What we do?

  • Sustainable intensification of agriculture
  • Reducing the average of Fallow lands
  • Adaptive Technologies for timely tillage and crop establishment- Produce more at less costs sustainably-Conservation agriculture practices and soil health
  • Tree-crop-livestock production systems in watershed approach
  • Farmer participatory technology assessment and refinement
  • Quality Seed production and seed replacements
  • Capacity Building


Sustainable intensification of agriculture

Farmers are often interested in deployment of the technologies that improve crop yields and farm gate profits. This is accomplished in one of the three ways, namely (a) Increasing yields per hectare (eg. timely planting and with increased inputs of water and fertilizer nutrients), (b) Increasing cropping intensity per unit of land (e.g. use of short season crop cultivars, relay and mixed cropping, to grow an additional crop), and (c) Changing land use from low value crops to those that receive higher market prices and/or utilize a land use system that serves as a continuous source of the income ( e.g. tree-crop-livestock systems, agri-horticulture). This concept of sustainable intensification does not articulate any particular vision or method of agricultural production. It emphasizes ends rather than means, and does not pre-determine technologies, species mix or particular design components. We however believe that pre-requisite vision of sustainable intensification is that agricultural technologies deployed in each context must be environmentally sustainable. Many reports have suggested that adoption of small, incremental changes-such as expanding fertilizer use, and adoption of nutrient band placement and SSNM practices, improved varieties, mulching, land levelling, weed management, timely seeding   and spaced planting could have important positive effects on yields while limiting adverse environmental impacts. Recent information suggest that when no-till is combined with surface mulching and crop rotations, it results in significant increases in crop productivity in dry climates In a Rice-Maize system field trials conducted at the farms of the RAU Pusa Bihar, it has been observed that a small amount of rice residues retained on the surface significantly improved early growth and vigor of maize. SPARK Team in farmer participatory mode promotes adoption of conservation agricultural practices to achieve objectives of sustainable intensification in Indian agriculture.

Reducing the average of Fallow lands

In the Indian SAT, fallowing in often related to rainfall-soil depth-topography matrix. In shallow and medium black soils, farmers prefer to take a rainy season crop in both low and high rainfall areas and keep fields fallow in Rabi (Post-rainy season). This is because of the limited moisture storage capacity of shallow soils preclude growing a second post-rainy season crop (e.g. in North Maharashtra and Karnataka) unless there is a provision for irrigation water supplies. In low rainfall areas of deep Vertisols, farmers frequently accumulate soil moisture during monsoon season for the success of a post-rainy season crop thereby avoiding the threat of mid-rainy season droughts. Farmers in Tamilnadu prefer to fallow the black soils during southwest monsoons to accumulate soil moisture for growing a post-rainy season crop during mild winters. The state Tamilnadu, has bimodal monsoon system and the north-east monsoon rains provide bulk of moisture supplies. In the humid and sub-humid regions of Central Highlands and Peninsular region, excessive rainfall causes drainage congestion, inhibits tillage for crop establishment and subsequent operations for management of the crops. In such areas many farmers are forced to practice rainy season-fallows.

Total acreage of cultivated fallow lands in India seem to have remained unchanged in last several decades and seem to vary between 25.1 to 26.2 Mha (Malone 1974, Kanwar 1981, Directorate of Economics and Statistics, 2008). Out of the total fallow lands in India, rainy season-fallows in the Vertisols region alone constitute around 12 mha to 14.8 mha as per different estimates.  Above description suggest that Kharif and Rabi season fallow-lands apparently, are found in different pockets. In a GIS-based study, Subba Rao et al. (2000) estimated that out of 50.2 million ha of the land in South Asia devoted to rice, after harvest 14.3 million ha are left fallow in post-rainy season, of which approximately 82% (11.64Mha ) are located in India. Using MODIS 250m time-series data, Gumma et al. (2016) have estimated approximately 22.3 Mha of rice-fallow (post-rainy season fallows) lands in South Asia.  Further, 88.3% of the total rice-fallow lands are in Indian domain (with nearly 80% accuracy i.e. 15.7Mha) and according to the report are suitable for crop production. Thus, Rabi fallows seem to occur as extensively as the Kharif fallows in the Indian Vertisols belt. It is mentioned here that whereas farmers traditionally practice Kharif fallows in the sub-humid regions, Rabi fallows are practiced in water scarce regions of the semi-arid Peninsula and parts of the central highlands of India.

Adaptive Technologies for timely tillage and crop establishment- Produce more at less costs sustainable-Conservation agriculture practices and soil health


Most crops have specific optimum dates for planting in different agro-ecozones. A numbers of cultivars in rice and wheat are available for different planting situations/dates. However, there is a need to match these cultivars to improve the system’s productivity while keeping in view the availability of irrigation water and length of growing season. Delayed planting results in grain yield losses from 4 – 7% per week. Yield reductions in late planted wheat are often at tributed to inadequate tillering and to reduced transpiration efficiency late in the season. Higher seeding rates only partly offsets the adverse effects of late planting.  Delayed seeding reduces crop productivity of wheat at the rate of 35 kg/ day/ ha after November 14 in the northwest IGP to more than 60kg/day/ ha after first week of December in eastern e IGP.

It’s a common knowledge that crop have to be managed the way a crop is established following preparatory tillage practices. Therefore, tillage for crop establishment is at the centre stage of all soil and crop management practiced following seeding methods. RCTs include a wide range of practices that can lead to drastic reductions in tillage operations, and hence costs, thereby making them easier to adopt them for resource-poor and undercapitalized farmers. RCTs include surface seeding, raised-bed planting, skip furrow irrigation in row planted crops, intercropping, mulching and residue management, live fences and vegetative barriers, agroforestry and horticulture, integrated nutrient management, integrated pest management, integrated tree-crop-livestock farming systems, and the rationale use of sloping land (contour farming, upwards planting in residues etc.). The new innovations for direct dry seeded rice (DSR) and of brown maturing crop ( crop sown for green manuring with main crop and then knock- down of the GM crop with herbicide molecules) as well as with the identification of pre-and post-emergence herbicide molecules has opened the window for practicing conservation agriculture in rainfed and irrigated systems . Evidences show that Conservation agriculture based RCTs, increase production and improve soil health, make ecosystems more resilient and reduce their vulnerability to climate change. Resource conserving technologies (RCTs) help produce more at less cost (save labor, fuel/energy, water, and other inputs, and preserve a clean environment), and provide a platform for diversification and intensification of the production systems.

Tree-crop-livestock production systems in watershed approach  

Farmers are unable to change the pace of global climate change through mitigation measures except that they reduce use of fossil fuels for farm power through conservation agriculture. They may however be able to adapt to climate change and devise management practices that are more resilient to climate impacts. Climate change affect soil health through variations in temperature, precipitations and circulations/ N depositions, altering crop water demands (ET- evapotranspiration), chemical oxidation of soil organic carbon pools and runoff and soil erosion.  Besides these attributes, flood and droughts are also climate change-related impacts that concern dryland and the irrigated farmers alike. Conservation of topsoil is critical to sustained productivity. Potential linkage between climate change, land use and management changes and indicators for assessing soil health has been shown in figure (1), Climate change affects agriculture and food production in complex ways. Climate change affects the soil and crop management options for the farmers. Soils play a role of crucial importance in climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies, both in order to halt the degradation of soil and to encourage more affirmative action from farmers and policy makers. Well managed soils have the capacity to store vast amounts of atmospheric CO2, and are therefore able to offset some of the considerable emissions for which agriculture is responsible.

Farmer participatory technology assessment and refinement       

Farmers who cultivate their own land are much more likely to practice the ‘Better bet soil and crop management practices’ than those renting or sharecropping another’s land. In-spite of the fact that farmers share their farm boundaries, there is only limited group action amongst them even for the practices such as Precision laser assisted land levelling that improve crop yields and lead to significant saving in irrigation water.

A good technology that can be introduced on an individual basis is likely to be adopted more easily than an excellent one that requires a cooperative effort. Thus, the soil and water conservation programs focussing on technologies that requires minimal group action, are more likely to succeed. In the dissemination of the technology, care must also be taken to give due consideration to resource endowments of the farmers, which differ widely among them. Farmers generally prefer to adopt technologies that are ‘divisible’ and ‘flexible’ in application and allow farmers to benefit under diverse situations. The ‘One shoe –fits all’ approach is unlikely to work in speedy adoption of the soil management and crop production technologies. In the process of assessment and refinement of technologies, one must realise that all technologies require appropriate input environment and the supply chain.

In adoption of the production technologies by farmers, on the job training and hand-holding for some time is very crucial. We have observed that farmers learn quickly and accelerate technology adoption process that enable farmers to exchange information between them. It is for this reason the travelling seminars organised for the participating farmers prove very crucial in pushing up the learning curve.

 Quality Seed production and seed replacements        

With a view to improve the productivity of pulses and enhancement of farmers’ income, SPARK initiated its activities on “Enhancing Lentil Production for Food, Nutritional Security & improved rural Livelihoods” in five villages namely Arap, Bilap, Baghakol, Sihi & Gopalpur of Patna district of Bihar where after rice, usually wheat or pulses are being grown.  With this aim, SPARK implemented two Projects on “Enhancing lentil production for food, nutritional security and improved rural livelihoods” and “Enhancing grasspea production for safe human food, animal feed and sustainable rice based production system in India” in collaboration with International Centre for Researches in Dry Areas (ICARDA).

The replacement of old seed with newly developed varieties was the main concern for the farmers.  Farmers were provided the breeder seed of lentil varieties NDL-1, HUL-57& KLS-218 free of cost and were guided with the seed production technology leading to production of foundation seed NDL-1:5760 Kg. and HUL-57:2620 Kg in grown in the farmer’s field which was further distributed among the farmers next year.

Foundation Seed Production by SPARK

Similarly, the guided farmers of Village Bilap and Sihi and the project mentioned above to who produced the lentil varieties certified seed as follows:

Seed Production

Name of village Quantity of Foundation Seeds produced (Kg)
NDL-1 HUL-57 KLS-218
Bilap 740 168
Sihi 1200 1160 560

In 16 villages selected for this activity out of total area (1266.5 ha.)  under lentil 1159.4 ha were cultivated with old local varieties giving 4-6 q/ha yield and only 1107.1 was under improved varieties.  By the end of project i.e. after 3 years, in these villages 488.1 ha was under high yielding varieties of NDL-1, HUL-57, Moitree, pl-6, and KLS-218 giving average yield of 12.5Q/ha. This approach helped to increase the area under high yielding lentil varieties to about four-fold by the end of the project thus giving 4 times more revenue to the farmers with only new technology.



Replacement of High B-ODAP lathyrus varieties

Lathyrus a legume used as pulses for its quality that it can grow even at a place where no other crop can grow and provide farmers food when nothing is available.  However, the old varieties/cultivars with farmers contain high toxin (B-ODAP), which if consumed in high quantity can cause lathyrism (a disease crippling the consumer).  It is being used as pulses, mixed with Besan (Gram Floor), vegetable (Sag) and also as nutritive fodder. Govt. banned the sale of this during early 60s. In spite of its ban on sale, farmers were growing, Lahtyrus sativus in Bihar, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and so many other States. Although new varieties with low B-ODAP has been developed, farmers were ignorant of this development and are still   continuing with old high toxin varieties available with them. To educate the farmers, SPARK decided to launch a program, for replacing the old high B-ODAP varieties grown by farmers with low B-ODAP high yielding varieties, for its safe human consumption. Through PRA, it was found that, 15% farmers are growing regularly Lathyrus while 52% farmers grow Lathyrus occasionally.

In Nalanda district of Bihar, we discussed with farmers in two villages, Lachchubigh and Bairiganj about our programme, and they agreed to join us in replacement of varieites. During 2015-16, only 6 farmers in Lachchubigh and 4 in Bairiganj were given the low B-ODAP varieties Ratan and Nirmal. Only 4 quintals of Ratan and 2 quintals of Nirmal were replaced.  Replaced seed quantity of farmers’ indigenous high toxin cultivars, were taken and crushed so that they may not sow it again and were returned to the farmers to use them as animal feed.

Seeing the result of these two varieties, 26 farmers agreed to get their indigenous Lathyrus seed replaced with Ratan variety and 13 farmers replaced their own seed with improved Nirmal variety.  They sowed in 11.6 ha and 21.7 ha with Ratan and Nirmal, respectively. Few farmers were also given another new low toxin variety ‘Prateek”as replacement.  Total 11.5 quintal of Ratan, 16.8 quintal of Nirmal and 0.5 quintal of Prateek were replaced.

Low toxin and high yielding Lathyrus varieties, Nirmal & Ratan suitable for fodder & grain

Climate change resilient agriculture (land degradation – soil health, water management and agroforestry):

Climate change affects agriculture and food production in complex ways. Climate change will affect the soil and crop management options for the farmers. It is aimed at improving the adaptive capacity of rural communities to cope with climate risks through climate resilient agriculture interventions in targeted villages. It is being demonstrated to Vertisols farmers that acreages of Kharif and Rabi fallows can be reduced by improving soil health through reduction in erosion hazards of black soils and adoption of climate resilient conservation agricultural practices on watershed platforms

The adoption of climate change adaptation and mitigation practices (zero tillage, direct dry seeding, raised-bed and paired-row planting, reduced soil-over burden shallow seeding in moist zones, pre-monsoon primed dry seeding for timely crop establishment, crop residue management, sprinkler and furrow irrigation, choice of cultivars and tree species for agroforestry; decision support (Nutrient Expert) and sensor (Green-Seeker) -based site-specific nutrient management, precision water management (laser levelling, micro-irrigation), stress resilient cultivars, seed and fodder banks powered with value-added weather forecasts; ICT based agro-advisories; capacity building, and knowledge and experience dissemination to wider population.

Sustainable intensification of Agriculture.

Agroforestry systems create ample employment for both men and women through additional opportunities on-farm, off farm and enterprise operations (Figure above). The trees on farm with time are known to enhance the natural resources output in terms of soil, water, air and micro-atmosphere improvement, especially carbon sequestration both above and below ground, and thus, contributes significantly to the environmental benefits. With time and practice, there is stable and regular income generation leading to sustainable livelihoods. Another significant benefit of the system is its ability to provide resilience to climate change through its multiple smart mitigation and adaptation practices. Farmers practising the system have experience improved livelihoods, increased income, food security and resilience to changing climate over the years.

The proposed SMART protocol (Figure below) is an iterative cycle of co-learning and refinement that addresses key barriers to adoption of trees on farms, followed by immediate adoption of suitable agroforestry options across a range of livelihood systems of the farmers. This is coupled with extensive assessment of the performance of species and management options in the initial scaling up trials (including farmer feedback and analysis of their adaptations) and intensive measurement of impacts of trees on water, soil health, crop yield and overall system performance, including availability of fruits during the hunger period.

Capacity Building :




Training/ Travelling Seminar/Field

Classroom training

Travelling Seminar

Field Workshop

Farmers with certified/foundation seeds of Mustard provided by SPARK

Field Seminar




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *