“Farming, particularly small farmers, is in deep crisis in India. This is happening for mainly three reasons: it is increasingly becoming input oriented and farmers are spending more to get less; irregular rains and constraints on natural resources leave crops to uncertainty and access to markets is getting unstable. The challenge now is to reduce input costs and improve the productivity; for that we need to focus on water management, planting differently and target inputs, emphasizing on organic fertilizers and pest control”.
These are the words of Biksham Gujja, founder of AgSri who developed a different approach to solve agriculture’s crisis: with an initial investment of Rs 30 lakh, he build a social enterprise that helps farmers improve agricultural systems and aims to be the leading global provider of innovative sustainable solutions to agri-industry chain and water sector. Gujja, a water management expert and former senior policy advisor at World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), has started educating farmers about scientific methods in agriculture, as well as offering them alternatives to increase productivity.
Established in 2010, AgSri has been promoting the Sustainable Sugarcane Initiative (SSI), a set of agronomic practices that involves using less seeds, raising seedlings in a nursery, and following new planting methods, with wider plant spacing, and better water and nutrient management to increase cane yields. “Sugarcane is the next big thing. Since it is a very commercial crop, it allows us to explore business opportunities and scale up”, says Biksham Gujja. AgSri has tested SSI in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Marashtra, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh, on an area of more than 1000 acres. The main business is to sell sugarcane seedlings to farmers . These are grown in nurseries, where AgSri chip and plan buds and then make them available to farmers when they become seedlings, at Rs 2 per plant.
AgSri trains thousands of farmers to adopt SSI, including establishing their own small nurseries. However, the major challenge is to convince them that the new system works. “Actually it is very difficult to work with farmers around India. They are also used to getting most things free of cost or at subsidized rates, which makes them hesitant about paying for the seedlings even if they know it’s for the best quality input”, says Gujja. So far, they have reached 10 thousand sugarcane farmers. Potentially, according to Gujja, there are 5 million farmers yet to catch up with.
The SSI crop results in robust root system, increase in tilling and faster growth in terms of height and girth of individual canes. These factors in turn not only provide substantially higher cane yields, but also result in higher sugar recovery. Less incidence of pests and diseases owing to faster growth and not so dense crop canopy are other advantages. The other significant benefits are: seed cane saving to the tune of 4 t/ ha, water saving up to 90 per cent during the first month due to nursery raising practice, around 30 per cent water saving in the main field, owing to wider spacing and use of water efficient systems like drip irrigation.
AgSri is now working on improving the process, developing protocols and testing on varietal responses. According to Gujja, the SSI will most likely become the standard planting method for entire sugarcane fields in India. “We are certain about one thing: SSI started by AgSri is a game changer. In the next 5 to 10 years, most of the Indian sugarcane farmers will be switching to SSI and this way they will be able to save cane and get better quality crops, as well as reducing costs with inorganic fertilizers.” Gujja states that the effective ways of up-scaling SSI is through public-private partnership mode.”We would like to mobilize enough human and financial capital to set up facilities in order to produce the high quality seedlings and meet market demand”, he concludes.
To know more about AgSri and their solutions for agriculture, click here.