ICRISAT has a very active and varied collaboration with the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) and other research partners, with specific focus on community water management and groundnut production. Tamil Nadu is one of the top groundnut producing states with 1.17 million tonnes produced in 2013 (12.79% of the national production) and ranks first in productivity (2,154 kg/ha). Yet, in the driest districts like Namakkal, farmers are in need of better climate-adapted cultivars.
Improved groundnut variety TNAU Co-7 has recently been released in Tamil Nadu, after a series of farmer variety selection trials. Drought-tolerant, resistant to rust and leaf spot disease, it has between 15 to 30% more pod yield than local varieties. TNAU-CO-6 is another recent success of participatory research into practice.
The way small farmers manage their farming system is changing with better access to information and markets. However, new risks may emerge; so it is crucial to provide the right information to them for safe and sustainable growth. APSIM crop modeling, for instance, showed that farmers are better off sowing peanut mid-December for greater pod yield. Researchers study the drivers of adoption of improved cultivars and other agricultural innovations to improve research impact on the smallholder farm.
Water availability is a major constraint to the farming sector with 750 m3/capita compared to the all-India average of 2,200 m3. Research is testing low-cost strategies for farming communities to better manage scarce water in the pilot watershed in Dindigul district.
With climate change, agriculture has to become more climate-smart. Growing more water-efficient crops is becoming crucial as a bio-economic model of Bhavani basin shows. A scenario where water intensive crops like paddy and sugarcane are replaced by crops with lower water needs like finger millet and pulses, helps cope with the water deficit at the same time as increasing incomes by 34%.
Despite their nutrition value and ecological relevance, consumption of traditional, climate-resilient crops like pearl millet and finger millet has declined sharply in recent years due to market forces. Initiatives to promote these climate and nutrition smart foods are to be encouraged if Tamil Nadu wants a more sustainable food sector.