Strip crop – A ray of hope for dry land farmers

Gurudatt Hegde, Ravindranath Reddy and Arun Balamatti

Chinnahagari and Upparahalla watersheds of Chitradurga and Bellary districts belong to the dry belts of Karnataka. Moreover, these regions are prone to frequent droughts. Shallow soils, low organic matter in the soils and the prevalent poor moisture conservation practices could support production of only the resilient crop like groundnut and nothing else. Groundnut is the only crop grown through out the year. About 80% for the farmers depend on groundnut crop as their major livelihood option. There are hardly any other options excepting wage labour and migration. Monocropping of groundnut has been the trend prevalent since thirty years.

About 300 mm total rainfall, occurring at critical stages of the crop, would ensure decent yields of pods and fodder. The gross income of groundnut cultivation, during a year of normal rainfall was as low as Rs. 2000-3000 per acre. However, farmers would not change the crop easily either because they were accustomed to groundnut economy for long time or were not being allowed to so by the groundnut traders, to whom they were indebted to.

The varying yields and price fluctuations implied that the livelihood improvement strategies, particularly to benefit small and marginal farmers, had to look at not just stabilizing groundnut production but something more.

Karnataka Watershed Development (KAWAD) project was initiated in the area between 2002 and 2005, to improve the food and income security of the farmers in the region. Extensive work was  undertaken in the project on bunding, gully plugging, treating the water courses etc. Nevertheless, large-scale soil and water conservation activities taken up in the project could hardly have good impact, particularly on improving agricultural production. With poor rainfall and erratic distribution,  it was necessary to address issues related to in-situ soil and moisture conservation and enhancing soil fertility to stabilize and improve agricultural production. AME Foundation (AMEF), as a project partner facilitated the process of improving farming systems.

Initially AMEF had to develop confidence among farmers by addressing the immediate felt needs such as control of some major pests and diseases in groundnut. AMEF ensured it by working with about 500 farmers in the first two years. As the farmers realized that the simple technologies like use of bio agents, intercrops and critical elements, like phosphorus (Single Super Phosphate, SSP) and calcium (Gypsum), were resulting in better yields AMEF was ready to induce more holistic changes. Apart from promoting in situ soil and moisture conservation practices and soil fertility improvements, AMEF was also aiming at addressing the groundnut monocropping practice through exploring other options for the farmers. But, groundnut being a cash fetching crop, farmers were not willing to forego a season with cereals replacing groundnut.

It was in this context that an alternative to introducing cereals into the cropping pattern had to be thought of. Minor millets known as drought tolerant and poor man’s crops require moisture for germination and thrive thereafter to give some guaranteed yields. Whereas, crops like groundnut,  require moisture not only during germination but also, subsequently, during a few more critical stages like flowering and pod setting without which, the crop cannot thrive.

So strips of cereal crop were introduced amidst strips of groundnut crop by the farmers. This technology is popularly called as strip cropping (See Box 1).

The technology introduction through Participatory Technology Development (PTD) process, has been one of the important factors in empowering farmers to adopt the technology and also to try out different crop combinations to suit their family requirements.

 Farmers trying out strip cropping

Growing groundnut and some cereal crop alongside was discussed with farmers and few farmers showed interest in trying out the option during the kharif season 2004. The strip cropping technology was discussed with all the 500 odd farmers in two districts.

The strip cropping technology was new to farmers. Farmers had their apprehensions about the technology, as well. They perceived risk of shade effect of cereal crops on groundnut. They feared that the economic returns from finger millet or bajra (options for strip crop) would be less compared to groundnut. Moreover, they expected  good yield in groundnut due to early good rains due to which they were not wiling to try the new technology. Added to this other members of the family, neighbours and moneylenders who were not convinced about the technology discouraged them.

Although it was not expected that all the farmers would respond positively, it was still encouraging that nearly 80 farmers agreed to try out. Further focused discussions in farmers groups, regular field visits during sowing and intensive individual contact with farmers ensured that about 50 farmers adopted the technology. Although finger millet and bajra were considered as possible options, almost all farmers adopted groundnut and finger millet combination.

Operational constraints

There were operational constraints in adopting the technology, as well. A three-coultered bullock-drawn seed drill is normally used for groundnut sowing. The farmers agreed to go for 9:6 groundnut, finger millet rows. The difference in the size of seeds of groundnut and finger millet required the labourers to adjust the sowing depth while alternating between groundnut and finger millet. The strings between yoke and the seed drill had to be held tight to make sure finger millet seeds did not drop too deep. Despite care in sowing, some farmers could not help poor germination of finger millet due to deep sowing. And the grasshopper infestation on finger millet also led to poor crop stand, which forced some farmers resorting to re-sowing with groundnut. When sowing is done in north-south direction, stunted growth of groundnut crop was noticed adjacent to the finger millet rows due to shade effect. Ultimately, 27 farmers, managed to continue with the strip crop.

 More than Money

Groundnuts under strip crop method produced 276 kgs on an average while the plots with groundnut alone produced 362 kgs per acre (Table 1). Though this seems to be lesser in absolute terms, however, the total production in a strip crop method is much higher as it also includes production of millets to the extent of 225 kg of grain from the same piece of land. Farmers could therefore get cash returns worth Rs.5507 from sale of groundnut pods and fodder and finger millet fodder along with grain for family consumption.

Returns from sole and strip crops has to be seen in the context of agro-climatic conditions in the region. Bachelor et al (2000) state that in every ten-year period, there will be five droughts of different intensities. Two of these droughts will be moderate, two will be severe and one will be catastrophic. Normal or above normal rainfall is a rarity in both the districts. Among the two watersheds, strip crop of groundnut performed better in Upparahalla despite the region receiving less than the normal rainfall. Strip cropping thus proved to be a drought mitigation strategy.

Alternating groundnut with finger millet also helped in reducing the pest attack. Finger millet, acted as a barrier to the movement of sucking pests like thrips, which transmit a viral disease, peanut bud necrosis (PBND). Incidence of soil borne diseases were also found less as the pathogens starve due to change of host when other crops are mixed with groundnut.

Including finger millet has appealed to women the most, for the simple reason that the practice contributes to family food security. Women are now particularly keen on growing leafy vegetables and other short duration pulses like horse gram and cowpea in strips for home consumption and for selling in the local market. However, the new practice has not influenced their workload.

Farmers also found one more advantage of having strip crops. In the conventional practice, farmers used to uproot the entire groundnut crop, thus leaving nothing in the soil. But the inclusion of cereal crops, enables them to leave the residues of finger millet crop after grain harvest, thus returning some plant nutrients into the soil.

Groundnut farmers normally purchased straw of paddy or other cereals to store groundnut harvest. Now, the stalks of finger millet is used to cover the heaps of groundnut in store yard, thus reducing their expenditure.

The experience of 27 farmers in the year 2004 has convinced them and also others in the village to take up this practice on a larger scale during the coming years as the farmers could experience the advantages in more than one way.


For wider adoption of this practice,  it requires that many farmers adopt and get convinced about its utility under varied conditions. It is equally important to understand the prevailing cropping system and explore different crop combinations to suit farmers’ food and fodder needs. Initial discussions with farmers have revealed that this technology could be taken up as a valid dry land technology as it is cost effective and contributes

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