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How is Corteva Agriscience Promoting Climate-Smart Rice Cultivation in India?

Corteva Dhan Mahotsav at Mansa, Punjab, October 2022. Photo courtesy of Corteva.

India is one of the largest producers of rice. It is grown across the country. But rice also consumes a lot of water. This makes it vulnerable to climate change. So how is a company like Corteva Agriscience, which sells hybrid rice seeds and also agro-chemicals, helping farmers produce rice with less water? We posed a set of questions to the company’s President, South  Asia, Ravinder Balain. 

Question: The impression we get from news reports is that farmers in Punjab and Haryana are not adopting DSR (direct seeded rice) despite the cash incentives that their governments are offering. Last year, as per a report in the Indian Express, about 80,000 hectares in Punjab were under DSR, 90 percent less than the target and a huge slide from 5.62 lakh hectares under DSR the previous year. What is Corteva’s experience? How many farmers has it persuaded to adopt DSR? What’s their share in the universe of rice farmers that Corteva is engaged with?  And once persuaded, do those farmers continue to practice it? If so, how does Corteva manage it?

Ravinder Balain. Courtesy: Corteva Agriscience

Answer: We are witnessing the brunt of drastic climate change, with extreme weather events becoming more frequent and intense. With such erratic changes and population growth, food insecurity is on the rise globally. So, farmers need to adopt climate-smart agricultural practices.  Corteva believes in training and educating farmers about innovative and sustainable solutions to improve and increase their yields.

For easier adoption of sustainable innovations like (DSR), Corteva is collaborating with FPOs (Farmers’ Producer Organisations). Through the FPO programme, it has established an ecosystem to promote agri-entrepreneurship amongst rural women, primarily in Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand. We have been conducting many on-ground interventions to empower smallholder farmers and have programmes that holistically address the challenges they face.

Our Pravakta programme is empowering women farmers in many areas by giving them access to land rights and opportunities that have a far-reaching effect on food security, poverty reduction, and climate change mitigation. These ‘Pravakta’ women guide fellow farmers in preferred agricultural practices, enabling them to implement good agronomic practices and establishing market linkages.

Last year, we organised ‘Dhan Mahotsav’ a field event in Mansa, Punjab. In the day-long event, agriculture experts and scientists aimed to teach, train, and educate over 600 farmers about the advantages of DSR farming. We are aware of the limitations that farmers face and seek to change farming practices by educating them and giving them access to comprehensive and sustainable solutions.

Is there a yield penalty in the adoption of DSR? Is the saving of water by 15 percent to 20 percent worth the yield penalty? How can the loss of output be avoided? Since electricity is free, water savings may not persuade farmers to adopt DSR (except those that are environmentally conscious). Is the saving in the labour cost of transplanting rice enough to win farmers over? Is this not offset to an extent by the cost of herbicides?

The cost-benefit analysis of adopting DSR can vary depending on several factors, including the availability of free electricity, labour costs, and the cost of herbicides. While electricity is free, water savings alone may not be sufficient to persuade farmers to adopt DSR; other economic factors come into play. One of the potential benefits of DSR is the reduction in labour costs associated with transplanting rice seedlings, as DSR eliminates the need for manual transplantation. There is a saving of 60 manhours per acre in the DSR method.

Not all areas are suitable for DSR. Based on various parameters, IRRI (International Rice Research Institute, Manila) scientists, who did a survey of three districts of Haryana, said 60 percent of farms in Karnal, 45 percent in Panipat and 20 percent in Yamuna Nagar were suitable for DSR. Does Corteva rely on such surveys before approaching farmers?

Absolutely, Corteva is indeed aware of surveys and studies conducted by reputed institutions and organisations, such as the one conducted by IRRI scientists. We recognise the significance of assessing various parameters to determine the suitability of specific regions for DSR. Such evaluations, play an essential role in our decision-making process and strategy formulation.

As an agricultural solutions provider, we understand the importance of tailoring our offerings and recommendations to suit local conditions and farming practices. We believe in promoting sustainable agriculture and providing farmers with the most suitable and effective solutions for their specific regions and needs. Corteva is partnering with multiple FPOs in these regions to help promote the adoption of DSR.

Since we need to grow more rice to meet the needs of a growing population, producing more from less is also a way of coping with climate change. How is Corteva achieving this?

Climate crisis is pushing even the most resilient crops, such as rice, to their limits. Farmers are under overwhelming pressure to make the most of what they have – ensuring that production systems are efficient, environmentally friendly, and effective in optimising output. We realise that there is a critical need to increase production while minimising the environmental impact and adapting to the effects of climate change. Sustainable agriculture practices that help farmers produce more with fewer resources are the need of the hour. This is where our hybrid seeds come into play. They help farmers in increasing yields, maintaining a sustainable supply of food, and increasing food security.

Unlike traditional seeds, these are beneficial to both human health and the environment. These seeds require less water and have a low carbon footprint, allowing farmers to increase overall crop yield and productivity. By using seed technology, farmers can easily increase agricultural productivity and production in response to the rising global food demand.

In terms of initiatives,

What is Corteva’s India experience with hybrid rice? Why have Indian farmers not taken to it like farmers in China?

We are actively promoting and providing hybrid rice seed varieties to farmers. We have established a 100-acre multi-crop research centre in Telangana. The facility is engaged in innovations like molecular breeding and double haploidy for the development of high-quality hybrids suited to local and international growing conditions. This state-of-the-art plant breeding and research facility is Corteva’s technology hub for the entire Asia-Pacific region. The facility builds synergies in breeding and breeding technology deployment across key crops like corn, rice, millet, and mustard in this region.

Does Corteva think that diversifying out of rice, into say maize, is a better way for some farmers to cope with climate change? If so, how can that diversification be sustained?

Given the current situation in India, farmers are struggling due to the frequency of dramatic weather events, rising temperatures, and other outcomes of climate change. In such a situation, diversification of food crops is certainly a climate-smart agricultural practice, which helps farmers to adapt to climate variability and reduce their risk of crop failure.

Many farmers are opting for early sowing of crops like oilseeds and millets since these are hardy and require less water. Hybrid varieties of such seeds ensure high yields and profitability. Intercropping promotes biodiversity, improves soil health, and enhances pest management.  Other practices like seed varietal optimisation helps increase farmers’ resilience to climate change.  Drip irrigation minimises water wastage.

To sustain and operationalise crop diversification, institutional support is required. We need to look at public-private partnerships as they bring together diverse perspectives, resources, and expertise from multiple stakeholders.

At Corteva we have specialised initiatives like ‘Climate Positive Leaders Programme’ to recognise and celebrate early adopter farmers who have successfully implemented climate-positive agriculture practices. By sharing their stories and experiences, we aim to inspire and encourage others to follow suit, building climate resilience within the farming community.

(Top photo of Corteva’s Dhan Mahotsav in Mansa, Punjab, organised in October 2022, courtesy of the company). 

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