AN INNOVATION in dryland farming has brought in much-needed relief to Karnataka’s sagging agriculture sector. thanks to Bhoo Chetana (soil enrichment), a cultivation technique initiated by the state government in 2009, productivity has shot up by more than 20 percent in dryland yield.
After Rajasthan, Karnataka has the largest dryland area in India. Agricultural growth has been low due to depleted soil and water deficiency.
The idea of the programme germinated in 2003 after a chance interaction between Suhas P Wani, assistant research programme director at International Crops Research Institute for the semi-Arid tropics (ICRISAT), Hyderabad, and the then Karnataka agriculture minister Umesh Katti, who was interested in Wani’s work in water conservation management for farming. Desperate to revive the state’s agriculture sector, which had seen a negative growth due to continuous drought, Katti persuaded Wani to come up with a solution.
“A holistic programme for efficiently managing the natural resources and increasing food production was needed,” says Wani. “the initiative was primarily to improve the drought-hit farming community through an increase in dryland crop production with the application of micronutrients and use of technology. Bhoo Chetana was a step in that direction.”
The Bhoo Chetana programme aimed to cover 55 lakh hectares and benefit 45 lakh marginal farmers, guiding them through efficient use of water, micronutrients and seed treatment with biopesticides.
The programme also came up with the unique feature of providing technological information to farmers at their doorstep through ‘farmer facilitators’ (village-level farm officers) who were selected from within the community. the state government appointed 10,000 such facilitators who played a key role in convincing the farmers to become part of the programme. It also used meetings and mass media to create awareness about the programme.
In 2009, Bhoo Chetana was implemented in six districts — Kolar, Chikkaballapur, Dharwad, Haveri, Chitradurga and Tumkur. By 2012, it was implemented in all 30 districts with 50 lakh hectares coming under the project.
Initial test results showed that the soil found in Karnataka was not only thirsty but also hungry as it was deficient in sulphur, zinc and boron. however, when the Bhoo Chetana techniques were applied, results showed a marked improvement in the yields of ragi, groundnut, maize and sunflower.
According to the data collated by ICRISAT, there was an increase of up to 345 percent in the yield of sunflower, 230 percent in ragi, 240 percent in groundnut, 150 percent in maize, 116 percent in soyabean and 27 percent in sorghum. Further scaling- up initiatives brought up to 58 percent increased yields even during drought-hit years.
Since Bhoo Chetana’s implementation, officials claim that productivity and incomes have increased by 20-25 percent and agricultural growth has risen by 6 percent.