Breakthrough science and innovation

P. Vishwanathan (CCAFS)
Outcomes & Impacts

Half a million hectares made ‘climate friendly’ through laser land levelling

South Asia

The western Indo-Gangetic Plain—known as South Asia’s food basket—produces much of the region’s rice and wheat. As temperatures increase and water becomes scarcer, however, farmers in the region may struggle to maintain yields. Responding to this problem CCAFS researchers at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) have found a successful solution.

Half a million hectares of land has been made climate friendly through the use of lasers to level land. ( Results in the Indian state of Haryana: a) increased wheat and rice production of 155 000 and 175 000 tonnes; b) save an estimated 82 500 tonnes of CO2 c) save 1 billion m3 of water each year.

Removing undulations in the soil’s surface can boost agricultural productivity, creating a larger planting area, with fewer weeds and a much higher crop yield. Traditional methods of land levelling, however, consume considerable time and resources, especially water. Laser land levelling is being promoted by CIMMYT and CCAFS, and is already contributing to half a million hectares of land becoming more climate friendly.

CIMMYT has been researching the use of laser land levelling in the western Indo-Gangetic Plain since 2011. A household survey from the same year clearly showed the benefits, including significant savings of time spent irrigating fields and over 300 kg additional yield per hectare for both rice and wheat. An assessment in 2014 meanwhile illustrated the climate credentials of this technique, estimating annual savings of 82 tonnes of C02 and 1 billion m3 of water when lasers are used to level agricultural land.

Laser land levelling has emerged as a key technology in the region’s ‘climate-smart villages’, and has been integrated well with other tools and approaches. It has also been described as a ‘precursor technology’, as the performance of other techniques improve significantly on laser-levelled fields.

Laser land levelling is a climate-friendly technology which has agricultural productivity in parts of India

Laser land levelling is a climate-friendly technology which has agricultural productivity in parts of India. CIMMYT India

A recent evaluation of the CIMMYT–CCAFS initiative focusing on the state of Haryana estimated that 544 ha of land has been levelled by machine since 2011, making a significant contribution to both climate mitigation and adaptation through annual savings of: 63 000 tonnes of CO2 due to decreased water pumping; 19 500 tonnes of CO2 as a result of decreased cultivation time; and 1 billion m3 of water as laser land levelling is less water intensive than traditional approaches.

The study found laser land levelling made important contributions to food security leading to increased wheat and rice production of 155 000 and 175 000 tonnes, respectively. It has also allowed diversification into vegetables, which is important for food security because they are nutritionally rich, offer good returns and can provide an income source for women who are often hired to farm them.

A vibrant market in laser land levelling machines has been well established in the state. Approximately 2000 machines in Haryana are hired out most of the time. There is evidence that smallholders have begun to collaborate to hire them, removing borders between their plots to make it easier to operate the machine.

With only 20% of Haryana’s irrigated area currently levelled using this technology, there is potential to expand its use and climate-smart benefits throughout the state and beyond.