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The economic wonders of Mumbai or Pune should not hide the fact that half the population in Maharashtra still depends on small-scale agriculture, and many have difficulty making a decent living. To overcome the many challenges of the rural poor, ICRISAT research in this State encompasses sorghum, chickpea and pigeonpea breeding, community-driven watershed management and socio-economic studies on the various farming systems and poverty dynamics.  

52.7% - Workforce in the agriculture sector in Maharashtra

24.5% - Share of the population in Maharashtra living below the poverty line

1.44 ha -Average holding size in Maharashtra (2011 census)

3.29 million ha - Area grown to sorghum in 2012-13 in Maharashtra

641 kg/ha -Average sorghum yield in Maharashtra in 2012-13


General context

Located in Western India, Maharashtra is the second most populous Indian state and the wealthiest, accounting for a quarter of India's industrial production, concentrated around Mumbai the financial capital, Pune and Thane districts. A large part of the state is however still agrarian (over 50% of the workforce is in agriculture) and rural poverty is widespread.

Maharashtra is quite diverse, dominated by the semi-arid Central Deccan Plateau which receives less than 700 mm of annual rainfall. In the West, a narrow coastal plain is followed by steep hills (Western Ghats or Sahayadri ranges), receiving high precipitation.

In the past decade, Maharashtra has greatly improved its human development indicators. For instance, its infant mortality rate has fallen by 20%; so has there been a fall in the gender literacy gap [ref: UNDP 2012 Human Development report].

However, the progress is disparate. For instance, only half the women in the central semi-arid inland region are literate. Smallholder farmers in the semi-arid districts, a great proportion being scheduled castes or tribes, are among the poorest.

Maharashtra's agricultural development follows several directions, from market-oriented development to cater to the growing urban demand for food [see for instance Maharashtra Agricultural Competitiveness Project] to climate change adaptation [eg TERI-UK led climate change vulnerability assessment].

ICRISAT research in Maharashtra

Crop variety improvement: Post-rainy sorghum is an important staple food in semi-arid Marathwada and Western Maharashtra regions. There are great opportunities to improve the production of this climate-resilient cereal as a baseline study shows. Yields can be significantly raised by 35-50% if farmers adopt better varieties; there is also a market for ready-to-use sorghum products to respond to the urban demand. High quality seed production is facilitated through a consortium of seed companies, farmers, extension services and other stakeholders.

Pearl millet too is an important staple crop. The breeding of high-yielding varieties with particularly high iron content has led to the commercialization of Dhanshakti biofortified pearl millet cultivar to combat widespread iron deficiency. Crop residues of both dryland cereals are also an important fodder source.

Chickpea and pigeonpea are the major pulses produced in Maharashtra (80% of total pulses). Working with the private seed sector, hybrid pigeonpea varieties are promoted to raise the particularly low average yields (853 kg/ha in 2012-13). To limit crop destruction by the pod borer, a major pest, chickpea varieties are tested for pod borer resistance. Other areas of research such as the sustainable sweet sorghum biofuel value chain; combination of broad-bed and furrow tillage and high-yielding groundnut varieties have led to great impact. 

Natural resources management: In partnership with Maharashtra farmers,  researchers and grassroot organisations, ICRISAT designs efficient community approaches to sustainable watershed management, as a way to improve rural livelihoods in drought-prone areas, as has been done in the Dolsane-Bambalewadi site of learning.

Knowledge-based interventions include stratified soil sampling to identify major soil nutrient deficiencies and define recommended fertilization by type of crop, as well as participatory varietal selection to promote improved varieties. By doing so, crop yields could jump up to +83% for groundnut.

Water scarcity is often the first limiting factor for farmers. Access to appropriate irrigation technologies adapted to small holdings is key to reducing rural poverty, as shown in the Padmalaya benchmark watershed, where the promotion of drip irrigation and water harvesting and conservation practices were part of an integrated water management strategy for farmers to raise their productivity despite drought conditions. Hydrological modelling of watershed intervention in the Padmalaya watershed reveals that it is a suitable approach to adapt to climate change.

Poverty dynamics and systems research: Since the 1970s, village level studies have been conducted in Kalman and Kinkhed villages in Solapur district and in Shirapur and Kanzara villages in Akola district, which help identify the drivers of change in the past four decades. See VDSA micro-level data for more details.

Dryland Marathwada and Western Maharashtra regions are known as the ‘Sorghum bowl of India'. Through the HOPE project, 25,000 farmers have seen grain yields increase by 40%.
Multipurpose affordable machinery like this tropicultor which combines a seed-cum-fertilizer drill, can boost farm productivity. 
Dolsane-Bambalewadi in Ahemednagar district is a Watershed site of learning .