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Drought Resilient Cropping Systems

AF has been intensely involved in promoting cropping systems that can address drought mitigation. The choice of crops, how they are inter-cropped and what goes into managing their cultivation have been key areas that AF has been focussing on. AF believes that much of the problems of drought can be minimized and mitigated through the right cropping system. Towards this, AF has taken up the following activities.

Demonstration of drought resilient rain fed crops and Contingency crops 

AF has been developing, promoting and popularising drought resilient cropping designs with millets, pulses and castor as intercrops/mixed crops through demonstration plots. 
Keeping in view the experience of the previous years, AF prepared a plan to demonstrate at a scale the benefits of short duration contingency crops like sorghum, horse gram, foxtail millet, green gram and field beans which would, at least, provide the farmers with fodder and if lucky with some yield also!

Previous year’s effort on contingency crops had eased the fodder crisis and had a great impact on farmers as well as the Government. The Government also provided sorghum and horse gram seeds to the farmers at a subsidised price in response to their demand. Despite the failure of timely rains, entire fields in the project area looked green during September 2015 which was an unlikely scenario in the past. AF’s consistent efforts on popularising these regular and contingency models brought in a positive trend with a large number of farmers. More and more farmers have been shifting from groundnut mono-cropping and when the rains were delayed many farmers have gone for contingency cropping. There was a visible difference in the cropping pattern of the district over the years. The area under millets, pulses and castor have gone up from 5% to 20% and have gradually replaced groundnut. Diagram

These demonstrations and capacity building has been implemented through:

Farmer Field Schools (FFS) 

Farmer Field Schools are conducted by STOs with the objective of increasing farmers’ awareness of life cycles of crops, pests & diseases, life cycles of friendly and enemy insects, non – chemical ways of controlling pests and diseases etc through ‘observing, discussing, learning and doing’ approach as a group. Further, the FFS  experiments  and demonstrates  drought mitigation technologies & practices like drought tolerant crop selection suitable for the soil, bio-nutrient management, protective irrigation during dry spells etc. 

How is FFS done? 

In each village one standing crop is selected for organising the FFS. A small piece of land was left in the selected farm as control plot in which farming was done as per the farmer’s conventional knowledge. 15-20 men and women farmers, who are active and interested, form into a FFS group. Other SMG members and enthusiastic villagers are also encouraged to participate, discuss the outcome, suggest measures for improvement and ultimately improve their knowledge and skills on crop management, drought management and sustainable agriculture.

“Field Days” are conducted in select fields just before harvesting of crop where hundreds of farmers come together and observe, listen and discuss various practices followed including a cost benefit analysis of demo plot v/s control plot in managing the crop.

Promoting perennial Rain-fed Tree Crop Models 

Rain-fed tree crops are highly recommended as an integral part of drought resilient farming system. It would assure some income even in a drought year as the tree crops are more drought tolerant, thus securing some income for the rain-fed farmers in drought prone districts like Anantapuram. However, the greatest challenge is to water the plants for the first 3 to 4 years for initial establishment and a long gestation period of about 5 years before the farmers can see any income from trees.

During the previous phase AF had designed four tree crop models - Multiple Fruit Tree Crops (MFTC), Integrated Farming System (IFS), Bio-Intensive Farming System in Rain-fed Agriculture (BIFSRA) and Tree Crops on Wasted Lands. AF successfully grounded these models covering about 80 ha belonging to 80 farmers’ fields under rain-fed conditions.

These models were intensively exposed to various stakeholders particularly the Government and AF lobbied for their scaling up under MGNREGS. 

The Government consequently came up with a policy for promoting rain-fed tree crops under MGNREGS and took it up on a massive scale in the district. Due to this Government initiative about 1700 ha of mango & other tree crops came up in the project area including Watershed Villages benefitting over 1500 farmers, particularly the SC, ST and other small & marginal farmers. In order to avoid duplication, AF withdrew from promoting new tree crops. AF shifted its focus from promotion to supporting the farmers with extension services protecting the young tree plants, pest & disease management, productivity enhancement and market intelligence etc. AF planned to do it through mass campaigns and on-the-field demonstrations of pruning, fertiliser management, pest management & productivity enhancement techniques. 

AF encouraged the farmers with mango and other orchards to access the Government to construct farm ponds on their fields and to line it with cement & clay mixture for storing & using rain water for protective irrigation. The impact of these efforts was clearly observed during the reporting period with farmers demanding construction of such farm ponds from the Government.  

 

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