Odisha revives grass pea cultivation to turn fallow lands into fertile grounds

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Apart from its nutritional value, the grass pea can be grown as a relay crop after rice while enough soil moisture is still available. Its ability to withstand drought and erratic rainfall patterns makes it an ideal choice for cultivation in water-stressed areas. Its robust growth and tolerance to stress contribute to its reliability as a lucrative option for farmers to cultivate in rice fallows.

Bolangir District in western Odisha is known for its vast fallow lands after the paddy harvest because of water scarcity and limited crop diversity. Recently, the Government of Odisha reached a significant milestone in building a more diverse agri-food system and improving farmer incomes and nutrition through an ambitious project targeting rice fallows across the state.

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Area, World Vegetable Center formed a partnership to introduce transformative intervention on rice-legume, rice-pulse, and rice-oilseed cropping systems for vulnerable and smallholder dry land ecosystems.

A parallel amplification by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics also played a key role in rolling out a detailed program for introducing legume, pulses, and oilseed crop cultivation on rice-fallow lands to enhance soil fertility and food and nutrition security in the region.

Re-cultivating the crop of the people
An exercise to understand the needs of targeted communities in Bolangir revealed that grass pea was a highly preferred crop in the district. Historically, grass pea was a widely grown crop Bolangir. The legume is rich in protein, fiber, and antioxidants.

Apart from its nutritional value, grass pea is a short-duration crop (65-75 days) that can be grown as a relay crop after rice while enough soil moisture is still available. The western districts in Odisha have low residual soil moisture compared to the coastal areas making shorter-duration crops highly suitable for the fallow periods. Grass peas can also withstand temperature extremes and produce reasonable yields.

Today, grass pea is often regarded as a minor crop. The lack of quality seeds and knowledge for cultivating grass peas contributed to its low popularity. Because farmers feared crop failure and minimal returns from grass peas, they either kept their land fallow or grew local varieties with negligible productivity.

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