Dynamics of soil fertility management practices in semi-arid regions - A case study of Andhra Pradesh - EPW
This paper examined the in-depth knowledge of SFM methods among local farmers in Andhra Pradesh
23 Jan 2011

It also attempted to examine how policy interventions threatened this knowledge base and the sustainable practices it supported.

The study addressed the following research questions:

  • What kind of SFM strategies do farmers in semi-arid regions adopt to address the risks inherent in rain-fed farming?
  • How do these practices ensure the efficiency and sustainability of agriculture in dryland areas?
  •  What is the impact of agricultural policies pertaining to SFM on farmers in semi-arid areas?

The  objectives of the study included:

  • To identify and record the SFM strategies adopted by different size-classes of farmers (large, medium, and small) in dryland regions.
  • To examine the ecological, economic, social and livelihood significance of SFM practices.
  • To contribute to the overall policy discourse on SFM in semiarid regions.

Andhra Pradesh was selected for the study on SFM practices in semi-arid regions and their socio-economic, ecological and livelihood dimensions. Andhra Pradesh provided a good case to the point because of its high involvement of small and marginal farmers in agriculture and evidence of the increasing involvement of the state in agriculture. In addition to this, use of fertilisers is very high in the state.

The selected districts were Mahbubnagar, Anantapur and Prakasam. Two mandals were  selected from each district, one with the least percentage of net irrigated area and the other with the highest net irrigated area. In each village, 60 farmers were picked, 20 from each sizeclass (large, medium and small). Thus a total of 360 farmers covering the three districts were personally interviewed, using a structured schedule.

The study found that farmers in India’s semi-arid regions have developed a number of techniques to maintain and enhance the fertility of their soil. However, it was found that the farmers’ SFM options were being undermined by governmental policies that gave more weight to chemical fertiliser-based strategies. These included promoting packages of practices that included chemical fertiliser-responsive seeds, extending credit for buying them, not recognising the benefits of a mixed cropping system, and subsidising chemical fertilisers rather than organic inputs.

The study argues that policies that encourage fertiliser and irrigation subsidies may discourage soil conservation and encourage depletion of groundwater and makes the following recommendations.

  • Subsidies and credit policies should allow farmers to buy whatever form of fertilising input they require.
  • Policies are needed that encourage and support low external input and labour-intensive practices such as sheep penning, composting, vermicomposting, tank silt application, or incorporating green manure crops.
  • Appropriate credit programmes have to be developed that enable farmers to obtain crop loans for mixed farming systems, including organic inputs such as FYM.
  • Local animal breeds are important to livelihoods. Sustainable agriculture should be conserved in the places that it exists by strengthening integrated farming and indigenous systems of land use. Livestock plays a key role in nutrient cycles and the maintenance of soil fertility.
  • All agricultural development projects, especially those focusing on soil, should focus on increasing supplies of organic matter to farmers that nourish organisms in the soil

The entire paper can be downloaded from below:

 

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