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Agriculture is key to the socio-economic development of Rajasthan. Rajasthani farmers face harsh agroclimatic conditions and often poor market linkages. Agricultural research has to deliver farmer-friendly innovations like climate resilient seeds and methods for better resource management.

3 out 4 - People live in rural areas in Rajasthan

52.66% - Literacy rate of women  in Rajasthan (2011 census), the lowest in India

>60% - Share of population depending on agriculture in Rajasthan

649 kg/ha - Average pigeonpea yield in Rajasthan (2013-14 estimates)

28% - Return on research investment for pearl millet breeding  in Rajasthan [Hope study]


General context

Rajasthan is India's largest state, representing about 10% of the total country's area (342,239 km2). Located in the northwest part of India and sharing a border with Pakistan along the Indus river valley, Rajasthan has a rich historical heritage as well as many biodiversity spots.

Rajasthan comprises most of the inhospitable and thinly populated Thar Desert, covering about 60% of Rajasthan's territory in the Northeast, as well as the Aravalli Range which runs across Rajasthan diagonal with Mount Abu culminating at 1,722 m. Land is relatively more fertile in Eastern Rajasthan while the Northwest territory (with the Thar desert) is sandy and unproductive.

Despite being considered a slowly developing and very rural state, Rajasthan's human development indicators have significantly improved in recent years. For instance, the literacy rate has risen from 38.5% in 1991 to 67% in the last 2011 census. While there has been an official commitment since the nineties and an active civil society lobbying for the betterment of women, their status is still a serious concern in a predominantly patriarchal society. The female literacy rate at 52.66%, is the lowest in India.

Rajasthan has rich mining resources as well as significant crude oil production and is in a leading position in textile and tourism. Yet the Rajasthan economy is still mostly agrarian. The primary sector represents about 25% GDP, with the  production of oilseeds and cereals like wheat, barley and pearl millet, as well as an important livestock sector (it has the 2nd largest herd after neighbouring Gujarat; contributing 10% of India's milk production). 

Rajasthan's climate is marked by frequent droughts, a short monsoon season (July to September) and average annual rainfall of 576mm, but ranging from very arid (150 mm in the Thar desert) to semi-arid conditions (900 mm) across the state, while temperatures range from 5 degrees C to 45 degrees C and more.

Agriculture is therefore very challenging and highly vulnerable to droughts as the State is severely water deficient and most farmers have poor access to irrigation. Lots of farms have only one rainfed crop during kharif (monsoon) period.

Increasing the agricultural productivity of the 6.9 million smallholder farmers and improving women’s role in agriculture are crucial for Rajasthan’s social and economic development. This can be done through better natural resource management, growing drought-tolerant crops, better access to inputs and inclusive markets.   

ICRISAT research in Rajasthan
Drought-tolerant nutritious crops: ICRISAT's research in Rajasthan mainly involves growing more drought-tolerant and nutritious crops. Rajasthan being a leading producer of pearl millet, pulses and oilseeds, ICRISAT's crop research in pigeonpea, chickpea, groundnut and dryland cereals aims at improving smallholder's livelihoods with better climate-adapted seeds, better family nutrition and appropriate farming practices.

Women farmers are adopting early maturing varieties of nitrogen-fixing pigeonpea which helps increase crop intensity by growing a post-rainy season crop. They are also indulging in village-based value adding activities like dal making to improve their livelihoods. ICRISAT is also developing pigeonpea hybrids suitable for Rajasthan's agroclimatic conditions to boost the low average yield of this pulse (about 650 kg/ha in 2013-14 estimates). Chickpea is another important pulse for farmers' livelihoods, even in the very arid Thar desert.

Pearl millet is a major grain and fodder crop in Rajasthan with 60% of the farmers growing it. Farmers are adopting pearl millet hybrids like downy mildew-resistant HHB67-improved released in 2005, which can save up to a third of the harvest in years of severe downy mildew attacks. Such crop breeding efforts have proved highly profitable for farmers, with a return on research investment of 28%.

More sustainable natural resourcs management: Farmers in most parts of Rajasthan have to cope with severe water deficit and poor soils prone to rapid depletion because of intensive cultivation. The Gokulpura - Goverdhanpura watershed case study in Eastern Rajasthan shows that soils could not retain moisture well and were deficient in most soil nutrients and organic matter. On average, run-off was estimated at over 10% in an already water-thirsty region while 2 tons of soil were lost per hectare each year. A combination of   xombintio g participatory watershed management to promote low-tech water harvesting and sustainable practices like crop diversification (introducing pigeonpea or green gram), traditional irrigation (earthen pots), tank-bed cultivation and silvipasture in degraded community lands,  holistic approach helped revive the rural communities of this pilot watershed and significantly reduced migration.    

More resilient and profitable farming systems : Local innovation platforms in Western Rajasthan bring all stakeholders on board to test and debate the results of various strategies to build farm resilience, like new agroforestry systems in common lands or village-level seed production  [source: CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems 2013 annual report]. 

A pulse revolution - Legumes like pigeonpea help improve smallholder farmers' livelihoods, especially that of women in villages like Padasoli.
Pearl millet hybrid HHB67- Improved was the first marker-assisted crop product released in India. It is more productive (5-10% greater yield) and downy mildew resistant than the original HHB 67.
An earthen check dam recharges the groundwater table in Eastern Rajasthan. This  water harvesting structure costs Rs 13 per m3 groundwater recharged.

Silvipasture system can revive degraded community lands [Gokulpura watershed case study]. Interventions include stone wall fencing, planting trees like neem and sheesham, and daman grass and stylo hemata seed broadcasting.