Peter R. Hobbs and Raj K. Gupta2




The rice-wheat cropping system is found on 13.5 million hectares in South Asia and is one of the most important cropping patterns for food self security in the region. This system is found in the fertile, hot semiarid to hot sub-humid regions of the Indus and Gangetic alluvial plains of Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Irrigation is commonly used to stabilize the productivity of this system using surface canal and sub-soil tubewell water. Area and yield growth has been responsible for continued production growth for these cereals over the past 30 years and has matched population growth and demand for food. This growth over the past 30 years was based on key inputs like variety, fertilizer and irrigation with most of the investment from the public sector. Future growth required to meet population growth will be close to 2.5% per year and must come from yield rather than area growth since the latter will decline as urbanization and industries spread to prime agricultural land. Competition for water will be a major challenge for agriculture and it is imperative that this scarce resource is used efficiently. This paper describes various resource conserving technologies that are being promoted by the rice-wheat consortium (one of 7 CGIAR eco-regional initiatives) to attain the goal of raising productivity in the region and meeting food security needs while at the same time efficiently using natural resources, including water, providing environmental benefits and improving the rural livelihoods of farmers and helping to alleviate poverty. This post green revolution technology will depend on farmer adoption and investment. Increasing and improving stakeholder participation in experimentation and fine-tuning of the technology will be a key to success. 





The rice-wheat cropping system is found on 13.5 million hectares in South Asia and is one of the most important cropping patterns for food self security in the region. Another 10 million hectares are found in China, mostly in the central areas of the Yangtze River Valley. This system is found in the fertile, alluvial Indo-Gangetic Plains (IGP) of Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan of South Asia. In this system rice is grown in the warm, sub-humid monsoon, summer months and wheat in the cooler, drier, winter season. Both crops are grown in one calendar year. Other crops, particularly in the winter, are also grown including pulses, oilseeds, potatoes, vegetables, fodders and sugarcane. Irrigation is a common feature of this system either from extensive surface canal systems or from shallow wells groundwater and tubewells (shallow or deep). Rainfed rice-wheat also exists, but the majority of farmers apply at least one irrigation for wheat and many a full irrigation schedule.  

The population growth rate in the IGP is still about 2% per year and will take a few decades to stabilize. It is estimated that about 2.5% growth in cereal production will be required to meet food demands in the next decade (Hobbs and Morris, 1996). During the past 30 years, agricultural production has been able to keep pace with population demand for food. This came about through significant area and yield growth. Area growth was a result of new lands being farmed and through increases in cropping intensity, from a single crop to double or even triple crops per calendar year. Area growth will be less important in its contribution to production growth in the future as more land is used for urban areas and industry. Yield growth will have to be the mainstay for providing the means for meeting future food demands unless food imports start to play a major role in South Asia. Evidence from some long-term experiments, however, show that problems of stagnating yields at levels far below the potential productivity and even yield declines are occurring in some areas in the rice-wheat systems of South Asia (Hobbs and Morris, 1996; Regmi, 2001a and 2001b; Dawe, 2000 and Duxbury, 2000). Total factor productivity is declining and farmers have to apply more fertilizer to obtain the same yields. Soil organic matter is declining, new weeds, pest and diseases are creating more problems, and paucity of irrigation water in northwest is resulting in excessive ground water developmentpumping. less available. Farmers are complaining about high input costs and low prices for their produce. Marketing of excess production is a burden for farmers and a problem to governments for storage. There is therefore a huge challenge ahead in the region to sustainably meet future food demands without damaging the natural resource base on which agriculture depends, producing food at a cost that is affordable by the poor, and with incentives to farmers that allow them to improve their livelihoods and ultimately alleviate poverty.

Water, the subject of this workshop, will become a major limiting factor for sustained production in the next decade in the IGP. Rapidly growing urban areas and industry will compete with agriculture for good quality water. There are already reports of declining water tables in some areas (Harrington 1993) leading to more costly pumping of groundwater and increased costs of production. In several other canal command other areas of the IGP, water tables are rising leading to secondary soil salinization. and bringing salts from brackish groundwater to the surface and degrading the soil. The inter-basin transfer of irrigation water to meet evapo-transpiration demands of the RW system is a key feature of intensively cultivated irrigated agriculture in the IGP. The demands for water from the rice-wheat system exceed that available from rain and canal supplies. Farmers often rely on use surface and groundwateras well,, which in places is low in quality either due to excessive salt content or to presence of residual alkalinity is often saline or alkaline, with detrimental effects to soil health. Long-term, regional hydrologic salt and water balances as influenced by existing and alternate management practices and as driven by policies (e.g., pricing, common property management) are crucial information, if we are to achieve sustainable agriculture in the region. Scientists are using crop growth simulation and risk analysis models to evaluate risk-efficient water-use strategies at the district level. Initial results suggest that improved water and energy pricing policies could reduce water use by 25%.  

This paper describes various resource conserving technologies that are being promoted by the rice-wheat consortium (one of 7 CGIAR eco-regional initiatives) to attain the goal of raising productivity in the region and meeting food security needs while at the same time efficiently using natural resources, including water, providing environmental benefits and improving the rural livelihoods of farmers.

Rice-wheat consortium and Indo-Gangetic Plains

The rice-wheat consortium was established in 1994 as a CG eco-regional initiative. A CGIAR eco-regional program is a combination of natural resource management and production (extension) in a defined geographical area with site specific socio-economic and policy environments (Figure 1). The rice-wheat consortium (RWC) for the Indo-Gangetic Plains is a successful partnership between national programs (Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan) in South Asia; several International Centers of the CGIAR (CIMMYT, IRRI, ICRISAT, CIP and IWMI) and various advanced international institutions (Cornell University, IAC, Wageningen, IACR, Rothamsted, CABI (UK), and Melbourne University). The RWC focuses on issues of raising the productivity and sustainability of rice-wheat systems of South Asia in an efficient way and by conserving natural resources leading to improved livelihoods and reduction of poverty.  

The major success of the RWC in the last few years has been the development and deployment of resource conserving technologies with farmers in the rice-wheat systems of South Asia (Hobbs, 2001a and Hobbs, 2001b). One major hurdle was the changing of the mindsets of all the partners concerned since the old phrase ��the more you till the more the yield�� was stubbornly adhered to and a lot of effort was required to overcome this bias. In this paper, resource-conserving technologies (RCTs) are defined as any practice that will result in improvement of the efficiency of natural resources. Water is the major natural resource described in this paper. Another term, used by FAO for RCTs is conservation agriculture. Globally, these technologies are rapidly gaining popularity among farmers as they result in higher production at less cost with significant benefits to the environment and more efficient use of natural resources. This ultimately results in higher profits, cheaper food, and improved farmer livelihoods. Crop diversification is also easier as less land is needed to produce staple cereals, freeing up land for other crops. Interestingly, farmers are bearing the capital cost of this new technology as opposed to the public sector.  

Another major challenge in the region is how the knowledge intensive technologies are transferred to the farmers, especially with weak linkages of existing extension systems. This has been accomplished by the RWC through promotion of participatory approaches and expanded partnerships with stakeholders. 


A description of the various resource conserving technologies

A basket of resource conserving technologies is being developed and made available to farmers for experimentation and adoption. Some are based on reduced tillage for wheat including zero-tillage. Bed planting systems are being promoted to increase water use efficiency and when combined with reduced tillage in a permanent bed system provide even more savings. Laser leveling combined with these tillage systems provides additional benefits. Many of the benefits of the tillage options for wheat are lost when rice soils are traditionally puddled (plowed while wet). System based technologies are now being promoted that do away with puddling so that total system productivity is raised. Use of groundwater to obtain early rice planting and efficient use of rainwater is another technology. The various technologies are described briefly below:

Surface seeding

Surface seeding is the simplest zero-tillage system being promoted. In this tillage option wheat seed is placed onto a saturated soil surface without any land preparation. This is a traditional farmer practice for wheat, legume and other crop establishment in parts of Eastern India and Bangladesh. Wheat seed is either broadcast before the rice crop is harvested (relay planted) or after harvest.

Promotion of surface seeding to plant wheat has been done for several years in areas where the soils are fine textured, drain poorly, and where land preparation is difficult and often results in a cloddy tilth. The key to success with this system is having the correct soil moisture at seeding. Too little moisture results in poor germination and too much moisture can cause seed to rot. A saturated soil is best. The roots corkscrew into germinate into the moist soil and follow the saturation fringe as it drains down the soil profile. The high soil moisture reduces soil strength and thus eliminates the need for tillage. Once the root germinates and extends into the soil, the root can follow the saturation fringe and still get sufficient oxygen for growth. Additional irrigation may not be needed if the roots can penetrate the surface layers., sSoils do not dry up toor increase resistance for root to penetrate and so roots can follow the water table down the profile.

In China, where surface seeding is also practiced, farmers apply cut straw to mulch the soil, reduce evaporative losses of moisture and control weeds. The standing stubble also protects the young seedlings from birds. However, relay planting can be done only if the soil moisture is correct for planting at this stage.

One of the major pluses of surface seeding is that no costly equipment is needed and any farmer can easily adopt this practice. Use of a drum or simple seeder for line sowing is found advantageous. This system is being monitored in farmer fields to determine if continuous surface seeding is possible or whether a rotation of tillage systems may be needed to control future weed problems.

Zero-Tillage with Inverted-T openers

This is another RCT where the seed is placed into the soil by a seed drill without prior land preparation. This technology, which has been tested in Pakistan (Sheikh, 1993; Aslam, 1993), is presently being tested in other areas of the Indo-Gangetic Flood Plains, including India and Nepal. This technology is more relevant in the higher yielding, more mechanised areas of northwestern India and Pakistan, where most land preparation is now done with four-wheel tractors. However, in order to extend the technology in Eastern parts areas of the IGP in Bangladesh, equipment for 2-wheel hand tractors and bullocks is being modified .modified. developed.

The basis for this technology is the inverted-T openers (figure 2) that were developed and imported from New Zealand. This coulter and seeding system places the seed into a narrow slot made by the inverted-T as it is drawn through the soil by the four-wheel tractor. The coulters can be rigid or spring-loaded depending on the design and cost of the machine. This type of seed drill works very well in situations where there is little surface residue after rice harvest. This usually occurs after manual harvesting. Not needed, can be deleted.

Where combine harvesting is becoming popular, loose straw and residue creates a problem for the inverted-T opener. Farmers presently burn residues to overcome this problem of loose stubble whether they use 0-till or the traditional system. Since the RWC want to discourage this practice, that has major environmental and air pollution issues, future strategies will look at alternative machinery and techniques to overcome this problem. Leaving the straw as mulch on the soil surface has not been given much thought in Asian agriculture. However, results from rainfed systems and some preliminary results in Asia suggest that this may be very beneficial to early establishment and vigour of crops planted this way (Sayre, 2000) and for soil moisture conservation , water infiltration and erosion. Studies are needed to explore the regional scale benefits and longer term consequences of this practice, already being practicedadopted in some way in the zero-till wheat system.idea .

Interestingly, significantly fewer weeds were found under zero-tillage compared to conventional tillage (Verma and Srivastava 1994 and 1989; Singh, 1995)), which is the opposite of the experience with zero-tillage systems in developed countries (Kuipers 1991; Christian and Bacon 1990). This observation has been confirmed in many other locations. Results from 336 on-farm trials in Haryana are shown in Figure 3 where significantly lower weed counts were found in fields with zero-tillage either before or after herbicide applications. This difference can be explained by the nature of the weeds found in the rice-wheat cropping system. Most of the weeds affecting the wheat crop germinate during the croponly in the wheat season, and since the soil is disturbed less under zero-tillage, fewer weeds are exposed and fewer germinate. Also before the weeds are able to grow and compete, the main crop is able to cover up the surface and significantly reduce weed biomass. Weed problems typically are more severe under conventional tillage than under zero tillage, at least in the near term. Longer-term research is needed to anticipate future consequences on tillage changes on weed populations (for example, to quantify likely shifts in weed species and the effects if those shifts on yield stability).

Earlier planting is the main reason for the additional yields obtained under zero-tillage (Table 1). Zero-tilled plots were planted as close as possible to 14- 20 November, the optimum date for planting wheat in India and Pakistan. The results of many trials suggest that the longer the farmer delays planting, the lower the yield. This finding has been confirmed in trials throughout the Indo-Gangetic plains in the past few years. In Haryana, surveys and crop cuts have shown that 0-till produces 4-500 kg/ha more grain than traditional systems. This is attributed to earlier, timely planting, less weeds, better plant stands and improved fertilizer efficiency because of placement with the seed drill. Some farmers are now in their 4th year of adoption of 0-till and find no deleterious effects that would make them revert back to the traditional system.

Reduced tillage

The Chinese have developed a seeder for their 12 horsepower, two-wheel diesel tractor that prepares the soil and plants the seed in one operation. This system consists of a shallow rotovator followed by a six-row seeding system and a roller for compaction of the soil. Several tractors and implements were imported from Nanjing, China, into Nepal, Pakistan, and India, where they have been tested over the past few years with positive results. In Bangladesh, farmers are using more than 200,000 hand tractors from China. Soil moisture was also found to be critical in this reduced tillage system. The rotovator fluffs up the soil, which then dries out faster than with normal land preparation. The seeding coulter does not place the seed very deep, so soil moisture must be high during seeding to ensure germination and root extension before the soil dries appreciably. Modification of the seed coulter to place the seed a little deeper would help correct this problem.

The main drawback of this technology is that the tractor and the various implements are not easily available and spare parts and maintenance is major issue. It would help if the private or public sector in South Asian countries could import this machinery or develop a local manufacturing capability. As it becomes more costly to keep and feed a pair of bullocks for a year, more farmers in the region are turning to significantly cheaper mechanized options of land preparation. One of the benefits of this tractor is that it comes with many options for other farm operations; it includes a reaper, rotary tiller, and a moldboard plough, and it can also drive a mechanical thresher, winnowing fan, or power source for pumping water. However, most farmers are attracted to the tractor because it can be hitched up to a trailer and used for transportation. For smaller-scale farmers who cannot afford their own tractors, custom hiring is a common alternative.

The Chinese tractor can also be used with a rotovator (Bangladesh) to quickly prepare the soil and incorporate the seed after a second pass. This speeds up the planting and results in better stands with less cost than traditional methods. However, the Chinese seeder attachment does a better job because the seed are placed at a uniform depth in the single pass. Engineers are experimenting with removing some of the blades that rototill the soil. In this way, a strip of soil is cultivated rather than the whole area. This reduces the power needs and costs and makes it easier for farmers to manage the tractor. In India, a four-wheel tractor version of this ��strip-tillage�� machinery is available.

Bed planting systems

In bed planting systems, wheat or other crops are planted on raised beds. This practice has increased dramatically in the last decade or so in the high yielding, irrigated wheat-growing area of northwestern Mexico (Meisner, 1992; K. Sayre, 1997). Bed planting in Mexico rose from 6% of farmers surveyed in 1981 to 75% in 1994, and farmers have given the following reasons for adopting the new system:

  1. Management of irrigation water is improved.
  2. Bed planting facilitates irrigation before seeding and thus provides an opportunity for weed control prior to planting.
  3. Plant stands are better.
  4. Weeds can be controlled mechanically, between the beds, early in the crop cycle.
  5. Wheat seed rates are lower.
  6. After wheat is harvested and straw is burned, the beds are reshaped for planting the succeeding soybean crop. Burning can also be eliminated.
  7. Herbicide dependence is reduced, and hand weeding and roguing is easier.
  8. Less lodging occurs.

This system is now being assessed for suitability in the Asian Subcontinent. At Punjab Agricultural University, two bed widths and two or three rows of wheat planted per bed were compared with conventional flat bed planting. Two rows on 70cm beds were best. Two of the major constraints on higher yields in northwestern India and Pakistan are weeds and lodging. Both can be reduced in bed planting systems. The major weed species affecting wheat, Phalaris minor, is normally controlled using the herbicide Isoproturon, which is not always effective. Farmers do not always apply Isoproturon well or on time; in addition, recent reports have confirmed that P. minor has developed Isoproturon resistance (Malik and Singh 1995; Malik 1996; Malik, 1998). Alternative integrated weed strategies must be developed to overcome this problem. Preliminary observations indicate that P. minor is less prolific on dry tops of raised beds than on the wetter soil found in conventional flat bed planting. Cultivating between the beds can also reduce weeds. Thus bed planting provides farmers with additional options for controlling weeds.

Lodging is also less of a problem on raised beds. Additional light enters the canopy and strengthens the straw, and the soil around the base of the plant is drier. Reduced lodging can have a significant effect on yield, since many farmers in the Punjab do not irrigate after heading precisely because they want to avoid lodging. As a result, water can become limiting during grain filling, resulting in lower yields. On raised beds this irrigation need not be avoided for the reasons stated.

Results show that there are no significant difference between flat and bed planted systems, which means that yield was not sacrificed by moving to a bed system (table 2). In fact, with the proper variety (PBW 226), the yield from bed planting can surpass that of planting on the flat. Upright varieties such as HD 2329 perform poorly on beds and cannot compensate for the gap between the beds. Figure 4 shows some results from Haryana in 1998-99 and similar results are found since then. Wheat planted on beds is gaining popularity in Haryana and Punjab of India and in the Punjab of Pakistan. Farmers are particularly pleased with the water savings they obtain from bed systems.

An additional advantage of bed planting becomes apparent when beds are ��permanent�� – that is, when they are maintained over the medium term and not broken down and re-formed for every crop. In this system, wheat is harvested and straw is left or burnt. Passing a shovel down the furrows reshapes the beds. The next crop (soybean, maize, sunflower, cotton, etc.) can then be planted into the stubble in the same bed. Research in farmer fields has also shown that rice can be grown on beds making this system feasibility in the rice-wheat pattern. Rice can be grown on beds by either transplanting seedlings or direct seeded. At the moment, transplanting on beds is best since normal herbicides used for transplanted rice can be used to control weeds. As dry seeded herbicides become available and weeds can be managed, dry seeded rice on beds will become more attractive. One farmer in the Punjab obtained 9t/ha of rice transplanted on beds and saved more than 50% of the water he normally applies on flat, transplanted rice. This is being confirmed through monitoring water use in bed planted plots this year.

The use of beds also provides a way for improving fertilizer use efficiency. This is achieved by placing a band of fertilizer in the bed at planting or topdress. Using slow release formulations and experimenting with urea super granules can make further improvements. Both can be applied in the bed at the time of planting with the seed cum fertilizer drill.

Multi use of low quality water

Low quality waters are often used in cyclic mode in the Indo-Gangetic plains. At times they are blended with canal water in water courses to improve the total water supply and also the flow rates.  Blending of low and good quality waters have earlier been discouraged because of their adverse effect on crop productivity. However, if the resultant electrical conductivity of the blended water supplies is less than the threshold conductivity, they can be used safely. In combination with new RCTs, blending of water multi-quality water supplies in on-farm water storage reservoirs not only improves the quality of waters having residual sodium carbonates and overcome problems associated with nightthis water, but can also improve the use of rainwater and water productivity and yields of a bed planted wheat crop. Preliminary results of a trial conducted in Pakistan have been very encouraging. Bed planting system also offers scope for use of even the saline waters. When saline waters are applied in raised bed-furrow land configuration, it permits salt movement to the top of the raised beds keeping the rootzone relatively free of salts at the sill and below the furrow. This improves the ability of the plants to avoid early salt injury at seedling stage and subsequently improve salt tolerance of the crop due to crop ontogeny. Bed planting when combined with mulching or residue retention has the potential to reduce evaporation losses from the soil surface, salinization and further improve crop productivity in saline environments.

Non-puddling for rice

The benefits of the new resource conserving tillage options listed above are lost when rice soils are puddle (ploughed when wet). The RWC is therefore encouraging research on-station and with farmers to find ways to eliminate this soil degrading process. Most rice farmers in South Asia traditionally puddle their soils to help pond water, reduce percolation losses and control weeds. Initial data indicates that rice fields do not need to be flooded after the first few weeks and that puddled soils have more cracking and need more water once the fields dry. Initial flooding though is important to promote tillering and to more effectively control weeds. Studies are also being initiated to determine the exact water balance for the puddled and non-puddled conditions at the field, water course and command level. This is being done for fields where bed planting is practiced and in fields with flat planting, with and without tillage. As mentioned above, farmers feel that bed planted rice saves water over the traditional system. Quantitative data will be available soon to confirm this.

Data presented in figure 5 shows that wheat yields are significantly better when wheat is planted with 0-till after non-puddled rice than after puddled rice. The data also shows that rice yields are similar between puddled and non-puddled situations if weeds can be controlled. This shows that RCTs need to be assessed on a systems basis and not on a single commodity.

Laser levelling

All the above technologies can benefit from levelled fields. This is being promoted in Pakistan as a means to improved water efficiency. However, when this is combined with 0-tillage, bed planting and non-puddled rice culture, plant stands are better, growth is more uniform and yields higher. Use of permanent bed systems and 0-tillage results in less soil disturbance and reduces the need for future levelling. India is also starting work on this and promoting levelling in farmer fields in Haryana and Western UP.

Supplemental water use in eastern India


The winter season following the long rainy season is short in Eastern India. Long-term analysis of the rainfall data clearly indicates that there are three distinct periods of moisture availability. The early moist period (evaporation exceeds rainfall) extends over 12-18 days followed by 93-139 days of humid moist period wherein precipitation exceeds potential evapo-transpiration. This is followed by a moist period of 17-22 days where once again rainfall is less than evapo-transpiration. If the rice seedlings and crop can be established early in the first moist period, before the humid period, the rice crop can benefit from the monsoon rain and grow without the need for irrigation. Timely transplanting of rice also results in earlier harvests and allows timely planting of the next wheat crop. The results of farmer participatory field trials showed that the strategy of timely transplanting of rice improves wheat yields. Rice wheat system productivity was nearly 12-13 tons per ha when rice was transplanted before 28th June. This was reduced by more than 40% when fields were planted after 15th August (to 6-7 tons/ha). 

It was also reported that peripheral bunds 18-20 centimeter in height around fields could store nearly 90 percent of total rainwater in situ for improved growth and production of rice.


Benefits of the RCT��s in terms of water use

Farmers are adopting the new RCT��s quickly. Figure 6 shows the rapid adoption of 0-tillage in the region. More than 100,000 ha of wheat were grown that way last year and this is expected to increase to a million in the next few years. Farmer feedback on water savings with these new technologies essentially says that they save water. For zero-tillage, farmers report about 25-30% savings. This comes in several ways. First, 0-tillage is possible just after rice harvest and any residual moisture is available for wheat germination. In many instances where wheat planting is delayed after rice harvest farmers have to pre-irrigate their fields before planting. 0-till saves this irrigation. Savings in water also comes from the fact that an untilled soil has less infiltration than a tilled soil and so water flows faster over the field. That means farmers can apply irrigation much faster. Because 0-tillage takes immediate advantage of residual moisture from the previous rice crop, as well as cutting down on subsequent irrigation, water use is reduced by about 10 cm-hectares, or approximately 1 million liters per hectare. One additional benefit is less waterlogging and yellowing of the wheat plants after the first irrigation that is a common occurrence on normal ploughed land. In 0-till, less water is applied in the first irrigation and this yellowing is not seen. 

Farmers also report water savings in bed planting. Farmers commonly mention 30-50% savings in this system. Farmers also indicate that it is easier to irrigate with bed planting. Obviously, half the space is used for water and so less water is used. The question is whether farmers need to apply more number of irrigations with this system. This is being studied in a newly started RWC ADB project in Pakistan and India. In the initial year of planting rice on beds, farmers estimated they used 50-65% less water than on the flat. They kept the beds flooded for the first week, but were then able to cut down on irrigation frequency later. This also needs to be confirmed with good quantitative data. 

The On-Farm water Management staff of Pakistan��s Punjab comparing RCT farms has collected data on water use efficiency (Gill, 2000). This is presented in table 3 for two locations. All the systems provided better water use efficiency compared to traditional systems. Average water saved with laser leveling, zero-tillage and bed planting over the traditional was 715, 689, and 1329 m3/ha with a value of rupees 522, 503 and 970 per ha based on a water rate of Rs900/acre-foot for private tubewells for the year 1999-2000. 

We still need to collect the data for the water use under puddled and non-puddled rice cultivation. Definitely, water percolation will be higher in non-puddled situations, but the total water use may be less since no water is needed for seedling raising or puddling the main field. Also when puddled soils dry, and many farmers cannot keep their fields continuously flooded, soils crack and so the field needs more water to fill the profile when water is next added. Less cracking occurs in non-puddled soils. Data is also being accumulated that the rice crop does not need to be kept flooded the whole season. Standing water is needed early to help tillering and control weeds, but later this is not required.


Importance of participatory technology development

Adoption of RCTs in South Asia has been rapid over the past few years, especially for 0-till with the inverted-T planter. Figure 6 show that more then 100,000 ha was grown last year. This success was possible because of the application of participatory approaches for accelerating adoption. The traditional extension system that was so effective in the early years of the GR was based on development of recommendations and packages and then having the extension service demonstrate the technology to farmers. Seed and fertilizer was easily packaged and it was possible to layout many trials at low cost. When this traditional extension system was used for extending RCTs, problems arose. The first problem was the availability of the machinery to conduct the demonstrations. However, the main constraint was convincing farmers, extension workers and at times scientists that this technology had any benefit. Success came once partners were allowed to work together and experiment with the technology. Local manufacturers had to be involved in the development and manufacture of the equipment. Machinery had to be of high quality, yet at a cost within the budgets of farmers. Farmers had to be shown how the drill worked and then allowed to experiment with the equipment, before he could be convinced to accept this radical technology. Stories abound of how the farmers who first tried the technology were ridiculed by his neighbors for trying something so alien. But once the seed germinated, farmers begged the innovator to help them sow their fields. It is now felt that 0-till wheat is an acceptable technology and will be part of the recommendations for planting wheat. Similarly, other RCTs like bed planting will become accepted practices, as machinery is made available and more farmers experiment with the system.

One question that is often asked is ��who can benefit from this technology? Is it just for the large, commercial farmer?�� The answer appears to indicate that this technology is scale neutral and that farmers from all social classes can benefit from the many advantages that this system brings to wheat cultivation. A survey conducted in Haryana in 2001 of 20 villages and 91 farmers showed that 24% of the 0-till adopters owned a tractor while the rest used service providers. The average farm size of adopters ranged from 0.8 to 20.2 hectares. Twenty two percent had less than 2 ha and 37% from 2-4 ha farms. All but one farmer agreed that 0-till was highly profitable and data shows that 0-till resulted in US$75/ha more than with conventional practices. Yields from 0-till were 5.4 versus 5.1 t/ha for conventional. Resource poor farmers and farmers without tractors are using contract services to plough their fields at the moment. It is becoming too expensive to keep a pair of bullocks just for land preparation and so using a service provider is more economic. When this is applied to 0-till or bed planting, the benefits are even more pronounced. In this case, the farmer has only to rent the service once and his fields are planted. This saves him money and time to do other activities. Data from socio-economic and impact assessment surveys in India and Pakistan show this to be true. The first innovators are larger, better endowed, tractor owners. Later less endowed farmers adopt the technology as they see the benefits and obtain the services for this technology.

Farmer responses and feed back to the RCT��s and especially 0-tillage provide valuable feedback to scientists in the RWC for improving the technology. At the same time, scientists have been monitoring the fields where these technologies are being adopted and collecting data on soil, biotic, and resource use.


The paper has described various resource conserving technologies available for testing in the RW systems of the Indo-Gangetic Plains. It describes the benefits to the region of farmers adopting various resource conserving technologies in terms of improved production at lower cost, improving the efficiency of natural resources, benefits to the environment, improved livelihoods of farmers and ultimately help in alleviating poverty. Water is particularly highlighted since farmers indicate that all the technologies result in water savings. There is a research need to more accurately measure these savings and a recent ADB project will do just that. It is also important to look at water balances at different scales to determine if water savings at the field level will also give savings at the watercourse, command and basin level.

The success of this technology is dependent on rapid adoption by farmers. Accelerated adoption was mainly the result of the change in paradigm for extending the technology. Instead of the linear approach to extension commonly found in the Green Revolution era, the importance of partnerships, expanded stakeholders, and participatory approaches where farmers could experiment and feedback information soon became apparent. Resource conserving technologies are a key to ensuring sustainable food production in South Asia in the next decade. Overcoming mindsets that hold traditional beliefs about excessive tillage and providing the enabling factors that allow exposure of the technology to all those involved in agriculture will be key factors for future success. This technology revolution is seen as one way to sustainably increase food production to meet future demands while conserving natural resources, improving farmer livelihoods and reducing the negative effects on the environment. Water is listed high on the list of natural resources and its use and productivity can definitely be improved with these new technologies. Of course, all of these benefits will be of little use unless nations in South Asia control their population growth. 



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      Table 1. Comparison of zero-tillage and farmers�� practice for establishment of wheat after rice in Punjab, Pakistan, at locations where planting dates for the two methods differ. 

            Wheat yield (kg/ha)


      Location Zero-tillage Farmers�� practice Days difference 

      Daska, site 2 3,143 3,209 10 
      Daska, site 1 3,842 2,735 13 
      Ahmed Nagar 4,308 3,526 20 
      Maujianwala 2,689 2,198 22 
      Mundir Sharif 4,245 2,660 33 
      Daska, site 3 3,838 3,420 44

      Average 3,677a 2,598b 24 

      Source: Aslam et al. (1993).

      Note: Means followed by the same letter do not differ significantly at the 5% level using DMRT.  

      Table 2. Effects of bed size configuration on wheat yield, Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, India, 1994-95 

            Sowing method


            On the flat 75 cm beds 90 cm beds

            ____________ _____________________ _______________________

      Variety 25 cm row 2 rows/bed 2+1 rows 3 rows/bed 3+1 rows Mean 

            Wheat yield (kg/ha) 

      PBW 226 5,740 6,170 6,390 6,160 6,320 6,160a 
      WH 542 6,290 5,830 6,360 6,000 6,040 6,110a 
      CPAN 3004 6,020 5,530 6,140 5,630 5,600 5,780b 
      PBW 154 5,460 5,110 6,000 5,930 5,880 5,680b 
      HD 2329 5,770 4,660 6,190 5,580 5,810 5,600b 
      PBW 34 5,650 5,610 5,800 5,580 5,630 5,650b

      Mean 5,820 5,490 6,150 5,810 5,880 

      Source: Unpublished data from S.S. Dhillon, wheat agronomist, Punjab Agricultural University.

      Note: Means followed by the same letter do not differ significantly at the 5% level using DMRT.  

      Table 3. Effect of sowing on water use efficiency in wheat production in Mona Project, Pakistan. 


                                    Laser    Zero     Bed   Normal

                                 Leveling Tillage  Planting Planting


      Water Applied (m3/ha)    2849    2933    2281     3610 

      Yield (t/ha)      4764    4188     4134      3968 

      WUE (kg/m3)     1.67     1.43     1.81     1.10


      Source: A report on the evaluation of resource conserving technologies in rice-wheat systems. 2000. Gill et al. OFWM, Lahore Pakistan. 


      Figure 2. A photograph of the Inverted-T coulter used for 0-tillage in the IGP. 







      and Production

      Figure 1. Conceptual diagram of a CGIAR Eco-regional project



      and Policy environment

      Geographically defined area

      Indo-Gangetic Plains

      Improved Livelihoods

      Leading to Poverty alleviation



      1 Paper presented at a Water productivity workshop held at IWMI, Colombo, Sri Lanka from 15-16th November 2001.

      2 Facilitators for the rice-wheat consortium and CIMMYT natural resource agronomists based in Kathmandu, Nepal and New Delhi, respectively

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