Kuttanad, the major rice grainary of Kerala is one of the few regions of the world that produces rice at below mean sea level. It forms a unique ecologically fragile bio-geographical unit that is located mostly in Alappuzha district. The vulnerability of the system is attributed to the problems of water logging and soil acidity along with climatic variations. Crop damage due to summer rains and floods during monsoon in the low-lying paddy fields called padashekharams are quite common. This uniqueness in bio-geography and associated social factors and institutions has earned it the status of a globally important agricultural heritage system (GIAHS) by FAO in 2013. The heritage status also strives for ecological restoration and sustainable development of the water-logged system which has come under increased stress due to the environmental pollution caused by indiscriminate use of high quantity of chemical fertilizers and plant protection chemicals. Use of high quantity of seeds, and high labour charges result in higher cost of cultivation leaving only marginal profit to paddy farmers.
To address these problems technology demonstrations were conducted by Krishi Vigyan Kendra - Alappuzha hosted by ICAR-Central Plantation Crops Research Institute (CPCRI), in Muttar village of Veliyanad block under the National Initiative on Climate Resilient Agriculture (NICRA) for four successive crop seasons (only one crop possible in a year) from 2011-2015.
Farmers were facilitated to undertake the package of demonstrations on (i) optimization of seed rate and plant population through the use of drum seeder, (ii) site specific acidity -nutrient management (SSNM) based on soil testing, and (iii) eco-friendly pest and disease management through the use of Pseudomonas for seed treatment, soil, and foliar applications, placement of trichocards for the control of major pests - stem borer and leaf roller, light traps for pest monitoring, and use of fish amino acid against rice bugs. A total of 114 farmers partnered in these demonstrations which covered an area of 74.2 ha in four years.
- By using paddy seeder (Drum seeder) the seed requirement could be reduced to 30 kg/ha from of 100-120 kg/ha used by farmers for broadcasting, thus reducing the cost on seed to almost 25%. Enough aeration in the crop stand resulted in reduced susceptibility to pests and diseases. The plants had strong anchorage in the soil which helped them survive lodging in the harvesting stage due to summer showers and wind, while about 20% crop loss was recorded due to lodging in the traditional broadcasted crop. All these factors put together reduced the cost of cultivation by about 10-15%.
- Application of dolomite as liming material based on soil tests not only reduced the soil acidity for improved nutrient availability to crop, but supplied magnesium also. The cost on fertilizers could be reduced by 30% based on soil tests.
- There were no pest and disease incidence in these plots and the farmers were satisfied with the effect of Pseudomonas and trichocards. These practices reduced the cost of cultivation and environmental pollution.
- Overall, the package of technologies resulted in an average yield increase of 15-20%. While the traditional broadcasted crop yielded an average 5-6 t/ha, by adopting this package of technologies farmers could harvest 6-7 t/ha with reduced input use. The demonstration plots had higher number of productive tillers per m2, and grains per panicle and heavier grains in all the four years. The higher yield obtained and the reduced cost of cultivation led to an overall higher net profit of minimum Rs.12500 per ha. The partner farmers were happy and many of them acted as master farmers to spread this package of technologies to progressive farmers of the adjoining villages.
(Source: ICAR-Central Plantation Crops Research Institute, Kasaragod)