On April 9th and 10th, the Revive! Project with GRAVIS, Traditional Medicinals, Umalaxmi, Martin Bauer Group, and Women Serve hosted a training session to educate farmers on improved quality senna farming in Dayakaur and Nayagaon villages. Men and women involved in senna farming attended the trainings held at the Community Resource Centers. The Revive! Project worked with local senna farmers to conduct a study on farming practices and impact on senna production. At these trainings, farmers were educated on current senna farming practices and research results on improved farming practices.
Three farming practices were identified as most important to improving crop health and yield. Farmers were encouraged to apply these improved farming practices to both their senna crops as well as other crops, such as millet and wheat.
The first improved practice begins with the starting material, the senna seeds. It was found that the seeds purchased from the market were of poor quality because they were small, immature seeds, and many fail to produce a plant. The quality of the seeds can be improved by using a mechanical seeds grader that separated the lighter immature seeds from the larger, heavier mature seeds. Fewer kilograms of good quality seeds are required for plant production as compared to the kilograms required when using seeds of poorer quality.
The second identified improved practice concerned the sowing technique. Currently, farmers use a broad casting sowing technique where they scatter the senna seeds by hand all over the field. In contrast, farmers using line sowing for other crops, such as millet. Broad casting sowing and line sowing of senna seeds were compared. The results demonstrated an increased yield of senna plants with the line sowing method. Line sowing is useful to reduce workload because more plants can be grown in a smaller area of land, requiring less walking distance between plants while weeding and harvesting. Reduced workload is especially important for women, who are often working in the field, as they have many other responsibilities including childcare and taking care of the household.
Of the three farmers that participated in the broad casting versus line sowing experiment, one farmer had a noticeably smaller improvement in crop yield using line sowing compared to the other two farmers. The audience was asked, “What was responsible for this smaller increase in senna yield?” Following this question, a photo was presented of the farmer’s field – so full of weeds that it was difficult to find the senna plant.
Therefore, weeding was presented as the third improved practice. Weeding practices that remove the entire weed (both above and below ground) are important because weeds compete not only for sunlight above ground, but also for nutrients and water below ground. The Revive! Project research team tested two weeding practices and compared them to a control: weeding 30 days after germination, weeding 60 days after germination, and no weeding (control). Early weeding, 30 days after germination, proved to have the greatest impact on senna yield. Even weeding 60 days after germination has a positive impact, and increases the yield compared to no weeding at all. Time allocation to other crops presents a challenge to farmers. In addition to senna, farmers are also growing crops such as millet at the same time. Therefore, while it is ideal that farmers practice early weeding when the weeds are small and easier to remove, later weeding also has a noticeable, positive impact on crop yield and should be practiced if early weeding cannot be accomplished.
The later portion of the farmer training focused on improving the sennoside content, the chemical component that has laxative properties, in the leaves. The comprehensive training educated farmers on improved farming practices to improve both the quantity and quality of their senna plants. As senna farmers in the Thar Desert improve their practices and their senna crop production they may become increasingly competitive in the global senna market.
The Revive! Project takes a comprehensive development approach. Throughout the training, farmers were encouraged to not only apply these improved techniques to their senna plants, but also other crops. Additionally, the Revive! Project works to improve women’s empowerment, education and health, which are all necessary for the people of the Thar Desert to lead healthy and productive lives.
*Jocelyn Boiteau, Volunteer