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Sodic Agroecosystem: Zero Crop Residue Burning and Evolving Community

Chander Mohan
Chander Mohan

Farming on the salt-affected land decreases the yield of the crops. In view of the acute problem of salt-affected lands in the Haryana and Punjab, the Central Soil Salinity Research Institute (CSSRI), Karnal together with village Panchayat, Begampur, Karnal came forward to have a participatory diagnosis of salt-affected community lands. The agri-scientists named the technology Sodic Agroecosystem for rice-wheat cultivation.

Farmers of Haryana who take community lands on the lease (Rs. 25,000 to 35,000 per acre salt-affected, while Rs. 30,000 to 40,000 per acre normal lands) are although progressive and adopt scientific technologies of rice-wheat cultivation, the yield of rice and wheat from salt-affected community lands are low. The land with pH 9.0 to 9.8 and soil carbon 0.20 to 0.25 yields 3.3 to 4.0 t/ha rice in coarse variety while in Basmati rice it yields 2.2 to 3.0 t/ha. In the case of wheat, yield in salt-affected lands could vary between 3.5 to 4.5 t/ha. A considerable acreage of community lands of both Haryana and Punjab are affected by either sodicity or salinity or both. Such lands are being given on lease to the farmers on a yearly basis where the rice-wheat cropping system predominates.

Looking to the stressors of such salt-affected community lands, ICAR-Central Soil Salinity Research Institute, Karnal together with village Panchayat, Begampur, Karnal came forward to have a participatory diagnosis of salt-affected community lands. The 100 acres of community lands was sampled with GPS details and transect walk across the landscape. The abiotic stressors in terms of pH, and deficiency of soil nutrients and carbon were diagnosed. It was found that the soil pH of community lands varied between 9.24 to 9.8 in the soil depth of 0-15 cm, while upto 10.5 in depth 15-30 cm. To enhance the adaptive capacity of such agroecosystem, two rounds farmers Goshthis were organized during October and November 2017 to understand the agronomic practices of farmers where about 60 male and female farmers together with village Sarpanch and members, and other stakeholders namely State Agriculture Department, Private Input Suppliers and State Revenue Department officials actively participated. Based on the soil diagnosis data, the scientists from ICAR-CSSRI, Kanral shared the knowledge with other stakeholders that other than high deficiency of soil nutrients, the soil carbon in community lands is low (0.2) because the farmers adopt practice of burning of full residue of rice crop and about 30.0%  residue of wheat crop.

In order to manage these stressors, the village Sarpanch in consultation with Dr. P. C. Sharma, Director ICAR-CSSRI, Karnal and Coordinator Dr. Ranjay K. Singh proposed to have consultancy services from ICAR-CSSRI Karnal to Village Panchayat (Begampur, Karnal) for detailed diagnosis of soil stressors, nutrient status and reclamative approaches to provide ecological and climate resilience agro-practices.

As follow-up of this idea, the Village Sarpanch Mrs. Rajbala along with concept coordinator Dr Ranjay K. Singh organized a third round of farmers’ Goshthi on 17th February 2018 to formally pass the resolution on Zero burning of crop residue, and making other farmers aware about the role of crop residues in reclaiming soil pH, improving soil health and regulating other ecosystem services. In this Goshthi, about 225 farmers including 75 women and other stakeholders actively participated. In the Goshthi, the Village Sarpanch, members of Panchayat together with progressive farmers passed a formal “resolution not to burn crop residues on community lands”. Panchayat also assured that a condition of not to burn crop residues on community land will be incorporated while auctioning lands to individual farmers for rice-wheat cropping.

During the Goshthi, a review of works on soil health cards and gypsum requirements for community lands, and results of salt tolerant wheat variety KRL-210 (number of tillers, plant height, leaf shape and size, effective ear-head bearing tillers, etc.) provided to farm women (free of cost) and farmers practicing rice-wheat on community lands (on cost basis), deficiency of soil N, P, K and boron (these were observed largely deficient in community and individual lands also), other micro-nutrients was done. In order to effectively use the rice and wheat residues in the sodic community  lands, the knowledge on required machinery (improved mulcher and moderated seed drill for wheat) to be purchased by Village Panchayat and provided to the farmers of community lands and individuals on custom hiring basis, and integration of agro-practices including knowledge on gypsum application, laser leveling, green manuring and direct seeded rice with salt tolerant rice Basmati variety CSR-30 to adapt impact of stresses caused by sodic agroecosystem and climate variability (intense rains during January and February affect wheat yield in sodic soils upto 20-30 percent ) were discussed where interventions of ICAR-CSSRI was felt most necessary.

Complete technical know-how is being provided by CSSRI to village Panchayat and farmers for sustainable yields on salt affected lands. Farmers are being encouraged to form self-help groups to adopt salt tolerant wheat and rice varieties for the purpose of seed promotion for which appropriate training will also be provided. A total of 25 soil health cards to male and female farmers along with required agroadvisory were provided in Goshthi of mid  February.

This could be perhaps the first example where the expenses incurred in developing soil health cards of community lands at ICAR-CSSRI, Karnal was paid by the village Panchayat, Begampur. Further, it was assessed during farmers’ Goshthis that the accurate amount of gypsum if applied into the community lands having high soil pH and integration of above stated agro-practices may increase rice and wheat yields upto 20-30 percent. As a result, the rate of auctioning of such community lands will be higher as compared to present rate of Rs. 90,000 per ha for example in Begampur Village Panchayat. This way, the revenue of community lands can be increased, and simultaneously the individual income of farmers who practice rice-wheat on community lands can also be increased.

The Village Panchayat members and ICAR-CSSRI, Kanral together opined that the  experiment started on community lands of Begampur village (Karnal) with multi-stakeholders including farmers, village Panchayat, scientific institution (ICAR-CSSRI, Kanral), private input dealers and State Department of Agriculture can provide a robust policy to the State Government (Department of Panchayat) about sustainable management of sodic lands wherein individual farmers and community together can be in a win-win situation from ecological and climate resilience point of views  for rice-wheat cropping system practiced on sodic community lands governed by village Panchayat.

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