8 Nov 2014

Ghed: A region practicing Conservation Agriculture by default.

“…sir yahan pe koi bhi hal nahi chalata hai, pani sukhte hi seedhe chane ke beej ki buwai hoti hai” (nobody plough the soil as soon as water subsidize, farmers sow seeds directly)

It was the answer of Bharat- an extension worker of Aga Khan Rural Support Programme-India (AKRSPI) gave to me when I first explained the idea of Conservation Agriculture (CA) to him. CA was an alien thought to me, as it was a friction and an aberration to my paradigm of agriculture i.e ploughing soil to raise crops. CA what I understood has its 3 root principles viz. minimum soil disturbance, maintaining crop rotation with crop diversity and last but not least adding soil organic cover or mulch. Dr. Amir Kassam whom I met in his India visit, made me aware of the revolutionary idea to raise crop without tillage. Although initially it was hard to digest down the gut as I have read and seen farmers raising crops since ages, on pulverized soil and smoothly prepared soil beds, with the help of ploughs and chisels. The inquisitive sessions which Dr. Amir took on the concept and field demonstration given it seemed to be very persuasive in balancing the soil organic carbon and maintain flora and fauna in soil ultimately endorsing sustainability in longer run.  CA on one hand brings sustainability and altogether is believed to cut down the cost of cultivation (like expenses on ploughing)

We in our organization AKRSPI has planned to start with this innovation in its Gadu SHT in Saurashtra region in Districts of Junagadh and Porbander for which farmers are identified in Junagadh District  and for Probandar district which is unique in itself. The region of Porandar district, comes under our working area is called Ghed which means saucer or Pot. The region occupies an approximate area of 28,000 hectare of land (as calculated with the help of Google Map) which are under the similar type of geographical challenge. The geographical challenge which I am talking is that the region receives rain water from its upper catchment and seasonal rivers and gets submersed with water in rainy season (mid July to first fortnight of October). The farmers do not raise any form Kharif season crop (15 April to 15 October) as the rain water submerge not only their lands but causes their house standing alone in between water. The imminent thing is that the natural saucer or Ghed has only two small outlets for drainage of rain water accumulated over the period of rainy season, which open up in Arabian Sea. The coast line length of the region is 32 km approx when calculated through Google Map, where on west is long stretch of seas coast while on East is the long submerged Ghed region. The farmers raise crops in just one cropping season i.e Rabi ( 15 Oct-15 March) with major crop being Gram (Cicer aratinum), Urdbean (Vigina mungo). The selection of crop is based on the residual moisture content in the soil which is gained by the rain water collected in the region.  The type of soil being black loam soil is less percolating and maintains water in the top soil. It is notable that farmers sow Gram, Urd bean as the water starts subsidizing. The soil when seen by naked eyes can been seen deep black in colour, as the water from the upper catchment brings in large amount of top soil to this place along with washed nutrients. While visiting the place in rainy season it can be seen that how grim the life of these people would be but as per one farmer I met, the more the rain the more area will be under gram as the duration of water will be more and which will match with the sowing time of Gram. What we see as problem is of opportunity and livelihood significance for locals.

While sowing was ongoing I went on to visualize the sowing of Gram in the region. The farmers were sowing seeds with the help of tractor mounted seed drill without any ploughing or pre tillage done or seed bed formation. As the land, submerged for three months by the water which had washed the top soil of upper catchments and filled in this region during rainy season, is now ready to sow seed as the land is soft and free from any form of weeds (as in submerged situation weed seeds lose its viability). Another observation which I had seen if the farmers adopted tillage in the region it would lead to two issues, first being stickiness which will adhere to the ploughs and second that tillage will expose the soil to sun and cause water loss by evaporation. The soil when observed by naked eyes after the water dried in the plots, it showed flakes on the top soil as if in a drought area while digging just one inch one can see plenty amount of residual water which flourish the crop without irrigation support. The crop is totally raised on the enduring water which had saturated the soil profile and this can be a bounty that this residual water raises the crop for complete season giving an average yield (1417 kg/hectare) which is higher then national average of India. There is hearsay for the farmers belonging to this region that they go to their field twice in a year, one while sowing and second for harvesting. To some extent it is true, due to the geographical bounty they don’t have to till the soil, sowing is done directly in the soil with seed drill, no fertilizer is applied initially nor thereafter, no weeding is done as it does not arise above economic threshold level (as due to submerged situation weed seeds gets unviable), the only intervention which is done sometime is pest management with chemical control. Although the above mentioned crop cultivation pattern is though not uniform for all the villages of Ghed as there are variation in the region itself but a suitable amount of area is under the practice. What I see this natural zero tilled form of CA is done in the villages which are at the centre of the catchment and getting highest accumulation of rain water. Although we in AKRSPI are about to start with test plots of Conservation Agriculture with Wheat growing farmers in Junagadh district with the combination of System of Root Intensification technique. SRI, of which AKRSPI is now one among the lead organizations to adopt and scale with full gust and fervor, a technique which increases yield at lower cost of production. I am hopeful to integrate the two interventions in a new region and take it further to satisfy as our ultimate end beneficiaries which are farmers and that’s whom we are working for altogether saving environment from ill impact of agriculture interventions be it use of pesticides or carbon loss due to excessive tillage. 

"One picture speaks thousand words"~ Anonymous. Here are some pictorial understanding of Ghed

Ghed region lies in the extreme west of India in State of Gujarat. The red mark in circle shows the location along the seas coast

The marked region on the map shows the Ghed regions its catchment area. The ridge line of one side borders the west-coast.

In the picture arrow on left side shows one of the two outlets of the vast area of Ghed as shown in previous pictures, due to lack of drainage rain water the region remains deluged for whole Khraif season.

The above picture shows four situations viz, submerged land, drained land with rotten stubble of Gram of previous season, sown land and land with germinated seeds. The farmers of Ghed starts direct sowing of Cicer arietinum and Vigna mungo as soon as the water recedes.

The Ghed region when sown completely with Cicer arietinum and Vigna mungo, in the extremes are Windmills installed on ridge line of  Ghed and west coast. 

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