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Increasing productivity of legume-based farming systems in the Central Dry Zone of Myanmar (MyPulses)

 

The Central Dry Zone (CDZ) of Myanmar is an area of about 80,000 km2in the centre of the country defined by the 500–1,000 mm rainfall isohyets. It represents about 12% of the land area of Myanmar and is home to 12 million people, of which 80% (10 million people) are classified as rural. Central Dry Zone farmers cultivate 3.3 Mha land to grow 5.5 Mha grain crops. Major crop types are the 2.5 Mha pulse and oilseed legumes and 1.5 Mha sesame and sunflower. Rice is grown as a rainfed monsoon crop and under irrigation in the CDZ, with the estimated planted area of 1.1 Mha representing 15% of Myanmar’s total. On the other hand, an estimated 46% of Myanmar’s pulse and oilseed legumes and 74% of sesame and sunflower are grown in the CDZ.

The CDZ is regarded, however, as one of the most food-insecure, water-stressed, climate-sensitive, natural resource-poor and least-developed regions of the country and is therefore a priority focus of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation (MOALI) because of its clear economic and social needs coupled with its development potential.

The MyPulses project was conceived in planning workshops and scoping missions during 2010–11 and implemented in 2013 with the overarching aim of improving the livelihoods and food security of small-holder farmers, their families and communities in the CDZ through RD&E targeted at the legume-based farming systems. Specific objectives were:

  • Develop improved varieties of major food legumes – pigeonpea, groundnut, chickpea, green gram and black gram – linked to institutional and community-based seed production and distribution
  • Improve nutrient management of the legume-based farming systems focussing on the supply of phosphorus (P), nitrogen (N), boron (B), sulphur (S), potassium (K) and zinc (Zn), and including legume inoculants
  • Improve the agronomic management of the legume-based systems through crop benchmarking with farmers to increase efficiency of water use and effectively integrate new technologies
  • Enhance capacity for RD&E in the relevant agencies in Myanmar through implementation of the collaborative ACIAR project model and through targeted infrastructure improvement, training and extension.

Partners in MyPulses were the Department of Agricultural Research (DAR), Department of Agriculture (DoA) and Yezin Agricultural University (YAU) in Myanmar, the University of New England (UNE) and University of Adelaide (UA) in Australia and ICRISAT in India. During the 5 years of MyPulses, i.e. 2013–18: 

  • More than 700 simple, unreplicated on-farm and replicated on-station trials in varietal evaluation, crop nutrition, rhizobial inoculation and agronomy were conducted across the CDZ
  • A total of 31 DAR and DoA staff received overseas training, ranging from 7 days to 4 years (68% women, 32% men)
  • More than 1,900 persons from DAR, DoA, YAU and NGOs were involved in on-site training in Myanmar (68% women, 32% men)
  • A total of 30 small projects including PhD (x1) and MSc projects (x6) were funded at YAU. A total of 43 academics and students were involved (77% women, 23% men)
  • A total of 180 outreach/extension activities were conducted involving 7,870 farmers (32% women, 68% men)
  • Improvements, both physical and procedural, were made to the DAR soil chemistry laboratory and the DAR Rhizobium/microbiology laboratory
  • There were 130 visits by Australian and ICRISAT project team scientists to Myanmar    

Major achievements/impacts of MyPulses were:

  • Release of 4 new legume varieties (2 chickpea, 2 groundnut) with another 4 scheduled for release in 2019 (3 pigeonpea, 1 groundnut).
  • Successful roll-out of the village seed bank (VSB) program involving almost 1,600 farmers directly and potentially 83,000 other farmers through farmer-to-farmer distribution of the improved VSB varieties.
  • Potential economic benefits of the VSB program estimated at A$33 million during 2015–18.  
  • Improved understanding of climate, particularly rainfall, impacts on soil water and nutrient movement through soils affecting crop productivity in the CDZ. Climate analysis and soil water modelling revealed a sharp decline in the number of rainy days in the growing season, with fewer but larger rainfall events resulting in increased drying of the soil surface in the absence of rain and deep drainage and leaching of nutrients during and after heavy rainfall.
  • Implementation of farmer participatory crop benchmarking (FPCB) as an effective research and extension methodology during 2016–18 in the southern CDZ. The program involved 94 farming households (men and women) in 4 villages near Magway Township. A total of 210 groundnut and 188 sesame fields were benchmarked during the two years. Multisite nutrient leaching experiments were conducted in the second year (12 sites) in concert with comprehensive soil sampling to define texture and nutrient movement.
  • Improved guidelines for rates and timing of inputs of farm-yard manure and mineral fertilisers for groundnut and sesame in the CDZ, including development of a decision support tool for nutrient management. The guidelines and DS tool were outcomes of the climate analysis/soil water modelling and the FPCB and aimed to counter the specific problems of nutrient isolation (immobile phosphorus) and leaching (nitrogen, sulfur, potassium) as well as the more general problems of under fertilisation.  
  • Substantially improved capacity for soil and plant analysis to underpin cropping in the CDZ.

Notwithstanding the achievements of MyPulses, the yield gap between average crop yields and those of the best farmers remains large and could be further reduced. Broad adoption of conservation farming principles in the CDZ would not only help to reduce the yield gap but would also help to ensure the sustainability of the cropping. Other recommendations for future R&D in Myanmar’s CDZ include:

  • Continue pulse breeding and selection, if possible in collaboration with the ICRISAT breeding programs, to produce future high-yielding varieties with specified traits, such as drought tolerance, oil content, mechanical harvestability.
  • Continue and expand of the VSB program.
  • Continue and broaden nutrient management research to address other possible deficiencies, e.g. boron and zinc.
  • Improve and finalise the fertiliser decision-support tool, including the development of a smart phone version.
  • Develop a training package (in English and Myanmar language) on the theory and processes of the farmer participatory crop benchmarking (FPCB) and assist DoA extension staff through training to apply the methodology in their villages.
  • Ensure the long-term viability and credibility of soil chemistry analytical facilities in Myanmar through ongoing support and training. 
  • Continue to build capacity for production of quality-assured, efficacious legume inoculants in Myanmar in sufficiently-large volumes to meet potential demand. 
  • Further research for development investment, based on the participatory model used in the FPCB, to better understand the key crop management practices that make the top 5-10% of farmers so profitable, and to promote adoption of these practices through farmer-to-farmer communication.