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ISSUE THREE 2015 PARTNERS
PHOTO: IRENE DOWDY
"The new farming system retains rice as
the staple crop but does away with having to
transplant the seedlings," Dr Christen says. "Instead,
rice is directly seeded into the ground using low-
tech hand machinery that is less water-intensive,
faster and more reliable. This change preserves
enough soil moisture, especially in conjunction
with short-season varieties, to plant a second crop."
This new farming system is more resilient,
uses water more effectively, requires less fertiliser
and creates opportunities for socioeconomic
advancement and improved food security.
The new farming model worked so well
during trials that a project is now extending
the findings to as many farmers in the region
as possible. ACIAR is partnering with a leading
Indian non-government extension organisation,
Professional Assistance for Development
PRADAN was established in 1983 to mobilise
people with knowledge and empathy for
marginalised communities to work at the
grassroots level to overcome poverty. Today,
professionals divided into 33 teams work with
about 272,000 families in more than 5,000 villages
across seven of the poorest states in India.
ACIAR has found that improved outcomes for
the rural poor and marginalised people are also
possible where there are conflicting demands for
overstretched water resources.
Landless and tenant farmers in the plains of
eastern India are an example of this. Here, ACIAR
came across conflicting use of small communal
ponds for irrigating crops and for fish farming.
By identifying ways to manage the ponds more
effectively, including topping up with groundwater
at critical times, gains in productivity encouraged
farmers to further develop their skills and the
management of such small-scale water resources.
Assistance included helping landless,
female tenant farmers to grow high-value
produce such as vegetables. This lifted incomes
and opportunities for social and economic
development, such as being able to lease land.
Each region and social system is different. But
what remains constant in these ACIAR projects
is the broad nature of the benefits that accrue to
communities from improved water management.
For example, Dr Christen says farmers find
it hard to judge the right level of irrigation and
tend to overwater. ACIAR is looking at this issue in
African countries such as Tanzania.
Through CSIRO, the 'Chameleon' irrigation-
management tool has been developed based
on soil-moisture sensors that are linked to a
three-light system that provides simple visual
information about the soil's moisture levels. Similar
technology is also under development to sense
changes in salinity in irrigation water.
"We are one year into introducing the
technology in Tanzania and already farmers are
reporting they have skipped up to two irrigations
during the season," Dr Christen says. "Irrigators
further downstream in the small irrigation scheme
also report receiving more water."
The project is also exploring opportunities
to develop rural economies through the
manufacture of the sensors, lights and readers
(currently being undertaken on a small scale in
Australia by Measurement Engineering Australia)
and for provision of irrigation management
services by local farmers.
"Development without recognition of the
socioeconomic and environmental realities
around water use can backfire," Dr Christen says.
"It makes effective reform and management
difficult, but the right mix of technical knowledge,
social understanding and political will can make
NEW AGRONOMY LESSENS WATER DEMAND
T he focus is not just on how people use water.
Gains have been possible in the way crops
and pasture (and therefore livestock) use water
Australian culture is defined
around water and water
scarcity. We have the lowest
amount of water per square
kilometre on Earth, the
highest rainfall variability
and evaporation rates.
-- Dr Don Blackmore
Dead trees and cracked mud on the riverbank in
2007, at Billa Downs Station near Euston in New
South Wales, are stark reminders of low water
levels and prolonged drought.
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