Sugarcane will become an increasingly important crop in India in the near future due to increasing demand from sugar consumers and an expansion in the use of sugar-based biofuels. To meet this demand, sugarcane cultivation needs to change radically in order to increase yields and efficient use of water and fertilizers. The Sustainable Sugarcane Initiative (SSI), initiated by AgSri, is facilitating this transformation together with smallholders on the ground in the sugarcane growing regions of India.
The SSI technique introduces a number of simple innovations that save a great deal of water compared to prevailing practice in sugarcane cultivation. Most significantly, SSI teaches farmers to shift from planting a significant portion of seed cane taken from their previous harvest to planting month old seedlings directly into the field. The germination stage typically takes tremendous amounts of water to get the seed cane to sprout, but by raising seedlings in nurseries and transplanting after one month, close to 90% of the water can be conserved during this stage.
Furthermore, seedlings are planted in a regular, widely spaced pattern increasing the health of the plants and yield per hectare while also allowing farmers to use drip irrigation technology, which proved very difficult in the past for sugarcane. Using some or all of the recommended techniques allows farmers to save a significant amount of water while also raising their incomes.
The project developer, AgSri, produces seedlings at low cost for smallholders and, as the developer of the SSI techniques, also provides training to farmers. Through revenue from selling WBCs, AgSri anticipates expanding from the existing 1.500 farmers currently using the technique to 20.000 in five years time now that SSI has been demonstrated successfully through its pilot phase. The extra revenue shall subsidize the cost of seedlings for farmers to encourage the participation of a wider group of participants as well as its educational campaigns.