Raipur, India / Singapore (Reuters) – For over two decades, the way Indian farmer Ravindra Kajal cultivated rice near his forefathers – hiring an army of farmhands to plant paddy every June Before that they filled their fields with water.
FILE PHOTO: On 16 June 2014, laborers work in a paddy field in Gunowal village on the outskirts of the northern Indian city of Amritsar in the state of Punjab. REUTERS / Munish Sharma / File Photo
But due to a shortage of workers this year, the coronovirus forced the replacement of kajal. He irrigated the farm to moisture the soil and took a drilling machine to sow seeds directly on his 9-acre (3.6 hectare) plot.
Looking at her 46-year-old farm in Raipur Jatan village, Kajal said, “Since I was more comfortable with the tried-after method of growing rice, I opted for the new method with some method.” In the state of Haryana.
“But I have already saved about 7,500 rupees ($ 100) per acre because I barely spent on water and labor this year,” he said.
India is the world’s largest exporter of rice and the second largest producer in the world after China. Around the country’s grain-fed Haryana and the neighboring state of Punjab, thousands of farmers like Kajal have been forced to plant mechanics by coronoviruses.
They are still wary of technology and are overturning the time-honored use of manual labor.
But Punjab agriculture secretary Kahan Singh Pannu is sure that a historic shift is underway that could dramatically increase India’s rice production, which could affect world markets.
“This is nothing short of a revolution in Indian agriculture,” he told Reuters.
Government officials say the so-called direct sowing of rice (DSR) method can reduce yields by about one-third and reduce costs on workers and water.
Naresh Gulati, a Punjab state government official, said DSR machines allow farmers to grow more than 30 saplings per square meter as against the normal 15 to 18 saplings.
(Graphic – Signs of “revolution” in India’s rice bowl that farmers adopted machine planting: here)
Punjab is home to the Green Revolution of the 1960s, which led to an increase in crop yields. This year, farmers have used seed drilling machines to sow rice on more than 5 million hectares as compared to less than 50,000 hectares in 2019.
Pannu hopes to use DSR again next year.
“More and more farmers are using the DSR technique, which makes it appear that the entire rice field of Punjab is expected to cover 2.7 million hectares next year, which will be a watershed for India’s rice production,” he said.
Avinash Kishore, a research fellow at the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), said that if this year’s crop was good, DSR would be the way forward.
“The scale of this year’s shift is a significant change in rice farming in India,” he said.
Sudhanshu Singh, a senior agronomist at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, said the shift to DSR was “one of the rare positive declines from COVID.”
No big labor
None of the world’s major rice exporting countries – India, Vietnam and Thailand – make significant use of seeding machines.
They have come to play extensively in India this year as thousands of migrant laborers from the states of Bihar and Jharkhand in the past did not arrive in the northern grain belt for the 2020 planting season due to coronovirus lockdown.
Jaskaran Singh Mahal, director of the Punjab Agriculture University, said the price of local workers was increased and it became more economical to rent rice planting machines than to hire farmers.
Farm wages have increased from Rs 1,500 to about Rs 4,500 this year, and the growers need about half a dozen workers to plant rice paddy on an acre plot.
Rice-producing farmers said that in comparison, farmers can keep planting machines at Rs 5,000 to 6,000 per acre.
Devendra Singh Gill, a farmer in Moga district of Punjab, said, “Apart from helping us save big overheads like water and labor, DSR is contrary to the old method, which is tedious and time consuming.” Rice.
Traditional method requires farmers to sow seeds in nursery and then wait 20 to 30 days before transplanting in transplanting fields that are ankle-deep in water.
Seeding machines allow farmers to bypass the nursery stage and plant directly in the fields.
Water conservation is another important feature of DSR, which is important in a mostly dry, monsoon dependent country like India.
Under the traditional method, 3,000 to 5,000 liters of water is used to produce 1 kg of rice – the most water-thirsty crop in India – and DSR producers need at least 50% to 60%, farmers and government officials Allows to use water as stated.
The main challenge for farmers using direct seeding machines is to manage weeds, which require spraying of herbicides through the seasons.
Kajal, a farmer in Haryana, said that even in the additional costs of these applications, the overall cost of cultivation is significantly lower under DSR.
Another drawback would be that if the method is adopted in a farm strip, there will be huge unemployment in the eastern states next year.
But farmers say they will wait to see the crop in October next year to decide whether to stick with technology next year.
Rice farmer Ashok Singh said, “The new technology saves a lot in terms of water and labor, but the real test is on the productivity and the farmers, unless there is some increase in their yield.”
Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj and Naveen Thukral; Editing by Gavin Maguire and Raju Gopalakrishnan