Bikram Palatasingh. a smallholder farmer in Puri District, took more than 20 years to be able to buy agricultural machines. But, without any formal training in operating them, his initial experience was unsuccessful because of his lack of technical knowledge and not having advanced machines. His situation changed after participating in a training program for tractor owners, progressive farmers, the youth, and others.
“I felt like a warrior who had received the right weapon and nobody could stop me from winning the war now,” Mr. Palatasingh said. “Mechanized sowing and its custom service provision is a win-win innovation for both the farmers and service providers.”
Bikram Palatasingh, 56, is a smallholder farmer from Gadasanput Village of Kanas block in Puri District. After completing his formal education, Mr. Palatasingh worked temporarily as an electrician at Central Rice Research Institute (CRRI). While working at CRRI, out of curiosity, he learned about improved rice farming methods. After leaving his electrician job, he went into farming to support his family.
When he became a farmer, Mr. Palatasingh could not own farm machinery because of his financial situation. It took him more than 20 years to be able to buy a tractor, a seed drill, and an electric open-drum-thresher through government subsidy schemes in 2009, 2013, and 2018, respectively.
Without any formal training on using the machines, he learned by doing. He used the machines mostly on his own farm. The tractor was also rented out for non-agricultural use.
His initial experience with the seed drill was not ideal. The machine did not sow the seeds uniformly hence he failed to achieve optimal plant population. He also faced weed infestation. For these reasons, he was not able to fully utilize the seed drill. Other farmers, after witnessing his unsuccessful attempts, lost their interest in sowing crops mechanically.
Technology and farmer-driven intervention
Strengthening and facilitating the access of small and marginal farmers to mechanized seeding and services for kharif rice and non-rice rabi season crops is one of the objectives of the Precision Direct-Seeded Rice-based Diversification Systems for Transforming Labour Requirement, Yields, and Profitability of Smallholder Farmers in Odisha (DSR-Odisha) Project.
The project, funded by the Government of Odisha, aims to address the numerous challenges that plague the agriculture sector in the state. These include traditional crop establishment practices that incur higher production costs and lower productivity, labor scarcity, drudgery, and unproductive fallows during the rabi season.
DSR-Odisha Project and the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) Project Team, in collaboration with partners, introduced mechanized direct-seeded rice (DSR) in kharif across five districts on a cluster approach for mass awareness and adoption. This was followed by mechanized sowing of non-rice crops in rabi season along with high-yielding varieties and hybrids, and best management practices.
Service providers, progressive farmers, women, and the youth were trained under the project on technological and business management aspects.
Based on CSISA’s experience in scaling such technologies through service providers, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) identified potential service providers by reaching out to tractor owners, progressive farmers, the youth, and others. Mr. Palatasingh was one of them.
A warrior with the right weapon
The project assessed the capacity development needs and engaged with him on various agricultural extension activities such as hands-on training on the seeding machine, field days, travel seminars, exposure visits, and public harvests.
Besides training him on the precise operation and calibration of a multi-crop planter, Mr. Palatasingh received technological and business management support for providing customized services on mechanized seeding to farmers in his locality. In August 2022, he was also involved in an exposure visit to a successful program on direct-seeded rice (DSR) conducted by Praanadhaara, a non-government organization based in Baptla and Guntur districts of Andhra Pradesh.
Moreover, he was given linkage support. Demonstrations on mechanized sowing with improved rice and hybrid varieties and tailored agronomy were put in his field during the 2022 kharif season to ensure more confidence.
Besides involving Mr. Palatasingh in these capacity-building programs, the project lent him an advanced multi-crop planter to service provision to other farmers. This is part of the project’s strategy of lending farmers project-owned machines to reach the maximum number of potential service providers and create a roster of established service providers.
“I felt like a warrior who had received the right weapon and nobody could stop me from winning the war now,” Mr. Palatasingh said.
From setback to wider success
His initial experience with the seed drill earlier was unsuccessful because of his lack of technical knowledge and not having advanced machines.
“People often blame technology when they cannot get the desired results,” Mr. Palatasingh said. “But in many cases, the farm machinery and equipment are not appropriate to the landscape or the operator is not skilled enough to operate the machines properly.”
In the 2022 kharif season, after receiving support from DSR-Odisha and CSISA, Mr. Palatasingh targeted 48 hectares of rice lands under mechanized DSR. This time, however, he has acquired a good working knowledge of machine capacity, the time it would take to meet his goals, the liquidity required, and other factors.
He started aggregating demand for mechanized DSR, well before the season started.
Initially, he could not convince farmers to accept the technology as they had seen him fail to grow the crops properly earlier. But he, along with the project team, persisted in explaining how seeding with new and advanced multi-crop planters using improved crop varieties and improved management practices will help resolve poor crop establishment, weeds, water, lack of labor, high production costs, and time.
He arranged meetings with farmers in his village and invited the project team. With such an inclusive approach, he convinced around 60 farmers to opt for mechanized DSR in 40 hectares of land during the 2022 kharif.
Economics of providing mechanized services to farmers
In the rabi season 2022-23, Mr. Palatasingh provided mechanized sowing service to 54 farmers for groundnut (12 ha), gram (16.4 ha), and maize (1.2 ha).
The profits he derived as a service provider of mechanized DSR were USD 9.42/ha and USD 8.13/ha for the non-rice crops. But he projects the profit margin would increase in the coming years by maximizing the efficiency of machine operation, mobility (field to field and village to village), use of other resources, and, most importantly, by serving more farmers.
In the 2022 kharif season, he earned USD 1,270.00 with a profit margin of USD 377.00. In the rabi season, he earned USD 940.00 with USD 240.00 in profit. The gross income and profit margin for his first year of service provision for both seasons were USD 2,210.oo and USD 617.00, respectively.
Without any subsidy on machine purchase, the service provider can get back all the investment he or she makes on machine purchase within three years of service. But it can also be achieved earlier, if more farmers can be brought into the service. In Odisha, the government offers a subsidy for agricultural machine purchases which means service providers can recover the cost of a multi-crop planter in one and a half years or less.
Ensuring higher system-level productivity and profitability through mechanized sowing
Under the supervision of the project team, Mr. Palatasingh adopted mechanized sowing on his farm for groundnut, green gram, and rice using tailored agronomy. Gains in productivity and production were expected from his mechanically established rice and groundnut.
The package incurred higher expenses on land preparation, sowing, and fertilizer.
The seed cost was also higher due to the higher price of improved and hybrid rice seeds (Swarna Masoori and Arize Dhani, respectively). But the seed rate was substantially lower at 20 kg/ha in drill-DSR compared to 62.5 kg/ha using traditional beushening (cross-plowing the dry-seeded standing rice crop 25-35 days after seeding when rainwater level in the field reaches 15-20 cm, followed by laddering and seedling redistribution).
The estimated cost of cultivation using Drill-DSR (USD 717.23/ha) and the cost of farmers’ practice (USD 718.34/ha) were basically the same. However, the rice grain productivity in Drill-DSR was 35% higher at an average of 5.75 tons/ha against an average of 4.25 tons/ha for farmers’ practice.
Overall, the cost of production in drill-seeded rice was 26% lower at USD 125.00/ton compared to USD 169.00/ton using farmers’ practice. The estimated net income from mechanized DSR was USD 731.00/ha than in the case of farmers’ practice at USD 361.00/ha. The benefit-cost ratio was 2.02 and 1.50, respectively.
Mr. Palatasingh cultivated the high-yielding groundnut variety Devi using mechanized seeding and the recommended management practices. He derived more benefits from this than traditional farmers’ broadcasting practice and management, using the local variety Anugul Badam.
The cost of groundnut cultivation using mechanized seeding was USD 811.00 /ha or 23% lower than the cost of land preparation and sowing using farmers’ practices. The mechanized seeded groundnut yield was 8.38 tons/ha compared to 1.88 tons/ha for farmers’ practice. The production cost in drill-seeded was 42% lower at USD 312.00/ton compared to farmers’ practice at USD 541.00/ton.
Regarding net income, Mr. Palatasingh earned an additional profit of USD 750/ha using mechanized seeding, high-yielding varieties, and best management practices for a total of USD 1,332/ha. Net income from traditional farmers’ practice was only USD 582.00/ha. The benefit-cost ratio was 2.71 and 1.57, respectively.
During the 2022-23 rabi season using Drill-DSR and traditional broadcasting. He noted that the net return from mechanized sowing of green gram using high-yielding varieties and best management practices was much higher over traditional farmers’ practice and management using a local variety.
“The cost of cultivation of green gram under mechanized seeding was USD 255.00/ha compared to the farmers’ practice which was USD 236.00/ha,” said Mr. Palatsingh. “The former was higher because of the costs the seed of improved variety, drill seeding, and best management practices.”
The drill-seeded green gram crop yield was 3.98 tons/ha or 89% higher than that of farmers’ practice at only 0.63 tons/ha. The resulting cost of production was 43% lower cost under mechanized seeding (USD 215.00/ton) compare to the farmers’ practice (USD 377.00/ton).
The net income derived by Mr. Palatasingh was 143% higher through mechanically established crops getting USD 757.00/ha over traditional farmers’ practice at USD 312.00/ha. The benefit-cost ratio was 3.97 and 2.32, respectively.
A win-win innovation
“Mechanized sowing and its custom service provision is a win-win innovation for both the farmers and service providers,” said Mr. Palatasingh. “This will play a major role in reviving direct seeding in my district.”
He said that it would be beneficial if one person can buy the machines and provide custom services to other farmers instead of a smallholder farmer buying a machine for self-use only.
Another approach is for more affluent farmers to buy agricultural machinery mostly for their own use and rent out the machines to service providers to extend such services to the needy farmers around. With such an agreement in advance, the project started creating service providers by developing their capacity through various means.
The case of Mr. Palatasingh highlights two aspects of mechanized sowing as an alternative crop establishment method. His experience in custom hiring service provision (the start-up, business management, costs, benefits) to farmers for mechanized sowing of rice and non-rice crops. And his experience as a farmer with the technology regarding its contribution to improving the system’s productivity and profitability.
Such insights and feedback could serve as an example for other farmers and other stakeholders, especially for the rural youth and women, to opt for agricultural mechanization for cost-effective production and sustainability, promote crop diversification, and rice-fallow intensification in the state.
Service provision through mechanized sowing can also create livelihood opportunities (as service providers, machine owners, machine operators, mechanics, and demand aggregators) for many job seekers and hence such interventions can also strengthen the rural economy.
The creation of more service providers and the service provision initiative will also help bring sustainability to the technology.
However, to achieve all these, continuous collaboration and coordination between public and private stakeholders is indispensable until a good number of farmers are aware of the technology, a sufficient number of service providers are available, skilled operators are developed, the availability of quality machines is ensured, and a panel of people is trained to take the technology forward.
Malho Marndi: A changemaker and a rising hope for mechanized direct-seeded rice in Odisha
Malho Marndi proudly recounts her journey as she returned to her village in Odisha, India to engage in farming and became a progressive farmer in her area. People described her as “mad” because she was quick to embrace agricultural innovations. Most farmers typically avoid them because of the uncertainties of the outcome of implementing modern practices. Now, seeing her success, her fellow farmers come to her for advice. “Unless we farmers try, we will not be able to decide on what will help us improve our productivity. Leaving land fallow is not the solution, if there is new technology let’s try!” she said.
How improved cultivation and groundnut variety helped a farmer build his future from the ground up
Shri Ganesh Kandi has not cultivated the groundnut on his farm in the past 10 years because of its low yield and low market price. With technical support from the DSR-Odisha/CSISA projects team, Ganesh successfully cultivated groundnut again during the 2021-22 rabi season. More importantly, it proved to be financially rewarding.
“The groundnut yield obtained in improved practice produced a record yield in the area,” said Ganesh. “This was achieved with minimal effort in terms of inputs. But mainly because of mechanical sowing, I could get a net income of USD 1,024 from one hectare.”
Improved cultivation and green gram varieties change a farmer’s story from struggle to success
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.