Improved cultivation and green gram varieties change a farmer’s story from struggle to success

 Bidhan K. Mohapatra, Ashok Kumar, Virender Kumar, and Prakashan C. Veettil   |  

The story of Lingaraja Ratha from Odisha, India is evidence of how a farmer gains better income and food and nutritional choices for his household from technical support and training. His highly successful rice crop diversification, using improved green gram varieties and cultivation practices, is expected to motivate other farmers to adopt modern technology and varieties in Odisha and eastern India.  

Farmers and other stakeholders attend a seminar at the green gram demonstration field of Mr. Ratha.  (Photo: DSR Odisha Project/IRRI India)


Lingaraja Ratha, 71, from Srikanthpur Village in the Puri District of Odisha is a seasoned farmer with more than 45 years of experience in agriculture practicing both traditional and modern technologies.

Crop production has remained the primary occupation and main source of income for Mr. Ratha’s household. Out of 12 family members, six men and a woman are directly involved in agriculture. Presently, the household owns 1.8 hectares of agricultural land.

In the the last five years,  Mr. Ratha has been growing paddy,  eggplant, okra, cucumber, and beans during the kharif season. His rabi crops are green gram, black gram, horse gram, chili, pumpkin, and leafy vegetables.

The three main rice varieties the household has been planting are Kalachampa, Sarala, and RGL. The family usually replaces rice seeds each year.  The Bolagada, a local variety, is the only green gram the household has been cultivating for the past five years.

In the last two decades, Mr. Ratha has adopted some technologies, crop varieties, and best management practices but he has always been very critical and selective.

Mechanized sowing of non-rice crops in Mr. Ratha’s demo farm.  (Photo: DSR Odisha Project/IRRI India)


The advent of mechanization
In 2005, Mr. Ratha adopted mechanized land preparation through a service provider. Then, he started exploring other mechanized rice-production services such as harvesting, threshing, and transplanting in 2008, 2012, and 2015 respectively.

The mechanical transplanting of rice (MTR) was introduced by the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) in his village in 2015.  Since then he and a few other farmers have adopted MTR.  Mr. Ratha along with some other farmers has also tried mechanized sowing of pulses in 2016 through CSISA.

Whatever mechanization Mr. Ratha has adapted to date is through custom hiring service providers.

“Custom hiring service model is so effective that farm mechanization in the entire district is not too far!” he said.

But they could not adopt it thereafter due to a lack of quality seed drills and crop varieties.

A season for changes
During the 2021-22 rabi season the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and other stakeholders launched the Precision Direct-Seeded Rice-based Diversification Systems for Transforming Labour Requirement, Yields and Profitability of Smallholder Farmers in Odisha project in five districts.

Funded by the Government of Odisha, the project’s activities cover the adoption of mechanized direct-seeded rice during the kharif season as well as intensifying the rabi cropping system through mechanically sown and tailored agronomical practices for other promising crops.  Various crops were demonstrated at farmers’ fields so farmers can learn new practices and observe the effect of new technologies.

HUM-16, one of the improved green gram varieties showcased in the demo farm. (Photo: DSR Odisha Project/IRRI India)


The project aims to help enhance farmers’ income and diversify their food choices to ensure nutritional security. It also addresses rice fallow productivity, diversified and intensified cropping systems, soil health management, and reduction of agriculture’s environmental footprint.

The project team contacted Mr. Ratha to demonstrate the benefits of mechanized sowing of green gram and different varieties and agronomical practices on his farm following the harvesting of his kharif rice crop. He enthusiastically agreed.

The table below shows the farmers’ usual green gram production practices and the major changes in cultivation introduced by the project during the demonstration in rabi 2021-22.

Seeing is believing:  A showcase of measurable impacts
The project team also arranged a field day at the demo site for farmers, Krishi Vigyan Kendra staff, agriculture officials, scientists, and other stakeholders.

A few weeks after sowing, other farmers in the village frequently visited Mr. Ratha’s field to observe the crops. The optimal use of soil moisture, good quality seed, seed treatment, ideal machine calibration, skilled operator, and proper soil conditioning for sowing resulted in 100% seed germination.

Many were surprised and impressed to see such a healthy, uniform crop stand. This is something most farmers have not seen before.

A healthy, uniform crop stand of MH-421 green gram at the demo farm. (Photo: DSR Odisha Project/IRRI India)

Return on investments: farmer’s practice vs. improved practice
The changes in crop establishment methods involved little more costs for preparing the field for better sowing and germination. Although the seeds of improved varieties were more expensive, the overall seed cost decreased by 20% because of the lower seed rate.

To achieve a yield gain, the recommended fertilizer use escalated cultivation cost by 475% against zero fertilizer. Other expenses increased because of the increase in prices of inputs and services. It is estimated that the total cost of cultivation (cost incurred per hectare) of green gram cultivated through farmer’s practice and improved practice were USD 288/ha and USD 391/ha, respectively.

Overall, there was a 36% increase in the cost of cultivation (cost incurred per hectare) because of better agronomy and rising prices of inputs and services. However, the estimated cost of production (cost per ton of produce) of USD 196/ton in the improved practice is much lower than the farmer’s practice at USD 461/ton.  This is a 57% decrease in the cost of production.

A mass crop cutting experiment was conducted to know the yield performance of the crop through these demonstrations. The estimated yield level from the experiment surpassed expectations compared to farmers’ own crop production practice with local varieties. The green gram yield advantage from the demo field with improved practice turned out to be 1.36 tons/ha more than the farmer’s practice.

Mechanized sowing layered with improved seed and tailored agronomy resulted in a very high grain yield of 1.99 tons/ha whereas the yield of green gram in farmer’s practice was only 0.63 tons/ha.

Mr. Ratha and the other farmers and stakeholders were surprised to see such a high yield from the demonstration fields.

Because of its premium quality, the grain fetched higher demand and, hence, higher prices over the local variety. The farmer also mentioned many farmers used the improved varieties for seed purposes and hence purchased them at higher prices than the local Bolagada variety.

The calculated gross income from the improved method of cultivation of green gram from one hectare of land was USD 1,889 or 300% higher than the gross income obtained from the farmer’s practice in the same season.

Similarly, the demo farmer with improved practice derived a huge profit of USD 1,499/ha against a profit of only USD 184/ha from the farmer’s practice.

“This was beyond our imagination,” Mr. Ratha said. “I’ve never ever seen such a substantial change in any of the crops.”

Demonstration fields are an effective way of showing farmers and other stakeholders to understand the benefits of tailored agronomy and mechanization. (Photo: DSR Odisha Project/IRRI India)


A rewarding experience
While buying agricultural inputs and services was difficult for him to afford earlier, the intensive cultivation of green gram added a good sum to the household income. The family gained an additional annual income of USD 2,551.

Although both the traditional farmers’ practice and improved practice of green gram cultivation were economically viable, the benefit-cost-ratio for the farmers’ practice was substantially lower at 1.64 compared to 4.84 for the latter.

Mr. Ratha also said the family was able to keep more grain for their own consumption adding nutritional security for the family.

The success story of Mr. Ratha is evidence of a farmer who benefitted from the technical support from the IRRI and Odisha project team. His achievement is expected further to motivate other farmers, service providers, and stakeholders to adopt and popularize the improved technology and varieties in Odisha and eastern India.

Farmer’s perspectives and way forward
The mechanical sowing of improved green gram variety, with a few simple changes in the management practices and without any irrigation, has made a very strong impact on the farmers. They have clearly realized the significant monetary gain and better food and nutritional choices for the household.

“Through the demonstration, many farmers from here and from nearby villages now understand the tailored agronomy followed with line sowing,” Mr. Ratha said. “They are encouraged to follow the same on their farms.”

To enhance farmers’ income and prosperity, the improved practice needs to be popularized.

However, gaps such as the availability of appropriate multi-crop planters and improved varieties must be bridged up with technical support from relevant agencies and stakeholders to achieve mass adoption.

Strong coordination among the government (policy intervention), research and development institutions (technical support), private companies (machine/ input/output market), and farmers (on-the-ground needs) must be in place.  This inclusive approach is necessary for developing and executing models for custom hiring services, seed productions, improved varieties in formal seed systems, and diversified cropping systems to popularize the mechanized line sowing technology at scale.


1 Comment so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Md Abdus sobhan December 11, 2022 at 7:39 pm - Reply

    Excellent .

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