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Professor Bellotti attributes everything that was
special about this project (initially led by
Professor Peter Cornish) to the way the farmers---
primarily women---were engaged directly as
"We are working in poor tribal farming
communities and because there is not much
income from rice, men look for work in the
cities as labourers," Professor Bellotti says. "Back
at the village farms, doing the unpaid work, are
women. We talk about this phenomenon as the
'feminisation of agriculture'."
The women who initially worked with
ACIAR were selected from among the 'Self-Help
Groups' that PRADAN established to assist poor
communities with financial literacy, sanitation
and health issues. Lessons include how to avoid
falling into loan traps, how to budget and how
to accumulate money so members of Self-Help
Groups can lend money among themselves.
"When ACIAR came along it added the capacity
for agricultural research into the region's network of
PRADAN Self-Help Groups," Professor Bellotti says.
The key feature of the project was empowering
the farmers by giving them ownership of the
"Typically agricultural research provides results
to extension agents who transfer the findings to
farmers," Professor Bellotti says. "This approach
views farmers as passive recipients of technology.
We turned that around and asked the farmers
to perform the critical task of framing the
The farmers then implemented the research
directly in their fields. The women managed the
trials, assisted with data collection and helped
interpret the results. Through these activities,
they developed a new way of growing rice called
direct-seeded rice (DSR).
Rather than cultivating rice seedlings in a
nursery before transplanting to flooded rice
paddies---which requires back-breaking work
traditionally done by women---DSR sows rice seed
in lines directly into unflooded fields. This approach
retains soil structure, allows rainfall to infiltrate the
soil, and, importantly, allows a second crop to be
grown from the same amount of yearly rainfall.
A modified rake was developed to form the
lines. Seed and fertiliser are added to the furrows
and then covered. This eliminates an extraordinary
amount of labour, which is important to these
women, who typically work from 5am to 9pm and
are extremely time poor.
All the equipment needed for DSR is small,
manually operated and suited to subsistence
farms, yet it is part of a farming system that
DSR also allows rice to be sown earlier.
Combined with short-duration varieties, this
innovation allows the rice crop to be harvested
up to one month earlier than transplanted rice.
This provides enough time to sow a second
crop, such as a protein-rich pulse or a nutrient-
rich vegetable or oilseed, which diversifies the
food types and nutrients available to otherwise
DSR is also more climate resilient than
transplanted rice since it avoids the need for
ponded water. Even when the monsoon arrives late
or rainfall is below average, there is usually enough
soil moisture to grow a successful DSR crop.
The new cultivation system requires ongoing
research to refine fertiliser management, pest
and disease management, and identify high-
Aided by ACIAR to function as researchers, the
participating farmers proved insightful innovators
who were willing to share new technology with
other farmers. The flair for independent innovation
was especially apparent when DSR made second
Instead of just growing rice as a monoculture
followed by a second crop, the women
demonstrated the viability of inter-cropping a
Clockwise from left: Vegetable crops help diversify
the nutrients available to otherwise malnourished
communities; women in Hazaribag, Jharkhand,
harvest rice; research farmers Pirki Mandi (left) and
Anjani Mandi view a thriving crop of tomato plants;
disadvantaged tribal women on the East India Plateau
proved clever innovators when engaged directly as
research and extension partners in an ACIAR project.
"THE PROJECT ENDED UP AFFECTING LABOUR,
GENDER EQUITY, NUTRITION, CLIMATE RESILIENCE ...
IT CHANGED FOR THE BETTER FACTORS IN THE SOCIAL,
ECONOMIC AND ENVIRONMENTAL DOMAINS, NOT JUST
-- Professor Bill Bellotti
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