Sowing the Seeds of Success: Impact of (KRL-210) in Salt and Water Stressed Agroecosystems

The South-Western part of Punjab, India is critically affected by twin menaces of salinity and waterlogging. Furthermore, steadily declining groundwater quality, erratic canal water supply and climate change impacts are seemingly hitting the local livelihoods and natural resources. Alarming increase in irrigation-induced salinity over the past few decades has left a trail of destruction: such as traditional and highly remunerative Kinnow mandarin and cotton-based farming systems in the region have virtually come to a standstill. This has compelled the local farmers to switch over to other land-use systems. This study was conducted over the years 2016-2018 with 34 farmers from 9 salt-affected villages of Fazilka [Mamu Kheda, Kikar Kheda and Kandwalla (Abohar developmental block) and Alamgarh, Saidawali and Saidawali (Baluana developmental block)] and Sri Muktsar Sahib [Panniwala, Bodiwala, Sheranwala and Pind (Malout developmental block)] districts to understand some feasible and sustainable solutions to cope with salinity and other stressors. Data were recorded through field visits, transect walks (Fig. 1 A &B), focus group discussions (Fig. 1C), personal interviews, and soil and water sampling.

Extent of salinity and related hazards

The soils in the study area were characterized as saline-sodic. Depending on the land-use system (rice-wheat, cotton-wheat and Kinnow-based) soil electrical conductivity (ECe) and pH (pHs) in Fazilka villages ranged from ~-0.6-7.4 dS/m and 7.6-9.3, respectively. Similarly, groundwater salinity and water table depth varied between 0.7-2.1 dS/m and 0.60-1.50 m. In Sri Muktsar Sahib district, where rice-wheat system predominates, soil and groundwater salinities were relatively high and more variable (ECe 1.1-10.4 dS/m, pHS 7.8-8.7 and water salinity 1.7-3.4 dS/m) with a water table depth of 0.8-2.0 m.

 Creating and Sustaining Knowledge-cum-Seed Network

Though, better performance of KRL-210 in waterlogged saline soils in the Malout area (2013-15) prompted some local innovative farmers who had previously obtained KRL-210 seeds from ICAR-CSSRI, Karnal for further multiplication and distribution to other farmers, the main impetus came from the systematic Frontline Demonstrations conducted over 2016-2018 in the Abohar area. Thanks to concerted efforts by the stakeholders (ICAR-CSSRI, farmers, seed producers, Line Departments and KVKs), a knowledge-cum-seed network was created (Fig. 1 C; Fig. 2) and supported to sustain and further expand the seed value chain, and the related knowledge and practices to other similar agro-ecosystems of Punjab state. Shortly, wheat KRL-210 emerged as a promising planned-cum-autonomous adaptation not only in the study districts (Fazilka and Sri Muktsar Sahib), but in other salt and water stressed districts (Ludhiana, Kapurthala, Barnala, Amritsar and Patiala) as well.

(Fig 1. Field activities. A: A salinity impaired rice-wheat farmer’s field; B: A declining Kinnow orchard; C: FGD with key respondents; D: bumper crop of wheat KRL-210 at farmers’ field)

Impact at the field level

Wheat KRL-210 showed an astonishing performance in terms of grain yield: between 4.4 to 5.6 t/ha (mean 5.1 t/ha) in marginally saline and 3.6 to 4.1 t/ha in moderately-to-highly saline lands prone to waterlogging compared to other locally popular wheat varieties (3.3 to 3.6 t/ha). Exceptionally higher yields (6.5-6.8 t/ha) were also recorded in few cases (low soil salinity ECe ~3.0 dS/m) (Fig. 1D). Interestingly, farmers adopting KRL-210 were able to reduce the cost of wheat cultivation by about 15.0%. Over the past few years, wheat KRL-210 has spread to other districts of Punjab; for instance to Amritsar, where its integration into vegetable pea-wheat rotation is paying rich dividends in terms of cropping systems diversification and assured straw supply for dairy enterprise. In Amritsar and other districts (Ludhiana, Patiala etc.) KRL-210 yields 4.0-4.5 t/ha in normal and 3.0-3.5 t/ha in water-stressed fields. Our study farmers assigned a performance score 3 out of 4 to KRL-210, given its high-yielding capacity in areas facing salinity, waterlogging and climate-related challenges. This knowledge-cum-seed network has led to an accelerated diffusion of wheat KRL-210, covering an estimated ~90,000 ha area in various districts of Punjab (Fig. 2).

(Fig. 2 Conceptual model illustrating the impact of integrated autonomous and planned adaptations influenced KRL-210 expansion)

Policy implications

The huge success of this intervention reflected that an integrated (planned-autonomous adaptations), stakeholder-based approach is critical to safeguard and improve the farmers’ livelihoods in areas experiencing multiple stressors: salinity, waterlogging, poor adaptive capacity, fresh water scarcity and climate change impacts. The insights from this long-term farmer participatory study would be useful to shaping future policies for sustainable management of salt-affected and other degraded lands under similar agro-ecological conditions. Such concerted efforts remain absolutely essential to devise feasible adaptive pathways to achieve some of the objectives of Land Degradation Neutrality and Sustainable Development Goals initiatives. 

 (Source:ICAR-CSSRI, Karnal, Haryana)