Precision land leveling saves water in South Asia

Farmers on over 1.5 million hectares in South Asia’s vast rice-wheat cropping zones are using a high-tech approach to level their farmland, allowing them to save 15-30 percent irrigation water and benefit from up to 6 percent higher yields for rice, wheat and other crops, over farmers who work traditionally-plowed fields. A recent study concluded that if 50 percent of the area under the rice-wheat system in Haryana and Punjab States were precision leveled, this would provide an additional 0.7 million tons of rice and nearly 1 million tons of wheat to harvests each year, representing an annual market value of US $385 million.

“From just 37 precision levelers during the late 1990s, there are now approximately 25,000 machines available,” said M.L. Jat, CIMMYT senior cropping systems agronomist. According to Jat, the success of precision leveling in Punjab Province accrues to local shops that market the equipment for about US S4,600 – slightly more than one-third of the original cost – and to the flourishing business of local contractors, who buy the equipment and offer farmers leveling services at about US S16 per hour.

Water saving is urgent in northern India, where most groundwater goes for agriculture and studies have shown that excessive pumping could cause the collapse of farming.

“I save 30 percent in diesel costs for irrigation, thanks to precision leveling,” says Baljit Singh, a farmer from Kanoi village, Punjab.
Precision levelers are machines equipped with laser-guided drag buckets to level fields so that irrigation water flows evenly over and into the soil, rather than running off or collecting on uneven land.

Partners and donors

First used in Pakistan, precision leveling was studied and promoted region-wide through joint work by CIMMYT, IRRI and national research programs during 1994-2008 as part of the Rice-Wheat Consortium. Since 2011, CIMMYT in collaboration with the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) has promoted laser land leveling in the western Indo-Gangetic Plains. Other partners include the Project Directorate of Cropping Systems Research, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Punjab Agriculture University (PAU), Chaudhary Charan Singh Haryana Agriculture University (CCSHAU), Sardar Vallabh Bhai University of Agriculture and Technology (SVBPUAT), Government of Haryana Department of Agriculture, Government of Punjab Department of Agriculture, Punjab Primary Agriculture Cooperative Societies, and manufacturers. Key donors include the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the World Bank Group, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF).

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