for them. So our simple strategy was to promote the use of an improved variety, to maintain space between plants, to use amrit pani as an organic nutrient source, and to ensure timely weeding and nipping of leaf buds to promote vigorous plant growth.
Process of SCI promotion in Dangs
We procured seed for the variety known as Gujarat-1,2 to support the farmers’ efforts sending also the clear message that seed must sown at 50 x 50 cm distance. According to our calculation, we have to provide only 2 kg seed for each as we knew that the maximum are to be cultivated in the trials would not be more than .25 acre. In a few plots, we did seed sowing demonstrations.
Initially we were uncertain about what to communicate to the farmers. Just one thing was clear, that establishing the crop through broadcasting the seed was not part of our plan. We communicated to farmers in a few areas to do their sowing behind a plough, maintaining a distance of 50 cm between rows, and once the plants had germinated they should remove some plants to maintain a 50 cm distance between the plants in a row. In a few areas we communicated to farmers to do seed sowing in a line with the help of a rope and to put the seeds in the row with a regular distance of 50 x 50 cm. We did not know which the best method of seed sowing was: behind a bullock or sowing in lines with a rope.
Once the seed was germinated, we discussed with farmers the uprooting of plants which were too closely spaced, for uniform 50 cm spacing, but they rejected this completely. They were loath to eliminate any plants that were growing. So we have done this recommended spacing with our AKRSP-I staff on a few plots. Farmers looked upon us as silly outsiders who were going to ruin our crop. But from these plots, farmers would be able to see the results when seed was sown with a rope and when wider plant distance was well-managed. This is what we are planning to promote in the next year.
In the first phase we identified the interested farmers and potential plots where we could demonstrate the SCI results. After a first round of sowing, we have identified a few plots where we have done continuous follow-up with the farmers. We had a major focus on regular use of amrut pani on the main plot at 15-20 day intervals, timely nipping and weeding operations (3-4 times nipping we have ensured with selected farmers), and supplementary irrigation at necessary times.
This follow-up we have done with selected farmers in each cluster across our working area until the harvesting time. It was not an easy time as our field staff was also worried, like the farmers, and many time expressed the view that “the plant has not grown well, and space is available between the plants; what farmers will say? Next year we must reduce the space from 50 x 50 cm to 30 x 30 cm”). The truth was, we also did not have any idea of what spacing should be recommended for gram, and 50 x 50 cm we just following what Dr. Subedhar ji guided us.
Outcomes of SCI
Now March was knocking, and it was the time for results for comparison with traditional plots, we did some basic analysis on a few parameters. We had discussions with farmers also that we documented. A few very visible impacts we could figure out already which are shared here.
1- The number of unfilled pods is very limited in the control plots compared to the traditional-management plots.
2- Insect pest attacks are limited in the control plots.
3- Nipping of buds, so the energies for growth are channeled into a fewer number of the best branches,, has a very important role in plant growth, and 3-4 nippings before flowering are very much needed for success production in the case of chick pea.
4- Pods have an average of 2 grains in SCI plots against one grain in traditional plots.
5- The number of pods is at least 3-4 times more in SCI plots, and the pod size also is bigger.
6- We cannot overlook the role of improved-variety seed; the seed provided by us has given farmers more production compared to the traditional variety seed used by farmers (when broadcasting method was adopted for both seed varieties).
7- Local variety seed has given better results where it was sown with SCI methods.
8- Soil fertility is also very important, and in SCI practice we need to focus on both plant health and soil health. In one case, we have found that half of the plot has wonderful plant growth and in the other half of the plot, where soil was disturbed, the plant growth was poor under SCI methods.
9- Farmers shared the view that better chick pea plants have more acidic taste on their leaves, which may discourage insects, whereas if plant growth is poor, the leaves’ acidic taste is minimal. Farmers say that the latter condition directly correlates with insect pest attack. (We do not know how much of this is scientifically true.)
10- Farmers face field challenges when adopting these new practices. They said that it is a bit too labour-intensive for use on an like 1 acre, to sow the seed with the help of a rope and to place 2 seeds in each hill at proper distance. Continuous nipping also does not happen if farmers are engaged in other work.
With Subedhar Ji, we have organized a one-day field training for our staff and farmers in two villages where we visited two control plots. His suggestion was the same, to add potash to the soil for more pod formation and grain filling. Under his guidance, we have done extensive measurement of plant growth in both control and traditional plots and have observed plant growth under different parameters. These observations are already shared. We have interviewed three farmers, got their feedback, and recorded this to share with other farmers. Farmers are willing to share their experience in upcoming workshops what AKRSP (I) is planning to organize, for inviting more farmers to adopt SCI practices with other crops also.
After a full day of visit and discussion, the best comment I got from my field staff was: “Yogesh Bhai, this is first time that I have seen such plant growth. I now have faith that SCI practice can work in our area with chick pea crop also.”