By Sara Duncan
Indian farmer Jamuna Lal had always planted his corn crop the same way: he mixed the corn seed with the fertilizer and spread it out over the field. Like many farmers in his village, he also used a traditional method of a bullock-drawn indigenous plough based system. Using this method results in the random spacing of seeds and direct contact with fertilizer—both factors decrease yield.
After seeing farmers experiment with mechanization, Lal decided to join a project that introduced him to a new sowing and fertilizing drill that would revolutionize his farming practice.
The seed cum fertilizer drill was developed as part of Project SHARE (Sustainable Harvest: Agriculture, Resources and Environment), a partnership between Monsanto India and the Indian Society of Agribusiness Professional (ISAP), to empower cotton and corn small and marginal land holders across three states and 1,100 villages.
Project SHARE also has a farm advisory and extension service that works to communicate the importance of modern cultivation practices to farmers in Rajasthan’s Bhilwara and Bundi districts. The project’s goal is to enable farmers to augment yields and thereby incomes.
After one growing season, Lal has doubled his yield and saved 30 percent on seed costs. He and other Indian farmers are enjoying higher yields because of one change in their farming techniques:mechanization.
Monsanto India and ISAP realized improper sowing, which results in poor plant geometry in the field and affects optimum plant population, was preventing farmers from receiving the maximum benefit of Monsanto’s seed.
To address the issue, Monsanto India, ISAP and Project SHARE’s participating farmers contributed to the cost of developing the seed cum fertilizer drill, demonstrating the farmers’ willingness to not only learn but also adopt modern practices that they now believe can help them achieve higher yields.
“Seed and fertilizer are two basic inputs that go into the soil at the outset – at the time of seeding the crop,” Jyotsna Bhatnagar, Monsanto India corporate social responsibility lead, said. “A seed cum fertilizer drill is a device that controls seed and fertilizer quantities to conform to ideal spacing recommendations. The drill contains a double-box seed drill with sub sections divided for seed and fertilizer. This makes it possible to adjust seed and fertilizer rates individually, with the help of input adjuster. The best part is that it is useful and usable for other crops as well. This will improve its application in the village and shows its applicability throughout the year for sowing of crops.”
The development and adoption of the seed drill has enabled farmers to produce more and conserve more. Farmers have seen yield increases anywhere from two to six tons per hectare in one growing season. They’ve also seen better seed rates, meaning more seeds per hectare which saves on inputs like fertilizer.
“Sustainable change in the production environment is a globally accepted objective in farming enterprise,” Bhatnagar said. “Donations, subsidies, or no-cost interventions are a short-lived approach with serious long-term negative impacts, especially on the psychology of the users/ beneficiaries. Sharing costs on the other hand is known to bring self-confidence and self-esteem to the owner who enjoys the benefits on a much bigger horizon than merely financial.”
The team anticipates expanding the geography covered by the drill. More than 2,500 farmers—with a total acreage of more than 5,000 acres in 400 villages–are currently enrolled in Project SHARE, leaving a significant opportunity for expansion. Based on the interest level of the farmers, the team foresees increased usage by the wet season of 2011. To encourage that, the drill is showcased at every farmer event including buyer-seller meetings, demonstration plots, farm shows and government events.
“Project SHARE envisages developing farmers as the agents of a sustainable change for farming to become a lucrative enterprise for generations to come,” Bhatnagar said. “This change is already manifesting itself in farming practices and the lives of farmers. With agriculture being a ‘seeing is believing’ activity, non-project farmers are already learning from the project farmers, with many having hired the seed drill in its first season.”