Zero-tillage as a pathway for sustainable wheat intensification in the Eastern Indo-Gangetic Plains: does it work in farmers’ fields? uri icon

abstract

  • In controlled-condition field trials across South Asia, zero-tillage (ZT) has demonstrated considerable scope for enhancing wheat productivity in the Indo-Gangetic Plains (IGP) while using less energy and irrigation water. However, studies that quantify the impact of ZT in farmers' fields are scarce, especially in the less productive and densely populated Eastern IGP, an area that the Indian government is targeting for investment to address current and future food insecurity. Furthermore, a recent global meta-analysis has questioned the yield benefits of ZT, especially when permanent soil cover with crop residues is not maintained. To assess the real-world performance of ZT wheat in Eastern India, we quantified the productivity impact of current ZT practices in the State of Bihar, based on a random sample of 1000 wheat-growing households, stratified by ZT adoption status. Cobb-Douglas stochastic production frontiers estimated the effect of ZT on wheat output while controlling for potential selection bias between ZT users and non-users regarding crop management. In contrast to the global meta-analysis, we found that the prevailing ZT practices without full residue retention led to a robust yield gain over conventional-tillage wheat across different agro-ecological zones, amounting to 498 kg ha(-1) (19 %), on average. The economic benefit from ZT related yield increase and cost savings in wheat production amounted to 6 % of total annual income among sampled households. We conclude that ZT users reap substantial benefits, and that ZT technology could play a major role in making Bihar self-sufficient in wheat. To increase access to the technology among smallholders, an expansion of the network of ZT service providers is essential and can be supported through targeted policies and development interventions.

publication date

  • 2015
  • 2015