Monday, 3 April 2017

Making the most of mungbeans

Last Tuesday, nearly 100 growers and advisers got the chance to see and taste improved strains of mungbean, a valuable but vulnerable crop, at the Mungbean Industry Field Day in Warwick, Queensland.

Mungbean (vigna radiata) is an important food and cash crop for South Asia’s rice-based farming systems, and has become an important export crop in Australia over the last twenty years.  Asian smallholder farmers can earn money growing this nutrient-rich food which is fast and easy to grow, in demand across the world, and increases their soil fertility.
However, there has been little attempt to improve the crop, and its narrow genetic base makes it vulnerable to mungbean yellow mosaic virus and other killers.
Mungbean Field Day setup with brownies made with Australian mungbean flour. Photo: ACIAR
Now Australia and Asian countries are working together to improve the crop’s resistance to pests, diseases, and seasonal variability, in a four-year initiative funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).

Dr. Eric Huttner, ACIAR’s Research Program Manager for Crop Improvement and Management, said:  “Preparing the future of industry requires new varieties with better productivity and performance – the traits farmers want.”

The Mungbean Improvement Network (IMIN), a collaboration between the World Vegetable Center in Hyderabad (India) and its international partners, will breed new mungbean lines with the hope of improving production.

ACIAR stall at the Field Day in front of the mungbean core collection. Photo: ACIAR
Breeder Col Douglas presented new varieties of the crop to the attendees at the Queensland event, organised by the Australian Mungbean Association, the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Pulse Australia and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC). 

Douglas and other researchers in Australia and its partner countries Myanmar, Bangladesh and India grow the same experimental varieties of mungbeans.
The test Mungbean rows are grown in Australia, India, Bangladesh and Myanmar

Researchers in the four countries plant the same test rows, and study how different local conditions (including soil, water, light and pests) affect the crop.  This material will then be used to breed the varieties of the future.

“It is an enormous level of diversity,” said Dr. Huttner, “and the sum will be greater than the parts.  This is what ACIAR projects should do: in a context of mutual benefit, serve as an archetype of scientific collaboration over borders.”

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Change begins with one line: Evidence from the AVRDC project work

Women’s risk taking in trying new types of vegetable farming is benefiting their communities: Evidence from the field.

Change begins with one line
The success of Ms. Dipali Hansda

As simple a change as sowing crops in a line can create a ripple effect.  In West Bengal, farmers for generations have broadcast their seeds without any intercropping. Now, innovative farmers are discovering new ways of planting crops – and earning more money.

One such innovator is Ms Dipali Hansda, a 21-year-old woman with little education from the West Bengali village of Churinsara.
Ms Dipali Hansda, an inspiring innovator who is raising her family’s income – and it all began with line sowing and learning to intercrop

The village is isolated: 855 m above sea level high up in the Ajodhya hills, and 20 km from the nearest town, Baghmundi.

The community depends entirely on paddy during the rainy kharif season, but the crop fails about every two to three years. The villagers desperately need other sources of income.

As the eldest of her four children, Dipali Hansda well understands her responsibility to help her parents increase the family income and earn a livelihood. During the rainy season they grew paddy and maize as staple foods for their families.  Before 2013, like all other women in her village, she would collect firewood from the forest and carry it by hand to sell at the nearest market 16 km away. This was their only option, even though it was hard work and environmentally unsustainable.

In 2013 The World Vegetable Center, previously known as the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center AVRDC, and the NGO, Professional Assistance for Development Action (PRADAN), began work in Churinsara. Their project, “Improving livelihoods through innovative cropping systems on East India Plateau”, was funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).

Dipali was one of the first women the project worked with.  In the first year, she learned how to sow maize in lines. Her crop did well, and she made 4500 INR from her 450 m2 field.

During the kharif season (late June) 2014, she planted intercropped local French beans between the lines of the maize variety Kanchan-25 she’d sown two weeks earlier. Her dedicated crop care and careful weed control resulted in a yield of 656 kilos of maize and 65 kilos of French bean, earning her a total income of 6350 INR. She was happy to have obtained 65 kg of French bean worth 1100 INR from the same piece of land with little additional effort. She sold the bean at a premium price in the market, and the nine kilos her family ate were a welcome addition to their diet.

In the last week of September she harvested maize, and then sowed mustard seed, which yielded 31 kilos. From this, she extracted nine kilos of oil worth 640 INR and 20 kilos of mustard cake worth 640 INR.

Her successes so inspired her that she decided to spend more time in agricultural activities.

“Agriculture is a better livelihood than cutting and selling firewood – and less tiring,” she said. “Agriculture provides us with an income and adds nutrition to my family’s meals.  If I work sincerely in agriculture and follow improved agricultural technologies, I don’t need to go out of my village.”

She has now cut back the time she spends going into the forest to cut firewood by three quarters, and only goes once a week on the long trek to sell firewood.

This year she decided to cultivate a pre-kharif crop during the hot dry summer. Her family doesn’t have any irrigation, so she’s leasing a relative’s irrigated land to grow bottle gourd and cucumber. She hopes to get a good yield and better prices for her gourds in the pre-kharif season.

With PRADAN and World Vegetable Center support, she is evaluating different varieties of tomato and even trying some new methods of paddy cultivation.

She is a researcher as well as an inspiring innovator who is raising her family’s income – and it all began with line sowing and learning to intercrop.