How farmers in India are making rice cultivation sustainable

The Sustainable Rice Project also aims to fix gender disparity in agriculture

This is how farmers in India are growing rice sustainably

This is how farmers in India are growing rice sustainably
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A group of farmers in India have succeeded in making rice cultivation sustainable by drastically minimising the use of water to grow their crop.

India, the most populated country in the world, accounts for more than 40 per cent of the world's rice exports.

It also produces about 135 tonnes of rice every year.

Karnal, a village in the state of Haryana, has sprawling fields of sunlit paddy spread out on both sides of the motorway.

Located about 120km from India's capital, New Delhi, the farmers in Karnal shun traditional methods for smarter farming by saving water.

“To produce one kilogram of rice, the paddy field has to consume 4,000 to 5,000 litres of water,” said Nitin Gupta, vice president of global agribusiness, Olam.

Smart farming

The International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Olam launched the Sustainable Rice Project in 2020.

It is aimed at helping farmers make their paddy cultivation environmentally-friendly.

Traditionally, rice farms flood their fields before transplanting paddy. Now, farmers in Karnal have switched to three sustainable techniques.

These include the wet-and-dry method, where a tube is dug into a paddy field to monitor the level of water.

Farmers also use a drip irrigation technique, where they make sure the water reaches the root of the plant in required amounts.

They also use laser-land levelling, which ensures water is evenly distributed throughout the paddy field using laser levellers and tractors.

“By adopting these methods, farmers have reduced the overall water consumption by 15 to 20 per cent without impacting the yield,” said Mr Gupta.

However, asking farmers to give up their traditional techniques that they and their forefathers have been using has proved a challenge.


The northern plains of Haryana may be some of the most fertile grounds for rice production, but the state has some of India's lowest female literacy rates.

The Sustainable Rice Project aims to provide opportunities for local women by addressing gender disparity in agriculture.

Krishi Sakhis: A unique initiative in India where women make rice cultivation sustainable

Krishi Sakhis: A unique initiative in India where women make rice cultivation sustainable

The grass roots project now empowers women not only to reach out to farmers with the knowledge of sustainable farming, but to help them be part of the wider community and earn some money.

These women are called Krishi-Sakhis, which translates to Farmer's Friends.

“A Krishi Sakhi is expected to help the farmers understand the advisory and operations on a day-to-day basis,” said Suparna Jain, operations manager at IFC.

The role also includes ensuring the amount of crop inputs in terms of water, fertilisers and pesticides, which need to be done on a regular basis.

This intervention has helped not only farmers but local women, including Seema Devi.

Ms Devi and her other Krishi Sakhi colleagues visit farmers in the fields, or in their homes, a few days a week to teach them about sustainable farming.

But it wasn't easy.

When they began meeting farmers in 2020, the Krishi Sakhis felt they were being taunted by the men.

“They were casually roaming around with nothing better to do,” said Ms Devi.

“The farmers would initially question us, saying that they have been farming for so long and they are far more knowledgeable about farming.”

But slowly they started helping them, she said.

“Sometimes they would ask a question, 'So, we are facing this certain issue in our rice cultivation. Is there a solution to that?' and we would promptly acknowledge their question and try to give them an answer.”

Ms Devi, along with other Krishi Sakhis, are now proud members of their community and know that they are not only helping the environment but have also become agents of change.

Updated: November 24, 2023, 9:36 AM