India is predominantly a rice growing country occupying nearly 44 million hectares of the total 194 million hectares of cropped area. Nonetheless, 67% of cultivated lands are occupied by small and marginal farmers where agriculture is more of a subsistence in nature. Challenges in such a situation further get aggravated with reduced farm size due to fragmentation of land holdings, ever increasing input costs, diminishing labour force, and absence of appropriate mechanization suiting smallholder farmer’s needs.
According to National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau (NNMB), 35% of rural people were found under-nourished whereas 42% children remained under-weight.
Hunger and poverty are the two perpetual problems among small and marginal farm families since many decades. A widespread poverty is evident in rural farm-households and agriculture remained a livelihood activity than dependable source of income generation. In rural India, close to 840 million people have little access to minimum daily nutrient requirements. According to National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau (NNMB), 35% of rural people were found under-nourished whereas 42% children remained under-weight.
Empowering smallholder farmers thereby should be of utmost priority addressing food and nutritional security in a sustainable manner. There are several inexpensive ways of doing that by introducing small on-farm interventions.
One, Introduction of pigeon pea for sowing on rice bunds which otherwise remain vacant. Both vegetable type as well as traditional dal type, perennial in nature, may be included. It serves as source of protein while consuming rice, in addition to meeting the needs of fodder, fuel and manure in an integrated manner. Farmers can easily harvest 50-70 kg pigeon pea per acre from the bunds.
Two, Sowing of short duration (65-70 days) green/black gram immediately after harvest of rice using residual soil moisture and fertility with the advent of pre-monsoon rains may contribute an addition minimum yield of 250-300 kg/acre besides the rice yield. Being a leguminous crop, it will leave behind 40-50 kg nitrogen per hectare that could support succeeding crop.
In an agrarian country like India dominated by resource poor small and marginal farmers confronted with low soil fertility, rotation with leguminous crops must be encouraged, or practicing Cereals-Legumes intercropping system as recommended by SAU/ICAR for a given zone/region. The practice of importing pulses which adds nitrogen in soils, improve soil organic matter beside diversified use in rural India will ruin smallholder farmers and the agrarian economy.
Author, Dr. M S Basu, Formerly, Director ICAR; Visiting Scientist ICRISAT, UNIDO International Consultant, Africa & Independent Consultant (Business Planning & Development) NAIP (Funded by World Bank)