In Meghalayas tough hill terrains that limit field visits, space technology is aiding the selection of areas that are suited for growing and expanding cultivation of boro rice which is sown in winter and harvested in spring/summer…writes Sahana Ghosh
Boro refers to a special type of rice cultivation on residual or stored water in low-lying areas after the harvest of kharif (winter) rice. Space technology has zoomed in on potential stretches in the state and offered a bird’s eye view of tracts that are best suited for growing boro season rice.
This will help bridge the demand-supply gap in Meghalaya, where 81 percent of the population is dependent on agriculture but the net cropped area is proportionately quite less: only about 10 percent of the total geographical area of the state.
So, to identify areas for expansion of boro rice in Meghalaya, the North Eastern Space Applications Centre (NESAC) at the request of the Meghalaya’s Directorate of Agriculture, tapped into a suite of geospatial technologies.
These technologies such as remote sensing and Geographic Information Systems are a range of modern tools contributing to the geographic mapping and analysis of a range of data about people, such as population, income, or education level and also about landscapes.
The move to expand area of rice grown in the boro season comes under the Meghalaya State Rice Mission (MSRM) aimed at narrowing the gap between rice production and consumption by doubling the production of rice – a major staple food of the northeastern state, accounting for over 80 percent of the foodgrain production.
In West Bengal and Bangladesh, expansion of irrigation, essential for supporting the boro rice production, led to a rapid increase in boro rice area and production during the past two decades and Meghalaya can benefit by deploying a similar strategy of expanding the boro season area, the state agriculture department opined.
Previous estimates from the rice mission document peg the consumption at approximately 400,000 tonnes annually during the years 2010-11. This estimate is double the rice produced during that period.
“Rice recorded an annual production of 3,01,076 metric tonnes during the year 2015-16 at an average productivity of 2.72 metric tonnes per hectare. Our spring rice/boro paddy produces an average yield of 4.28 metric tonnes per hectare under assured irrigation,” the agriculture department said.
In Meghalaya, the rice crop is distributed in three rice ecosystems. They are low- altitude rice that covers 70 percent of total rice growing areas, mid-altitude rice covers 25 percent and high altitude rice that covers five percent.
In a report submitted to NITI Aayog, the Meghalaya government has said that the under-utilisation of land during the winter season has resulted in shortage of rice for the ever-increasing population.
In addition, with assured irrigation, boro paddy yield is double the average yield per hectare compared to sali rice.
“Boro paddy gives an average yield of 4 MT per hectare compared to the average yield of 2 MT per hectare of sali paddy,” according to the report.
Further, winter planting is free from flash floods and is well-suited for SRI (System of Rice Intensification) technique with yields of 6-7 MT per hectare, the report said, justifying the augmentation of boro paddy cultivation in areas where this practice was not in vogue.
With the NESAC data at its disposal, the department of agriculture has initiated steps for application of the findings by taking a policy decision to link the activity for growing boro rice with the Indian government’s National Rural Employment Guarantee (NREGA) program.
“This will achieve both the objective of providing assured employment under NREGA and also productive output and income for the NREGA wage earner cum farmer,” an agriculture department official said.
Space tech can reduce time lost on trial and error
“By using satellite images and data with ground information on parameters such as slope, soil and climate, we mapped potential areas for expansion of boro rice cultivation. This was one of the first of its kind project in the northeast,” Pratibha T. Das of NESAC told Mongabay-India.
Having space technology focus on potential areas saves time and money in implementation by skipping the field trial stage, explained Das.
In an email communique to Mongabay-India, officials at Meghalaya’s agriculture department also reiterated that this approach eliminates the trial and error method “saving time, effort and money and scale of implementation in a given (short) period of time.”
Das further said: “Even though the identified areas are small, the agriculture department need not conduct field trials; they can directly select the potential areas from the maps and start cultivation.”
he mapping exercise covered landscapes spread across nearly 5000 square km at elevation below 200 metres and excluding forest, built up and barren rocky areas. The findings published in Current Science show that out of 4903 sq. km study area only 807 sq. km (16.5 percent) is suitable for boro rice cultivation.
Though 16.5 percent area is suitable for boro rice, only 0.8 percent (6.35 sq. km) area is highly suitable, which is found in West Garo hills district. Around 581.74 sq. km is marginally suitable whereas 219.07 sq. km area is moderately suitable.
“The data tells us that slope, soil texture, soil fertility (acidity) and soil drainage are the major limiting factors/problems, because of which maximum areas are found marginally and moderately suitable for boro rice expansion,” said Das.
Based on problems/limitations of the land, land users and planners can decide on crop management strategies to increase productivity, she said.
Thematic maps like soil drainage, soil texture, soil depth, flooding and gravel/stoniness and land use maps were dovetailed with soil sample analyses and digital elevation models to get a clear picture on ground.
Soil samples were collected from 121 locations and analysed, revealing that sandy clay soil texture, that was best fit for boro rice, was distributed in six percent of the area examined.