Thursday, 27 June 2013

IN THE FIELD - The power of pulses in Bangladesh

(in-country visits by ACIAR’s research managers)
In February, ACIAR’s Crop Improvement & Management program manager, Dr Eric Huttner, visited Bangladesh to check on progress of ACIAR projects in the region. Here he describes the research with pulses, which is aiming to improve people’s nutrition as well as provide benefits to the soil and livestock...
A young girl holds a basket of weeds with which to feed livestock

Earlier this year I visited on-farm field trials of ACIAR’s Bangladesh pulses project. This project is exploring intensification of rice-based cropping systems with pulses, in 10 districts in western Bangladesh.

Field day.
Farmers and project leader Professor William Erskine (centre)
The project’s main strategy is to grow a pulse crop in the fallow period between monsoon rice (harvested in November) and dry-season rice (usually planted in February). The planting “window” is small, so the project is trying to identify short-season varieties or early-maturing pea or lentil that could fit with this timing. It is also exploring various agronomic practices that could enlarge the window of planting opportunity.

The research includes trials with local farmers on their land, using different pulse crops, varieties and growing practices. The researchers, farmers and others get together on field days to talk about the progress.

Farmer Minto with his lentils
One farmer I met from the Kushtia district (Khulna Division), Mr Mohammad Minto, was successfully growing a crop of lentils that he had sown in his monsoon rice field a few weeks before harvesting his rice. He was using conservation agriculture methods, where digging is minimal and stubble from the previous crop is left on the soil as a mulch to reduce evaporation, and to improve the soil composition. He was very happy with being involved in the trial: his crop was looking healthy, and he was looking forward to harvest time.

Growing pulses in this way has multiple benefits for the farmer. Pulses provide a good source of protein nutrition for the family, and also provide opportunities to generate income from an extra crop. The cropping practices also benefit the farming system through improvements to the soil, and providing a source of fodder for livestock. The pulse plants themselves, or weeds from the field (as in the photo at top), can be used as feed.
Farmers and project staff survey the fields

Program Manager Eric Huttner inspects a field of pulses (right)
Eric is in the field with Dr Israil Hussain,
who is involved in another ACIAR project in Bangladesh
The process where two crops share the same field for a short time is called ‘relay cropping’. The idea is that in the two weeks when the first crop is in its final maturation stage, the second crop is establishing—instead of waiting to plant it after the first crop is harvested. By gaining these two weeks of growth, and growing a suitable short-duration variety, it is hoped pulses such as lentils will fit nicely in the gap between rice growing.

Over the next 3 years, the project will continue trials with farmers, of different crops, varieties and growing practices, to come up with recommendations for farmers of what will work best.

By Dr Eric Huttner, ACIAR’s Crop Improvement & Management program manager

More information:
ACIAR project Introduction of short duration pulses into rice-based cropping systems in western Bangladesh
ACIAR’s medium-term strategy for Bangladesh

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