Indian farmers' timeless chickpea harvest

Indian farmers' timeless chickpea harvest

Cropping
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It is a million miles away from Australia's modern chickpea industry, but across India, farmers are currently harvesting their crops.

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A Rajasthani farmer with chickpeas harvested by hand earlier this month.

A Rajasthani farmer with chickpeas harvested by hand earlier this month.

A MILLION miles away from the quiet hum of the air conditioned header cabin where the Aussie farmer sits as they efficiently harvest the chickpeas they planted on controlled traffic lines some five months earlier, across the another harvest with vastly different rhythms takes place.

It is currently harvest time in the Indian state of Rajasthan and farmers are taking off the chana (chickpea) crops they planted at the start of November, following the wet season which runs from July to September and delivers virtually all the regions 650mm annual rainfall.

The farmer pictured by Mary Raynes, of the Australian Export Grain Innovation Centre, crops in the Tonk area, in the central east of the north-western state.

Like 95 per cent of the chickpeas planted in India it is harvested the same way it has been since time immemorial, in much the same way as the farmers' ancestors operated over the 400 years they have farmed in the area, cut with a hand held sickle.

The stems are then taken and threshed, with a nod to modernity, using a hired threshing machine before being hand bagged and taken to the local mundi (market) for sale at auction.

The laborious process means the field, just 0.2ha takes two full days for four or five people to harvest, with the pressure on to be finished by the holy festival of Holi, held in mid-March.

Yields are likely to equate to around 400kg/ha.

The variety is an unknown local cultivar, with the seed originally purchased at the mundi. It is a small seeded variety, smaller in size than Australian desi chickpea lines and much darker.

However, although it is not apparent, there have been some advances in cropping techniques.

The farmer told Ms Raynes he uses the equivalent of 400 kilograms to the hectare of DAP fertiliser to grow the crop, which also receives flood irrigation 40 days after planting.

Ms Raynes said the farmer was lucky as he has a pond to store irrigation water, infrastructure many others do not have.

The water extracted for the crop comes from underground water, but there is growing concern about over-extraction and the water table is dropping and there is concern about availability of ground water into the future.

Rotationally, the farmer said he grows chickpeas, followed by green mung beans and then millet.

This year, he was pleased with results, saying there had been good in-crop rainfall.

Overall, India is looking at a reasonable season, but smaller plantings mean the crop is likely to be smaller than last year.

Australian pulse producers will be watching anxiously to assess whether the drop is enough for India to need imports, which in turn may have an impact on the controversial Indian tariff on Australian chickpea exports.

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