Developing direct-seeding options for rice farmers in the Indo-Gangetic Plains

The rice-wheat farming systems of the Indo-Gangetic Plains (IGP) are essential to India’s food security. These systems face multiple threats, however, to the future of the natural resource base. These threats include increased costs for irrigation and fuel, seasonal labor shortages, and unsustainable use of groundwater. In addition, climate change means increasingly variable monsoons that are likely to pose further constraints. Direct-seeded rice, as an alternative to transplanted rice, provides a potential entry point to save labor, reduce reliance on irrigation water, and increase productivity of the wheat crop. Technology options for direct seeding and related weed management were developed and validated in India commencing with on-station experiments and small-scale on-farm trials in 2000 and increasing to a total of more than 100 farmers’ field trials by 2005. These farmers’ trials, which compared both wet and dry direct-seeded rice with transplanted rice, were conducted in the states of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar by four agricultural universities. The trials involved a wide community of farming stakeholders in diverse agroecosystems, and spanned mechanized farms (>2 ha) in Uttarakhand to smallholder farms (>=0.5 ha) in Bihar reliant on manual labor. Direct seeding is ‘knowledge-intensive’ and farmers require access to considerable amounts of information in order to respond to the variability of the monsoon, soil conditions, and weed infestations. Making such information available within the farm communities, and providing them w
ith tools to aid better decision making and the means to evaluate their crop own management, is critical to the successful adoption of such practices. Activities with farmers’ groups have continued since 2005 to validate direct-seeding practices on-farm, and also to explore the constraints to adoption and the information requirements to support effective farmer decision making.