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Increasing Productivity and Profitability of Small and Marginal Farmers in Rice-based Cropping Systems in Assam (India)

Context : 

In Assam, farming is the principal means of livelihood involving more than seventy percent of the population. Agriculture in the State is a combination of peasant and tenant farming, where the majority of the farmers belong to marginal (62.2%) and small (20.9%) categories. Rice, being a staple food, is an important crop for the millions of people in the state. However, the productivity of rice-based systems in this region is low, mainly because of prevalent biotic and abiotic stresses due to rainfed farming. Out of the total 2.5 million ha rice area of the State, about 0.8 and 0.2 million ha are frequently affected by flood and drought, respectively. Rice production in these stressed regions is not only low but also fragile. Farmers in these areas use little inputs for fear of losing not only crop but also inputs, in case of flood and/or drought occurrence, further adding to low productivity and profitability. Besides, farmers of the region are also affected by the rising scarcity and cost of labor, high production-cost and change in climate. Enormous potential exists in these challenging and fragile environments to bridge the yield gaps and improve the income and livelihood of small and marginal farming communities by appropriate technological solutions. 

1. Project summary

  • IRRI is providing technical assistance to the Department of Agriculture--Agricultural Technology Management Agency (DoA-ATMA) and Assam Agricultural University (AAU) for implementation of the World Bank-funded, Assam Agribusiness and Rural Transformation Project (APART) in Assam. The project aims for ‘Increasing productivity and profitability of small and marginal farmers in rice-based cropping systems’.

  • On March 16, 2018 the project agreement was signed between Assam Rural Infrastructure and Agricultural Services (ARIAS) Society and IRRI  for achieving the following objectives:

    • Strengthening seed systems and adoption of high-yielding stress-tolerant rice varieties

    • Raising productivity, profitability and resource-use efficiencies of rice-based cropping systems in Assam through improved crop- and natural resource management, and scale-appropriate mechanization. 

    • Strengthening post-harvest management by introducing improved practices, including post-harvest mechanization and supporting a service-economy to reduce losses, increase efficiency and profitability, and improve the rice value-chain.

    • Developing extrapolation domain (Identifying geographical areas by Geographic Information System (GIS) and remote sensing) of cropping systems for efficient targeting of technologies in low-productivity rice-fallows and stress-prone areas

    • Developing knowledge materials, fostering strategic partnerships and capacity development of the various stakeholders (public, private and developmental partners) of extension functionaries in Assam.

Expected project outcomes:

  • Accelerated varietal adoption rates for increased impact in the form of better resilience against climatic stresses and improved food security. Through targeted awareness-raising, across multiple stakeholders in the seed value chain, a better varietal and seed replacement rate in the region is expected to be achieved.

  • Ensured access, production and supply of quality seed of introduced Stress Tolerant Rice Varieties (STRVs) through strengthened formal, informal and semi-formal seed systems in the State. 

  • Increased productivity and profitability of rice-based cropping systems in Assam with the introduction of high yielding rice varieties in conformance with best management practices like seed treatment, healthy nursery management, integrated nutrient-pest-weed-management and water management.

  • Addressed  cost and availability of labor through the alternative resource-efficient crop-establishment methods, such as mechanical transplanting of rice, and wet and dry Direct Seeding of Rice (DSR). 

  • Accelerated and intensified impact of knowledge availability and dissemination across the region with the Rice Knowledge Bank (RKB) for Assam in multiple Indian languages including, Assamese, Bodo, Bengali and English, with ready-to-use content in-line with the IRRI’s globally established Rice Knowledge Bank.

  • Improved harvesting, threshing, drying, storage and post-harvest management practices by rice farmers in Assam. 

  • Supporting the creation of more opportunities for entrepreneurship, suited to the local agricultural landscape of Assam.

  • Establishing a ready-to-use spatial database and knowledge base of extrapolation domain maps targeting improved technologies (cultivars and cropping systems) in low-productivity rice-fallow areas and stress-prone cropping areas.

  • Developing web-based GIS for enabling open access of spatial databases to key stakeholders for a wider usage of the knowledge base for targeting technologies in site-specific situations.

2. Strategic interventions to accelerate impact :

Strengthening seed systems and the adoption of high yielding stress-tolerant rice varieties (STRVs)

About: Ensures promotion, dissemination, delivery and testing of quality seeds of different Stress Tolerant Rice Varieties (STRVs) through innovative extension and demonstration methods. 

Outcomes: Dissemination and testing of seeds of STRVs using Mini-kit and Head-to-Head demonstrations resulting in early adoption of STRVs by farmers through an informal system are being carried out. Extension personnel and farmers are being trained to build their capacity for boosting the local production systems and strengthening the supply chain of quality seeds. Crop Cafeterias, Cluster, On-Farm Adaptive and Dealer demonstrations have been introduced to accelerate the varietal replacement rate in Assam.

Raising productivity, profitability and resource-use efficiencies of rice-based cropping systems in Assam through improved crop and natural resource management, and scale-appropriate mechanization

About: Aims for out-scaling of integrated crop management practices and scale-appropriate mechanization such as direct seeding of rice, mechanical transplanting of rice, through demonstrations, learning centres, and capacity building to support knowledge dissemination. It ensures effective pest control through use of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) technologies and also aims to launch and establish a digital extension platform called  Assam Rice Knowledge Bank ( in four Indian languages in order to bridge the gap between research and extension. Rice Knowledge Bank is a digital extension service that provides practical knowledge solutions.


  1. Demonstrating and promoting the agronomic interventions in close collaboration with National Agricultural Research and Extension System (NARES) in public (e.g., Assam Agricultural University, state Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Technology Management Agency) and private sector i.e service providers/ lead farmers/farmers’ groups/farmer companies, and development sector partners including NGOs.

  2. Strengthening and supporting a service-economy of gender- and scale-appropriate mechanization and entrepreneurship to enhance access to capital-intensive machinery and technologies for smallholders, and to generate rural employment opportunities.

  3. Awareness raising about the latest crop establishment methods, harvesting, and post-harvest technologies by engaging with the government extension network.

  4. Conducting Training-of-Trainers (ToTs) for service providers and extension agents.

  5. Facilitating market linkages for enhancing access to and availability of machinery and critical inputs such as a new class of herbicides through the development of a dealers’ network in areas in which DSR is expected to expand

  6. Organizing field days and exposure visits for farmers and stakeholders.

  7. Developing outreach materials on best management agronomic practices in close collaboration with AAU, and disseminating these through extension functionaries of the State and development partners.

  8. The access of existing Assam Rice Knowledge Bank (, will be made available in four commonly spoken languages of Assam i.e., English, Assamese, Bangla and Bodo.

Strengthening postharvest management by introducing improved practices including post-harvest mechanization and supporting service-economy to reduce losses, increase efficiency and profitability, and improve rice value-chain

About: This component includes promotion and demonstration of better post-harvest management practices, scale-appropriate machines and post-harvest interventions, development of a service economy, entrepreneurship and related networking, minor modification for localization of machines and post-harvest or storage options, capacity building, ToTs, and information dissemination. While poor and suboptimal harvesting practices and limited uptake of mechanization among small and marginal farmers are both key causes of Post Harvest Losses (PHL) in this phase, promoting affordable mechanization arguably has the highest strategic relevance in terms of creating impact on loss reduction. A total of 0.12 million farmers is expected to be directly benefited with the improved PH technologies, and around 0.2 million farmers will be benefited indirectly through the spillover effects of machine demonstrations and training during the project period.


  1. Demonstrating and promoting the improved post-harvest and rice value chain technologies in close collaboration with NARES in public (e.g., AAU, state DoA-ATMA), service providers, progressive farmers, Custom Hiring Centres (CHCs), Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs).

  2. Strengthening and supporting creation of service-economy for Custom Hiring Centres with scale-appropriate mechanization.

  3. Establishment  of private service providers to enhance access to capital-intensive machinery and technologies of smallholder farmers and to generate rural employment opportunities.

  4. Awareness raising about the different  technologies through the government extension network introduced under APART.

  5. Conducting ToT for service providers, Custom Hiring Centre  members and extension agents.

  6. Hands-on training on repair and maintenance of different machines for Research Technicians (RTs), Custom Hiring Centre operators and Private Service Providers (PSPs) engaged  in APART.

  7. Facilitating market linkages for availability of machineries and after sales service in Assam.

  8. Developing outreach materials on post-harvest and rice value chain technologies in close collaboration with AAU, and disseminating these through extension functionaries of the State and other stakeholders.

Developing extrapolation domain of cropping systems for efficient targeting of technologies in low-productivity rice-fallows and stress-prone areas

About: This component uses geospatial technology for detailed characterization of present cropping patterns and resource-profiles including biotic and abiotic stresses to understand the potential opportunities and constraints in the cropping systems. Geospatial technology including Remote Sensing (RS) which has the advantage of synoptic and repetitive spatial coverage through satellites/ aerial platforms and Geographical Information System (GIS), and can integrate this technology to create maps, statistics and spatial database, is the appropriate tool for taking decisions regarding target areas to enhance system productivity and bring a significant increase in agricultural outputs in low productivity areas.


  1. To efficiently target the potential areas of Assam with available technologies and to improve the cropping intensity, characterization of existing cropping systems was achieved by mapping cropping systems, cropping intensity, rice area, rice-fallow and soil moisture suitability maps using remote sensing satellite data.

  2. For characterization of existing stress prone areas, remote sensing technology was used to map areas affected by flood inundation in Assam during 2017 to 2020. In addition, duration of submergence in the frequent flood prone areas was also extracted. An integrated Drought Stress Index based on historical satellite measured climatic and biophysical variables in order to identify the drought-prone areas of Assam was also developed.

  3. Primary data was collected from ground surveys carried out during different cropping seasons and secondary data were also collected from various sources for value addition and validation of maps.

  4. Pulse demonstrations in rice-fallow areas were carried out during Rabi season with cultivation of improved black gram variety, for enhancing the productivity of rice-based systems by efficient utilization of soil moisture and increasing cropping intensity.

  5. Capacity building initiatives for AAU staff viz., are Project Scientists, Assistant Project Scientists and Research Technicians including organizing two training programs in latest remote sensing and GIS methods for efficiently using this technology in agricultural development. AAU staff have also participated in international training programs in the Philippines and Nepal for advanced GIS learning. A fully-functional GIS facility is started at the AAU campus, Jorhat with all necessary hardware and software setup.

Developing knowledge materials, fostering strategic partnership and capacity development of key stakeholders (public, private and developmental partners) of extension functionaries in Assam

About: IRRI is providing training to different key stakeholders involved in the rice and rice-based agrifood sector to acquaint them with the relevant technology, improving knowledge and skills, building knowledge, and overall scientific capacity. Also, actionable outreach material is being developed,  on better-bet rice agronomy with localized context, to enhance access to information on improved management practices, seed system, crop establishment methods and post-harvest mechanization and rice-value chain.


  1. Developing and making available the impact-oriented  outreach materials and training modules on farm planning, varietal knowledge , quality seed, crop establishment, farm mechanization including direct seeding and mechanical transplanting, crop management practices, rice harvest and postharvest management, rice value chain etc. in both Assamese and English languages.

  2. Capacity building of extension functionaries, farmers, and dealers through discursive meetings, exposure visits and training, to nurture master trainers and agents of change.