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Reaping what they sow

A study of yields in two contiguous districts in Maharashtra provides an enlightening illustration of the benefit of education and knowledge dissemination

The story of farming in the Wardha and Akola districts, in Maharashtra,would probably be told apocryphally if it weren’t true. It’s a tale that encourages a willingness to learn about and adopt new, proven techniques to bolster results, and the importance of making such information available to those who can benefit from it.

These two regions, Wardha district and Akola district, were ideal for comparison because of their contiguity and their almost-identical areas of cultivation and irrigation. Bengal gram is sown as a pure crop in both Wardha and Akola districts. After harvesting soyabean crops, farmers in both districts plant Bengal gram. It is a crop that is suited for minimal cultivation. It requires very little water and only two or three sprays of pesticide.

Though Akola’s soil has better moisture retention than that of Wardha, it is also more saline.

Regarding red gram, farmers in both districts used high-yielding Maruthi and Asha seed varieties. Farmers in Akola also used the Durga variety.

Pulse Condition Yield potential (quintals / ha)
Akola Wardha
Red gram Irrigated 20–25 15–17
Rainfed 7–12 5–7
Bengal gram Irrigated 20–25 10–12
Rainfed 10–12 5–7

Based on the known practices and conditions in each of the two districts, the yield potential for both irrigated and rainfed crops of pigeonpea was estimated to be about two-thirds higher in Akola than in Wardha, and that of chickpea was put at twice as high in Akola as in Wardha.

For chickpea, though the use of seeds newly acquired from distributors is recommended, 70 per cent of all farmers used seeds they collected from previous crops (farm-saved seeds). About a quarter of the Akola farmers used high-yielding Jaki seeds; the Wardha farmers were unaware of such seeds. This inequity of knowledge is attributed to the presence of an agricultural university in Akola. In Wardha, there is no such institute.

Ninety-five per cent of Akola farmers treat their seeds in some manner prior to planting. Though all Wardha farmers are aware of the recommendation to treat seeds, none of them do — small farmers doubt any benefit would be had by treating seeds, though most large farmers acknowledge the possibility of a benefit. The reasons for avoiding seed treatment are dual: treated seeds stick together, making sowing more difficult, and the women who do the sowing resist handling treated seeds for fear of deleterious side effects.

Four-fifths of Akola farmers reported better germination and less wilt in both bengal gram and red gram due to seed treatment.

For red gram, larger farmers in Akola use four to five times the amount of fertilizer as their counterparts in Wardha. Also, a third of small farmers in Akola (and two-thirds of large farmers) employ micronutrients in their farming — in Wardha, this practice is limited solely to large farmers.

With bengal gram, though equal percentages of farmers use 18:18:10 DAP as a basal dose, twice the percentage of farmers in Akola as in Wardha use 50kg / acre. The remaining portion in Wardha apply it at a rate of 25kg / acre. Forty per cent of Akola farmers apply ZnSO4; none of the Wardha farmers do so.

Akola Wardha
40% of farmers use 18:18:10 @ 50kg as basal
20% of farmers use 18:18:10 @ 50kg as basal
25% use it at 25kg/acre
40% of farmers use ZnSO4
No use of ZnSO4

Though Wardha is significantly better positioned to irrigate, with ten times the oil engines and more than twice the number of electric pumpsets and degree of rural electrification, it only has one percent more area under irrigation than Akola. Twice the number of small farmers in Akola used sprinklers. All of Akola’s large farmers did, while only seventy-eight percent of Wardha’s did.

District Total Area under irrigation [ha]
Akola 30592

Equipment Wardha
Oil Engines 2252
Electric Pumpsets 17890
Rural electrification 2300

It should be noted, however, that Wardha does receive about one-third more rainfall than Akola.

And in both places, farmers knew the crops required protective irrigation in the flowering and pod-formation stages, but in neither place were any aware of water-harvesting technology.

The poor electricity situation was blamed by all farmers as a reason more irrigation wasn’t occurring.

Akola Wardha
Red gram
100% of large farmers use new pesticides 100% of large farmers use new pesticides
100% of small farmers use new pesticides
33% of small farmers use new pesticides
27% of area is treated with new pesticides
7% of area is treated with new pesticides
Bengal gram
55% of area is treated with new pesticides <5% of area is treated with new pesticides

With red gram, all Akola farmers, both large and small, used new pesticides. Although all large farmers in Wardha used new pesticides, only one-third of small farmers did. Correspondingly, twenty-seven percent of pesticide-treated land in Akola is treated with new-variety pesticides, whereas only seven percent of all the treated crop area in Wardha is.

A lack of pest-control knowledge was evident in both districts. None of the Wardha farmers knew the right control for podfly, and only five per cent of Akola farmers knew that organophosphate is an effective podfly control.

The disparity between the neighbouring districts again becomes apparent, however, when a comparison is done between the protective measures the two districts take for bengal gram. All Akola farmers use conventional and new pesticides — new pesticides are used on over half of pesticide-treated land. In Wardha, the small farmers use conventional pesticides and one new pesticide — Indoxacarb, and that only on 5 per cent of pesticide-treated land.

Unexpectedly, none of the large farmers in Wardha use any pesticides for bengal gram. Adding to the surprising nature of that statistic is that the small farmers who use pesticides in Wardha report a high level of satisfaction with them, believing they increase their yield by 25–30 per cent through effective pest control. That’s a higher level of satisfaction than is reported in Akola, where both small and large farmers report a medium level of satisfaction with pesticide use.

The actual yield statistics for red gram and bengal gram on small and large farms in the two districts. (The table with yield potential, shown above, is reprinted here for ease of comparison.)

Pulse Farm size Yield (quintals / ha)
Red gram Small farmers 10–12 2.5
Large farmers 7–10
Bengal gram Small farmers 10–12 7–9
Large farmers 12 5–7

Pulse Condition Yield potential (quintals / ha)
Akola Wardha
Red gram Irrigated 20–25 15–17
Rainfed 7–12 5–7
Bengal gram Irrigated 20–25 10–12
Rainfed 10–12 5–7

Not surprisingly, yields in Akola are much higher than those in Wardha. On small farms, Akola yields of red gram are four to five times those of Wardha. On large farms, the difference is less dramatic, but Akola yields are still one-and-a-half to two times those in Wardha.

For bengal gram, the disparity is less, and the larger difference is on large farms — Akola small farmers get about one-and-a-half times the bengal gram yield of their Wardha counterparts, and large farmers get about double the yield in Akola than they get in Wardha.

The proportional differences in the estimates of yield potential between the two districts, which predicted that Akola could achieve about two-thirds more yield than Warda, were not far from the actual results. The raw numbers, however, were at best (those of large farmers) close to the lower end of the potential estimates for rainfed land — for neither district did the actual yield come anywhere close the estimated potential yield for irrigated land, or, for that matter, even reach the higher end of the estimated potential for rainfed land.

While the higher yields achieved by Akola are most likely attributable to its farmers' use of more up-to-date farming methods, the question remains as to why Akola farmers are so much better informed than their neighbours in Wardha. A major reason seems to be the presence of the agricultural university in Akola. The university maintains demonstration plots of all current ruling varieties, new varieties, and hybrids, for farmers' benefit. It also periodically conducts training sessions for the farmers, acquainting them with new technology, seed-treatment methods, seed-production methods, etc.

Practices Differences
Land preparation
Seed use 70% of farmers in both districts use farm-raised seeds
Financial dependency
In both districts, farmers get credit from their seed dealers

To be sure, there are similarities between the farming techniques used in the two districts — farmers in both districts prepare the land in the same fashion. About 70 per cent of farmers in both districts use farm-saved seeds. Farmers in both areas are dependent on dealers for credit, and both cite the dealer as their main source of information, though farmers in Akola seem to use their fellow farmers as sources of information more often than their Wardha counterparts do.

Practices Differences
Awareness and usage higher in Akola
Seed treatment with biologicals Higher in Akola
Usage of soil amendments
Usage higher in Akola (to reclaim saline soils)
Varietal selection
Akola farmers have more knowledge on the latest high-yield varieties of bengal gram
New pesticides Akola farmers are more knowledgeable and more frequently use newer pesticides
Source of information Farmers in both districts use dealers, though those in Akola consult each other more than do those in Wardha

But the differences between the two contiguous districts are the reason Akola gets higher yields than its neighbour: Akola farmers are more aware of micronutrients and modern pesticides and use both more frequently than do farmers in Wardha. Akola farmers treat their seeds with biologicals much more frequently than do those in Wardha. They are also more aware of the latest high-yield varieties of bengal gram.

Akola farmers also use soil amendments more frequently, but this is at least partly due to Akola's more saline soil.

PKVV in Akola KVK in Wardha
Maintains demonstration plots of all current ruling varieties, new varieties, and hybrids
Small staff, small training facility
Periodically trains farmers in new
technology, seed-treatment methods, and seed-production methods
Located on premises of cotton research station

The pattern of more advanced techniques being used more frequently in Akola than in Wardha is all likely due to the higher level of continuing education available through Akola's agricultural university versus what is available to Wardha farmers. Wardha has a Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) — a district-level farm science centre that falls under the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and aims to rapidly disseminate technology and technological know-how to farmers. But Wardha's KVK, located on the premises of a cotton research station, has a small staff and few resources.

The potential for improvement in farmers' yields in Wardha district is high, and the roadmap seems to have been laid out by their neighbours in Akola — the farmers are capable of improving yields if they simply have access to periodic education on the latest recommendations in farming techniques and instructions on how to use the latest technology. How this should be accomplished — by providing more infrastructure or funding to the Wardha KVK, providing it through another institute, or using some other means — remains to be decided. What is clear, though, is that, in the current situation, opportunity is being wasted.
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