Sustainability of soybean production in Madhya Pradesh

Introduction

Soybean is currently a major crop grown during the Kharif, or monsoon, season (July-October) in the dry-land areas of central and peninsular India. Madhya Pradesh is known as the “soybean state” of India, comprising 55% of the total national area of soybean cultivation.

Soybean yield

in India, is low compared to other major soybean-growing countries, and has remained more or less stagnant since soybean was introduced to India in the early 1970s. Despite this, the area of cultivation in Madhya Pradesh, and India, continues to increase at a fast rate.

This project was initiated due to a perceived increase in the cost of soybean production in Madhya Pradesh. An increase in the cost of soybean production could have significant impacts on the livelihoods of farmers in Madhya Pradesh, with whom ASA work. Small-scale and marginal farmers make up more than half of the farmers of Madhya Pradesh, and depend on soybean as a Kharif crop.

Soybean (Glycine max, family Fabaceae) is a species of legume native to East Asia, and has been a crucial crop there since before written records.

The five major soybean producing countries in the world today are USA, Brazil, Argentina, China and India. India contributes about four per cent of total world soybean production and it stands at fifth position in terms of production. See figure 1.

Soybean was first introduced to the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The main reason for this was that in these states cultivated land was left fallow during the Kharif season in order to preserve moisture for the dry season.

Findings

Compared to other major soybean growing countries, such as the US, Brazil, and Argentina, which have yields of almost 3 tonnes/hectare, India’s soybean yield is very low, hovering at around 1 T/Ha. It is important to note that these other countries, in general, cultivate soybean varieties with growing periods of a minimum of six months. The most common varieties in India on the other hand, are grown during the relatively short monsoon season, and have maturity durations of not more than 100 days.

However, there are several other factors that give rise to the comparatively low yield.

  • Water stress is likely to be a significant factor. Adequate moisture is vital at critical growth periods of soybean, but nearly all soybean production in India is under rain-fed conditions, and thus water availability is dependent on the frequency and amount of the monsoon rains.
  • Inefficient use or lack of access to inputs such as seed, fertilisers and pesticides limits productivity. A lack of weed control measures means the soybean crop is often highly infested with weeds.
  • The soybean crop is often affected by diseases, for example, rust, and yellow mosaic virus. Farmers very rarely use any plant protection measures, and there is little seed replacement or adoption of improved varieties.
  • Soybean sowing is often done hurriedly with the onset of monsoon without the desired level of cultivation. Inadequate tillage exacerbates the weed problem. Water-logging in low-lying fields leads to stunted growth and nitrogen deficiency.
  • Machine harvesting may not be possible due to water logging, which means premature or delayed harvesting is common.
  • Credit facilities for small farmers are inadequate for appropriate investments, as well as a insufficient knowledge dissemination.

In spite of these problems, there are several reasons that farmers continue to grow soybean in Madhya Pradesh.

Soybeans can be cultivated on fallow land, they are more profitable than other Kharif crops, they have a stable price and well organised markets, and there are efficient government schemes such as the ‘Technology Missions for Oilseeds’ that promote soybean crops. Furthermore, alternative Kharif crops, e.g. cotton, sugarcane, sorghum, maize, can be completely destroyed by excess moisture, while soybean is more tolerant. Farmers opt for the low risk soybean over high risk crops.

Conclusions

Soybean continues to be the preferred Kharif crop for farmers in Madhya Pradesh due to its high net returns, and this explains the continuing increase in its area of cultivation in Madhya Pradesh as well as in other states.

However, soybean production in Madhya Pradesh is far from optimum. Better knowledge on improved agriculture practices, as well as increased availability and affordability of farm inputs, is required. In addition, there was some evidence from the field that long-term soybean production is reducing soil health and increasing problems of pests. This effect could become more pronounced in the future if inefficient soybean cultivation techniques continue.

Climatic change is likely to have substantial impact on soybean production. Increasing CO2 levels will increase productivity, due to increase in photosynthesis. However, this increase will be offset by increases in temperature, which will significantly reduce the grain yield due to accelerated development and early flowering.

Moisture stress, due to swings in the continuity of monsoons, is likely to continue to adversely affect soybean development and growth at critical life stages.

Lucy Wilmott, ASA Volunteer 2008

 

Acknowledgements

I appreciate greatly the time given by ASA staff at field offices, and of course by farmers, in the collection of the field data for this project.

I am also very thank-full for the time given, and knowledge shared, by people at SOPA, NRCS, MARFED, SSC, State Department of Agriculture, and also by independent consultant Ashok Kumar.

Ashis, YK and Raja have been supervising this project and their input has been invaluable.