CIESIN Reproduced, with permission, from: Rajasekaran, B. 1993. Indigenous technical pratices in a rice-based farming system. Ames, IA: Center for Indigenous Knowledge for Agriculture and Rural Development. Draft.

Indigenous Technical Practices in a Rice-based Farming Systems

I. Indigenous cropping systems

Indigenous cropping systems are those cropping systems that have been practiced for generations and still hold promise in meeting the food requirements of a growing population. Most of the cropping systems are well suited to the diversified agro-ecological conditions.

Sequential cropping is a system of cropping in which farmers sow two or three short duration crops in succession, especially legumes or oilseeds in lines between trees. Sequential cropping is adopted in marginal lands or dry lands. Sequential cropping contributes significantly to protein production for marginal and small-scale farmers.

Mixed cropping is a system of cropping in which farmers sow more than two crops at the same time. Farmers normally sow a mixture of legume and oilseed crops with an objective to meet protein and fat requirements. By sowing more than two crops, farmers try to avoid risks due to failure of any one crop. Mixed cropping is usually followed under rainfed conditions.

Monocropping is a system of cropping in which farmers cultivate the same crop in all three seasons in a year. Large-scale farmers who have access to irrigation prefer monocropping.

Intercropping is a system of cropping in which farmers cultivate two crops of different statures in alternate rows. Growing groundnuts and black gram or red gram and groundnuts are good examples.

Border cropping is a system of cropping in which farmers cultivate a major crop in the fields and a minor crop along the borders the fields. Rice and black gram are examples.

II. Indigenous soil health care practices

Indigenous soil health care practices are those practices evolved, adopted, and modified by farmers based on their own informal experiments with an objective to maintaining the fertility and productivity of the soil.

Crop rotation is a practice in which farmers grow different types of crops in various seasons. Crop rotation also implies that at least one legume crop should be incorporated in the cropping pattern in a year.

Fallowing is an indigenous soil health care practice in which farmers let cultivated land rest for a certain period of time before using it again.

Farm yard manure is a mixture of cow dung, cow urine, and paddy straw. Farmers apply farm yard manure especially to cereal crops such as rice, finger millets, and oilseeds such as groundnuts. Farm yard manure regulates the supply of nitrogen. Farm yard manure changes the color of the soil which is essential for absorbing sunlight. Farmers refer to this process as mann matram in Tamil.

Casuarina leaves: Farmers harvest Casuarina equisetifolia, a fuelwood tree, collecting the leaves and applying them to problem soils to counteract soil alkalinity.

Riverbed sand: Farmers apply sand that is collected from river beds if the problem of soil alkalinity is severe. There are some experienced farmers in the villages who can identify the severity of the soil alkalinity problem. Farmers facing alkalinity problems contact the experienced farmers for advise to correcting this problem.

Plowing Daincha in situ: Daincha is a root nodule shrub. Farmers with clayey soils, before planting rice, sow the Daincha seeds and plow the plants in situ when the plants become 45 days old. Mulching consists of leaving crop residues in the field, or bringing in other materials such as foliage from elsewhere.

Teprosia leaves: Farmers grow Teprosia populnea trees near the irrigation pump sheds. After second or third plowing, they cut the leaves of Teprosia and spread them over the plowed fields for one night. During the next day, they plow these leaves into the soil. After this operation, they puddle the field for planting.

III. Indigenous rice seed selection and processing techniques

Removing rogue plants: Rogues are different varieties of the same crop. Identifying and removing the rogue plants is a skillful technique. Farmers remove rogue plants at least 25 days before harvesting in order to avoid admixtures and also to maintain the genetic purity of a particular variety of a rice crop. Farmers claim that rogue plants mature first.

Spreading notchi leaves over the rice seeds: Once rice seeds are processed and stored, farmers spread notchi leaves over the rice seeds to prevent infestation by stored pests.

Sieving rice seeds: Before sowing, farmers sieve rice seeds in order to separate the seeds of weeds. Since most of the weed seeds are bigger than rice seeds, they are filtered out in the sieves.

Manual threshing of rice seeds: By threshing rice seeds manually, farmers claim that the plumule area of rice seeds are protected. Man farmers are of the opinion that tractor threshed rice seeds are of poor germination potential.

Selecting healthy plots: Farmers by physical observation demarcate a small plot for seed purposes. This is usually done one month prior to harvesting. Healthy plots that are free from pests or diseases attack are selected. Farmers also hold certain beliefs while selecting the rice seed plots. During the samba season, they select a plot from the north east corner of the field. This is locally termed as sani moolai. During the navarai season, they select a plot from the southwest corner of the field, locally termed as pillayar moolai.

Farmer-to-farmer seed exchange: Farmers practice their own system of obtaining quality seeds. They form an informal network wherein they visit each other's fields before harvest. They judge the quality of the seeds by observation. If they are satisfied, they buy from each other. There are some large-scale farmers in the village who raise one to two acre seed farms every season. Many small-scale and marginal farmers reported that these seed grower are more reliable than the public seed distribution system.

IV. Indigenous crop nutrient management practices

Indigenous crop nutrient management practices are those manuring and fertilizing practices developed by farmers through judicious mixing of organic manures and chemical fertilizers.

Sheep manure: Some marginal farmers rear sheeps especially for their manure value. According to them, five to six sheeps are sufficient to cater to the manure needs of one acre of rice. Sheep manure is usually applied once in a year. Farmers who apply sheep manure usually skip the basal application of chemical fertilizers. Sheep manure is powdered and mixed with urea for top dressing. Sheep manure releases the nitrogen quickly when compared to farm yard manure.

Farm yard manure: Farm yard manure is a mixture of straw, cow dung, urine, and other plant materials. Pure cow dung is not good for the rice crop. According to farmers, the farm yard manure has certain specific advantages: (1) Farm yard manure increases yield by at least two bags (1 bag=75 kgs.); (2) Farm yard manure increases the grain weight of rice; (3) Robust seedlings can be obtained by the application of farm yard manure; (4) Top dressing of nitrogen can be reduced if farm yard manure is applied basally; and (5) Farm yard manure adds roughness to the crop surface thus minimizing pest incidence.

V. Indigenous rice transplanting techniques

Row planting: Planting in rows significantly increases the production of tillers in rice variety ponni. This practice also enables the farmers to undertake intercultural operations such as application of fertilizers and pesticides. This practice yields an additional two bags of rice per acre.

Pinch planting: During navarai season, farmers ask the laborers to plant only 2-3 seedling per hill. This is locally referred to as killi poduthal (pinch planting).

Clump planting: During samba season, farmers ask laborers to plant 45 seedlings per hill, This practice is locally referred to as pudichi poduthal (clump planting).

VI. Indigenous rice weed management strategies

Indigenous rice weed management strategies are those strategies adopted by farmers to minimize the growth of weeds in rice fields.

Puddling rice nurseries followed by drying: Farmers irrigate the rice nurseries on the first day. This irrigation enables the weed seeds to germinate. They store the water for three-four days. Some farmers wait even for one week. The water slowly dries up leaving the weeds. Then they plough the fields by turning the soil upside down. Thus, the germinated weeds are killed. Again, they irrigate the nursery area and repeat the entire practice. Farmers claim that meticulous practice of alternative wetting and drying of rice nurseries helps them to minimize weeding.

Weed management in rice main field: The following management practices are being followed by the farmers in order to manage the weeds effectively in the main field: (1) Preparing and levelling the main fields uniformly without undulations; (2) Maintaining the heights of the field bunds at one inch; (3) Storing water continuously up to 15 days from planting. Draining of water especially during the first 20 days from planting leads to emergence of the weeds; (4) Maintaining the water level 1 inch; (5) Closer planting is necessary especially during the navarai and sornawari seasons; and (6) Applying neem cake to control korai weeds.

VII. Indigenous rice pest management strategies

Pest monitoring: Most of the farmers apply pesticides after a thorough pest monitoring. Farmers look for pest symptoms in rice tillers. For each rice pest, farmers have their own economic injury levels. They apply pesticides only if the infestation crosses economic injury levels. Only for earhead bug, do they apply pesticide immediately even if only one bug is seen.

Proper aeration to manage the attack of brown plant hopper: In order to minimize the attack of the brown plant hopper, farmers fold the rice crop once in eight feet. This practice not only provides aeration for the rice tillers but also exposes the culms of the rice crop where the brown plant hopper is usually found.

Local rat traps: Farmers invented these rat traps to kill rats in the rice fields. Rats are one of the major non-insect pests and contribute to 35% of grain loss. The damage is severe during the milky stage and grain formation stage. Farmers install these traps along the bunds to kill the rats during night times. The infestation is severe only during the night times. These traps are effective than chemical rodenticides. Moreover, rodenticides are known for polluting the environment as well as groundwater.

VIII. Indigenous technical practices for groundnuts

Sowing groundnuts in rice fallows: During the last week of December, after the harvest of samba paddy, utilizing the available moisture, farmers sow groundnut seeds using hand hoes. Sowing of groundnuts normally completed within three to five days to utilize the moisture effectively. The following are the significant advantages of this practice over the conventional method of sowing the groundnut seeds after the field preparation:

  1. Efficient use of time since land preparation for the next season is not required;

  2. Saves cost of labor for the land preparation;

  3. Infestation of Prodenia is below the economic threshold level;

  4. Two weedings are sufficient; and

  5. No significant difference in the yield.

Intercultural operation in groundnuts: Some farmers in Kizhur village turn the soil using hand hoes immediately after the second weeding of the groundnut crop. This should be followed by pressing the soil closer to the groundnut plant up to a height of 3-4 inches from the surface of the soil. This practice results in increasing the rate of peg formation that consequently leads to higher yields in groundnuts. In spite of increased labor input for this activity, the farmers found a significant difference in the net profits.