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Being the hub of new technologies, the success of Bengaluru may overshadow the fact that agriculture is still the leading economic sector of Karnataka in terms of workforce. Only a quarter of agricultural land is irrigated and a majority of farmers depend on less than 2 hectares of rainfed crops. ICRISAT's research here focuses on better farmer-led soil and water management, use of ICT for better extension services, as well as legume crop improvement.  

60% - Share of workforce employed in agriculture in Karnataka

2nd - Rank in terms of rainfed agricultural area; 5 million ha out of 12.31 million ha of cultivated land in Karnataka

1.63 ha - Average size of holding in Karnataka

 22,000 to  57,700/ha - Average gross income from rainfed crops  Source: Suvarna Bhoomi Yojane report

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General context

The southwest state of Karnataka is India's eighth largest state, with a population of 61 million people. It is bordered by the Arabian Sea in the West, Goa and Maharashtra to the North, Andhra Pradesh to the East, Kerala to the southwest and Tamil Nadu to the southeast.

Despite the importance of manufacturing, information and biological technology sectors in the booming capital of Bengaluru, agriculture continues to play a very important social and economic role. A total of 12.31 million hectares of land (64% of the state's total area) is cultivated, mostly in rainfed conditions as only 26.5% of the sown area is irrigated. The rainfed area (about 5 million hectares) is the second largest after Rajasthan.

Due to demographic and market pressures, the average farm size is shrinking swiftly, now down to 1.63 hectares, making large numbers of farm families economically unviable. Farms of less than one hectare account for 42% of the total number of holdings.

Recurrent droughts, land degradation, and inappropriate soil and water management are among the reasons for the low agricultural productivity (average sorghum and millet yield for instance, were just above 1 ton/ha as per the last census).

ICRISAT research in Karnataka

Since 2009, ICRISAT is leading the state-wide Bhoochetana initiative (Bhoochetana means land rejuvenation) to boost crop productivity by at least 20% through improved soil, crop and water management. The science-led interventions include addressing the widespread micro and secondary nutrient deficiencies in the degraded soils of this semi-arid region. The impact has been remarkable, a doubling of yields in groundnut, pigeonpea and chickpea for instance, and Bhoochetana's replication in other Indian states and other Asian countries is in the offing.

The large adoption of mobile technologies among the rural poor in the last few years is a great opportunity to use ICT innovations to increase farmers' access to critical information such as weather forecast, pest risks and pest control advice, information on quality inputs or identifying the right credit and insurance solutions, etc. ICRISAT has developed financially sustainable ICT-mediated agro-advisory systems, Krishi Gyan Sagar and Krishi Vani launched in 2013 in Karnataka, as well as in Andhra Pradesh. 

Horticulture is an important economic sector, with growing export potential for flowers, and vegetables like gherkin. ICRISAT has provided research support to Suvarna Bhoomi Yojane, a government program aimed at linking small and marginal farmers (initial target: 250,000 farmers) to high-value horticulture market opportunities.

In many farms, there are inappropriate soil and water use practices which exacerbate land degradation and waterlogging and reduce water availability. Watershed and natural resource management initiatives are going on in Kolar and Bellary districts.

Working closely with Dharwad and Bangalore Agricultural Universities, our research also looks at improved water use for agriculture (eg, the use of waste water for agriculture, Water4crops initiative), and crop improvement of pigeonpea and chickpea, food legumes of growing importance in Karnataka in the context of climate change.

Photo: ICRISAT
A woman farmer receiving drought advice through her mobile phone. Mobile phone- and tablet-based extension services Krishi Gyan Sagar and Krishi Vani received an award . They showcase the innovative use of information and communication technologies to help smallholder farmers.
Photo: ICRISAT
Brinjal (aubergine) is one of high value crops (yielding up to ₹ 251,000/ha). With Suvarna Bhoomi Yojane, farmers earned an average additional income of  59,000.  
Photo: ICRISAT
Bhoochetana's extension scheme, based on recruiting progressive farmers as farm facilitators, is helping in the scaling up of better natural resource management practices. Here, a woman farm facilitator shows a farmers' group how to conduct soil testing.
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