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Sustaining the supply of White Gold: The case of SysCom innovation platforms in India

Andres, C.; Mandloi, L.S. and Bhullar, G.S. (2016) Sustaining the supply of White Gold: The case of SysCom innovation platforms in India. In: Dror, I.; Cadilhon, J.-J.; Schut, M.; Misiko, M. and Maheshwari, S. (Eds.) Innovation Platforms for Agricultural Development: Evaluating the mature innovation platforms landscape. Routledge, London, UK, chapter 8, pp. 133-150.

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Document available online at: https://cgspace.cgiar.org/handle/10568/687


Increasing concerns about global food security, depleting fossil reserves and diminishing natural resources question the continuation of energy-intensive conventional agriculture and emphasize the importance of sustainable alternatives such as organic agriculture. Even though organic farming is more ecologically sustainable and often economically advantageous, widespread adoption is limited as farmers making adoption-decisions are faced with challenging trade-offs (e.g. lower yields in the short term, limited options for crop nutrition and pest control and non-existence of markets for organic produce). This highlights the importance of innovation platforms involving relevant stakeholders (farmers, researchers, extensionists, etc.) in decision-making processes to overcome system trade-offs.
Studies conducted in temperate zones have provided experimental evidence on the benefits of organic agriculture, but scientific data on this issue from (sub)tropical zones are scarce. In order to fill this knowledge gap and to provide appropriate innovation platforms, the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) has set up a programme (SysCom) in Kenya, India and Bolivia. Started in 2006-07, SysCom includes a network of long-term farming systems comparison experiments (LTE) and participatory on-farm research (POR) trials. The combination of LTEs and PORs facilitates decision-making processes by involving local stakeholders in the process of innovation development, thereby overcoming system trade-offs. In the following, the project in India is presented as it provides an exemplar showcasing these processes.
Established in 2006 in the Nimar Region, the LTE has served as a meeting point around sustainable agriculture with hundreds of visitors annually. Involved stakeholders included a contract farming cooperation, an NGO, researchers, an organic cotton trading and processing company (providing assured market access to organic farmers), as well as donors representing NGOs, retailers and governmental development agencies.
Cotton farming is the main livelihood activity in the project area. Most local farmers grow transgenic Bt cotton (90% of cotton area) on farms sized between 0.25 and 5 ha. However, there are tens of thousands organic cotton farmers cultivating on the predominant regional soil type: alkaline Vertisols (“black cotton soils”). The precipitation reactions of phosphorous (P) ions under alkaline conditions result in low P availability for plant growth. This poses a particular problem to organic farmers because their choices of P fertilizers are limited. Consequently, the insufficient P supply negatively affects cotton fiber quality. To improve the plant availability of P contained in local rock phosphate (RP), we assessed local practices and constraints through focus group discussions in 2009. Subsequently, the combination of LTE and PORs was capitalized to address the issue from 2010-11 through 2014-15.
We found that solubilizing RP with butter milk (BM) for one week in a ratio BM:RP = 10:1 may be optimal for increasing P availability, and that local farmers favored a shaded, shallow pit system for conserving their farm yard manure (FYM). Combining these insights led to the formulation of the “RP-enriched-FYM (RP-FYM)” technology. Thereafter, five local lead farmers started producing RP-FYM. Each lead farmer was associated with several farmers for training and distribution of the first RP-FYM load for trials with cotton, soybean and wheat on some 40 farms. Results showed mean yield increases in the RP-FYM treatment (compared to farmers’ practices) of 41%, 40% and 14% for seed cotton, soybean and wheat grains, respectively. Results were consistent across different types of soils and farms.
To enhance knowledge transfer and adoption, a competition was launched. In a ceremony with some 100 farmers, the farmer who produced the best RP-FYM was awarded with a cow and calf, while the other participants were rewarded with consolation prizes. The award ceremony was capitalized for dissemination and encouragement to spread the information by word to mouth; illustrated leaflets were distributed in English and Hindi. Posters were distributed to the extension centers with an outreach to 5’000-9’000 organic cotton farmers. It became apparent that farmer to farmer extension is a powerful tool which increases the acceptance of novel technologies.
Through facilitating stakeholder exchange/mutual learning, the project has overcome a technological challenge through development of the RP-FYM technology. Consequently, organic cotton farmers increased their crop yields, thereby tackling food security with limited resources. This contributed to their livelihoods and gave them more flexibility for decision-making. The RP-FYM technology contributes to climate change mitigation because the energy-intensive production of synthetic P fertilizers from RP is not necessary. Potential improvements of the technology are currently being explored in further trials, and the socioeconomic sustainability is being addressed to elucidate potential constraints for widespread adoption. Local availability of FYM and its market characteristics/dynamics are being investigated, as the availability of biomass for organic cultivation and the respective land and labor needed to produce, collect and transform the biomass is a major research need for organic farming systems. In the same way, we are currently capitalizing our innovation platform to develop locally adapted technologies for organic pest control, another major constraint for organic cotton production in smallholder contexts.

EPrint Type:Book chapter
Subjects: Knowledge management > Education, extension and communication
"Organics" in general > Countries and regions > India
Research affiliation: Switzerland > FiBL - Research Institute of Organic Agriculture Switzerland > International
Deposited By: Andres, Christian
ID Code:29772
Deposited On:19 Feb 2016 10:29
Last Modified:27 Jan 2023 09:17
Document Language:English
Refereed:Peer-reviewed and accepted

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