Home' Partners : Partners: Innovative partnerships Contents The decline in national lentil production
has seen imports overtake production to meet
demand, and this trend, since the early 2000s, is a
major concern for the Bangladesh Government.
Consequently, in conjunction with ACIAR, a five-
year project was launched in 2010 to identify ways
to reintroduce legumes into the rotation.
The Australian selected to lead the project,
Professor William Erskine of the University of
Western Australia (UWA), has longstanding
ties with the legumes of Bangladesh. Prior to
joining UWA in 2008, he was a lentil breeder and
then deputy director-general (research) at the
International Center for Agricultural Research in the
Dry Areas (ICARDA).
As an ICARDA breeder, Professor Erskine worked
with Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute
(BARI) researchers to release the lentil varieties
that he was subsequently tasked by ACIAR to
'shoehorn' back into the crop rotation using crop-
Achieving that goal meant working closely with
farmers, BARI and the Bangladesh Department
of Agricultural Extension (DAE). The participatory
research methods based on trials in farmers' fields,
however, served to restructure the relationship
between BARI and the DAE, creating channels for
joint engagement that have continued beyond
A PASSION FOR DHAL
The project team was confronted with a
farming system that grows two rice crops a year,
interspersed with a short 70 to 80-day fallow. The
first rice crop is grown on monsoonal rainfall, but
the second is irrigated using groundwater. Where
irrigation is not available---in the more marginal of
Bangladesh's 64 districts (or 'zila') in the country's
western region---the second crop relies instead on
Professor Erskine says a research program was
established to determine whether a short-duration
legume crop could be cultivated during the
fallow between the two rice crops, using residual
moisture from the monsoon rains.
Outreach with farmers was central to the
project from the outset. To that end, a participatory
'trial and demonstrate' process was used that
relied heavily on the joint knowledge, capacity and
dedication of BARI and DAE staff.
Critical to making the partnership work
was local coordinator Dr Matiur Rahman, who
was based at the International Rice Research
Institute's (IRRI) Dhaka office in Bangladesh, having
retired from a strong career as a researcher and
administrator at BARI. Dr Rahman proved pivotal
in bridging the gulf in working cultures between
research and extension organisations so the entire
team worked together.
The trials found a difference in the capacity of
irrigated and rainfed cropping districts to produce
lentils following the monsoonal rice crop, with
the more marginal districts possessing greater
potential to add lentils into the crop rotation by
replacing the fallow.
Side-by-side with farmers, BARI researchers
and DAE extension officers, field trials established
that lentil production was only possible in the
rainfed zones using 'relay cropping', which involves
planting the lentil crop two to three weeks before
the monsoonal rice crop is due to be harvested.
"The timeframe during the fallow is simply
too small to cultivate lentils any other way except
using relaying cropping to buy extra time,"
Professor Erskine says.
Relay lentils germinate under the rice crop,
where some of the seedlings will become
waterlogged and die. The survivors also get
"stomped on" when the rice is harvested. On the
whole, however, the lentil seedlings recover and
survive to maturity to set pods. Furthermore, no
ploughing is needed in their cultivation and the
legume matures on residual soil moisture from the
"We also showed that it is possible to cultivate
peas during the fallow in both the irrigated and
rainfed zones without the need for relay cropping,"
Professor Erskine says. "These peas are harvested
as green pods, not dry seeds, which truncates the
time the crop is in the field. Replacing the fallow
with a pea crop is attractive to farmers as it can
increase farm net income fourfold."
Additionally, the team demonstrated the
feasibility of adding in short-duration varieties of
mungbean that were developed by the World
Vegetable Center in Taiwan, in the season before
the monsoon (called Kharif 1). Their successful
cultivation required developing viable pest
management systems that helped spearhead
greater adoption by farmers and higher yields.
"Testing these various crop management
systems was not enough to change production
practices," Professor Erskine says. "The way the
partnership was structured with BARI and the DAE
was hugely important in getting the information
out to farmers."
The inclusion of the DAE---which runs an
extension service that Professor Erskine describes
as "large, important and efficient"---meant farmers
in all nine participating districts had fast access to
trial data and to hundreds of large demonstration
sites in participating farmers' fields.
"This marriage of research and extension was
able to rapidly disseminate crop management
innovations to thousands of farming households
during the life of the project, with dissemination
an ongoing service provided by the DAE," Professor
Data collected by the field extension officers
was also used to quantify the overall impacts of
the new crop-management options.
During the course of the project, there was
a 40% increase in lentil production from all the
demonstrations undertaken with the DAE in the
participating districts, compared with an increase
of just 10% outside these districts.
This extra capability increased the amount of
lentils harvested from 120,000 tonnes in 2010--11
to 170,000 tonnes in 2014--15. This included a yield
increase of 24%.
Especially attractive to the farmers was the
overall profitability of the new cropping options,
given strong market demand for lentils. Where the
land is left fallow, grazing cattle on weeds is the
only gain to farmers.
Farmers themselves identified additional
opportunities to earn income. One farmer, Mr
Mintoo, realised the new crop management
regime would increase demand for pea seed. He
noted, however, that the crop rotation leaves no
time to dry out pea pods for seed.
This realisation inspired Mr Mintoo to
forgo planting the spring rice crop and
instead produce pea seed to sell to farmers.
This proved so profitable he has continued the
In the process, Mr Mintoo has identified a viable
pathway to help ensure seed availability---an
important consideration of the ACIAR team---
while creating a new source of income.
Having both research and extension capability on
the ground in farmers' fields had other advantages.
For example, Professor Erskine was surprised to
note the ICARDA lentil varieties used by farmers
who had retained lentils in their crop rotation
were losing their tolerance to the fungal disease
"This loss of tolerance was threatening lentils
nationally," Professor Erskine says.
While ICARDA was alerted and initiated a
breeding-based response, a short-term solution
was needed on the ground in Bangladesh. The
joint Australian-BARI team was in a position to
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