Raigad farmers are switching to the innovative Saguna technique, and cultivating rice with lesser water

Moving from water-intensive paddy cultivation, farmers in many parts of Maharashtra are now adopting the Saguna Rice Technique to manage soil and water efficiently while yielding better harvests.

8th Aug 2019
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Farmers in many parts of Maharashtra are switching from water-intensive paddy cultivation to the innovative Saguna Rice Technique that manages soil and water efficiently while yielding better harvests.

“I followed the Saguna Rice Technique (SRT) method of planting paddy in 2017 on three acres after I came across it on a farm in Karjat a year earlier. The yield was 15 quintals per acre, against the maximum yield of 12 quintals through the conventional method,” says Shrinivas Pande, “Besides, I saved immensely on seeds, labour, fertiliser, and weedicide.”

Farm at Saguna

The farm at Saguna introduced by Chandrasekhar Bhadsavle (left), attracts scientists like the former director of Indian Council of Agricultural Research.

Image credit: Hiren Kumar Bose

Shrinivas, a former journalist, and now a progressive farmer in Khumari village of Ramtek, 40 km from Nagpur, conducts free workshops on SRT for farmers visiting from Sholapur, Kolhapur, Jalgaon, Bhandara and Chandrapur.

In the rice-growing centres of Maharashtra, farmers in increasing numbers are adopting this innovative paddy-sowing technique, which not only assures them abundant yield but also leads to reduced labour costs and helps conserve the top soil.

Growing a water-intensive crop

Rice is the second important crop of Maharashtra and is grown over an area of 14.99 lakh hectares with an annual rice production of about 32.37 lakh tonnes. The state’s average productivity is 2.01 t/ha, ranking it 13th in rice production in the country.

Though the area under rice crop is more in the Vidarbha region, it’s the Konkan region, which includes the districts of Ratnagiri, Sindhudurg, Thane, and Raigad, that leads in output, with 42.91 percent of the state’s total rice production.

Growing paddy, a water-intensive crop, involves deep ploughing and puddling of soil, followed by transplantation of the seedlings. Ploughing loosens the top 10 to 12 inches of soil. Farmers over generations have believed that the crop would be good only if the land is ploughed well. However, huge consumption of water for paddy grown by the traditional method is a matter of concern across India as the country faces its worst-ever water crisis.

The Saguna technique

Farmers in Konkan across ages are abandoning the traditional flooding and transplanting method. They are taking to conservation agriculture techniques for paddy farming, influenced by neighbouring farms or having come across the same on a video-sharing platform.

From Ramtek in Nagpur to Karjat in Raigad, from Maval in Pune to Jaoli in Satara, from Bhandardhara in Ahmednagar to Shahpur in Thane, from Armori in Gadchiroli to Mul in Chandrapur, cultivators across districts of Maharashtra are adopting the zero-till SRT developed by Chandrasekhar Bhadsavle, an innovative farmer and a recipient of Maharashtra government’s Krishi Bhushan award.

Saguna technique

Groups of farmers visit the farm of Bhoyar (extreme right) at Gunthara to learn about the Saguna Rice Technique.

Image credit: Hiren Kumar Bose

“SRT’s raised-bed technique of growing rotation crops without ploughing, puddling, transplanting, and hoeing is a complete solution for rice-growing countries like India to overcome problems of food shortage and develop climate resilience,” Bhadsavle told VillageSquare.in.

The beginning

Now in his late 60s, Bhadsavle, who graduated from the Ratnagiri-based Konkan Krishi Vidyapeeth, acquired his master’s degree in food technology from the University of California and worked in various food-related companies there.

He returned to India in 1976 at the bidding of his father, a freedom fighter, to set up the state’s maiden agro-tourism initiative Saguna Baug, which was spread over 52 acres in Neral of Raigad district, 79 km from Mumbai.

“My father, who worked among Adivasis insisted that I worked in the field of agriculture and I have been at it since then,” says Bhadsavle, while explaining the nuances of SRT that he developed in 2011 and started promoting two years later.

The method

In SRT, after the preparation of the raised bed, holes are made with a pre-designed iron frame, seeds mixed with granulated fertiliser are dibbled in the soil and weedicide is sprayed after moistening the soil, by rain or irrigation.

In this method, the raised bed is not wrecked for successive crops. After the paddy is harvested, the stubble is not removed, but allowed to remain while the soil is readied for the next crop with another spray of weedicide.

The next crop – groundnut, wheat, soybean, maize, vegetables, sunflower, etc. – is planted among the stubble on the same bed. The raised bed can be used for five to six years for successive crops, resulting in an increase of soil carbon.

The many advantages

SRT’s advantages are reduced costs, erosion control, reduced soil compaction, and a better soil physical structure over time, thus helping overcome constraints of resource depletion and pollution encountered in the existing practices.

The new system alters the crop geometry and land configuration, offering more effective control over irrigation and drainage as well as their impacts on transport and transformations of nutrients, and rainwater management. “Through our raised-bed direct seeding technique, we plan to achieve the soil’s organic carbon of 2.5 percent from the present 0.5 percent,” says Bhadsavle.

“The technique strives to make agriculture sustainable so that the entire ecosystem is enriched ensuring optimum use of all inputs – water, fertilisers, seeds, weedicides, etc. In short, receiving more output from fewer inputs,” says M V Ashok, formerly of National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), and an honorary Tata Chair professor at Tata Institute of Social Sciences now.

Saguna cultivation

Tukaram Hable practices Saguna rice technique on his farm in Karjat village.

Image credit: Hiren Kumar Bose

Speaking to VillageSquare.in, Ashok, who presented a paper on SRT at the national conference on Farmer-friendly Water Conservation Technologies for Mitigating Climate Change Impact held in Ooty in January, says, “The cultivation practices do not pollute the environment. Rather, they improve it on many parameters such as prevention of soil erosionincreased soil fertility, and repair of degraded ecosystem.”

Increased adoption

Always on the lookout for new crops and cultivable systems, Mahesh Bhoyar (30), a postgraduate from Gunthara village, tried SRT method on a half-acre plot and was impressed by the yield. “I plan to try it on my entire plot of one-and-a-half acres,” says Bhoyar.

Likewise, Ananta Kale (44) of Gamnoli village in Pune’s Maval taluk, who tried the technique on one guntha (1,100 sq ft) of land, was rewarded with a yield of 80 kg of rice. He followed it up with lettuce during the Rabi season, and harvested 20 tonnes of the vegetable.

Arvind Muppawar (45) of Bothli village in Sawli taluk of Chandrapur, who switched to SRT in 2016 on a four-acre plot, harvested 24 quintals of rice per acre. Introduced among 30-odd farmers in Karjat in 2013, SRT is presently being practised by over 3,000 farmers across the state.

Accepted technique

Though the technique is yet to be accepted by agronomists working in the state’s rice research institute, it has been accepted by the Department of Agriculture (DoA) of Maharashtra for their Public-Private Partnership – Integrated Agriculture Development program’s objective to reduce costs while maintaining yield.

In a demonstration of sorts, the DoA tried the SRT method under National Food Security Mission2015-16 in Medha and Kudal of Jaoli taluk and concluded that compared to the conventional practice, it succeeded due to reduced use of weedicides, increased plant height, and improved yield.

Agronomist Anant Sadashiv Dalvi of Regional Agricultural Research Station, Karjat, in Raigad, while commending the merits of SRT, like reduced costs, promotion of soil health and better yields, believes it does have a drawback like in the conventional method. “It’s the problem of weeds,” he tells VillageSquare.in.

Meanwhile, Bhadsavle and his team has been tasked by the World Bank supported Maharashtra’s Project on Climate Resilient Agriculture (POCRA) to train farmers in the drought-prone areas of Marathwada and Vidarbha. So far 50-odd farmers from Aurangabad, Parbhani, Beed, Nanded, Osmanabad, Latur, and Jalna have attended SRT training at Saguna Baug, and will adopt the same to sow paddy in the coming monsoon.

(Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta)

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