How Indian Farmers are Shielding Their Seeds From Extreme Weather

An innovative seed treatment helps family farmers to grow their crops — no matter how hot it gets

India’s leaders have a lot of confidence in the future of its agricultural sector — so much so that the Indian government has set a goal of doubling smallholder farmers’ income by 2022. However, this ambitious goal can sound like a farfetched dream for many farmers.

In some parts of India, farmers live and work among arid mountains where growing crops is challenging and profits are hard to come by. Farmers in these extremely dry climates contend with high cultivation costs, scarce water, and low crop yields.

In the Rajasthan region, for example, farming can be a big gamble. Farmers are dependent on rains from the monsoons. Even with months of preparation, an unexpected drought can derail all their plans and leave their families without food or income.

To fight back, village farmers in Rajasthan have begun to use BioEnsure — an innovative seed treatment that protects plants from extreme conditions. After applying a liquid directly onto seeds, the plants that grow are more able to weather severe heat or droughts. And because BioEnsure is derived from naturally occurring fungi, it doesn’t harm the plant in any way.

We are hopeful that this product can help break the chain of poverty in rural villages, in India and around the world.

Adaptive Symbiotic Technologies (AST), a U.S. company dedicated to improving agriculture worldwide and helping family farmers living in regions with harsh weather, created the product. Because of the unforgiving climate, AST chose Rajasthan to launch BioEnsure in India. In the spring of 2016, company staff met with farmers and elders in the remote village of Kheri-Sheela to teach them about the product and convince them to test it in their own fields.

“We were originally looking for 50 farmers to sign up,” said Zachery Gray, Vice President of Business Development at AST. “But once we went out there, 100 farmers showed up.”

The AST staff treated more than 1,300 kilograms of seeds over a five-day period in June. The seeds were from two kinds of plants: bajra, also known as pearl millet, and mung beans. Both are major sources of food in the region.

AST returned in September to interview the farmers and see how the crops were doing. The majority of the farmers were overjoyed. Some now anticipated a 100 percent increase in their mung bean crop and a 50 percent increase in bajra. Several said they had never witnessed such a large, healthy harvest.

“I am about 60 years old, and I have not seen such bajra and mung in my whole lifetime,” said farmer Sukhdv ji Jamadar. “I expect to harvest about 40 kilograms per bigha [about half an acre], which is on the higher side compared to previous years.”

Almost all of the farmers noted that the plants that grew with the seed treatment were greener, softer, and taller than those that weren’t treated. Critically, the treated plants also appeared much more resistant to dry weather.

Local farmer Radhye Shyam said that he would have lost almost all of his crops if not for BioEnsure. “I planted the seeds and it didn’t rain for 25 days,” said Shyam. “They only survived because of the treatment.”

Rameshwarji Upadhyay and his family were also thrilled with the treatment. Thanks to BioEnsure, their farm generated enough extra income from their treated mung plants that they were able to lease a thresher — a machine that removes the seeds from the stalks and husks. Leasing a thresher can cost up to 1,000 rupees per hour, far too expensive for the average farmer in Kheri-Sheela. But the Upadhyay family was able to afford it, saving days worth of backbreaking manual labor.

AST hopes to increase access to BioEnsure by helping women become entrepreneurs in their own right.

Today, the majority of the farmers in Kheri-Sheela are still using BioEnsure. AST is currently working on getting their products into the hands of even more farmers. This work includes implementing a large-scale women’s empowerment program that teaches local women how to treat the seeds with BioEnsure. The company hopes to increase access to BioEnsure by helping women become distributors and operators for AST or entrepreneurs in their own right.

Gray is optimistic about the future for both AST and the farmers it serves. “We are hopeful that this product can help break the chain of poverty in rural villages, in India and around the world.”