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Powering up Nutritious Food Production in India with Spatial Solutions


In India, the demand for nutritional food grains continues to rise while the total area of arable land is not expected to increase significantly. There are several ways to increase food grain production, such as refining agricultural sustainable intensification practices currently being implemented and investing in crop diversification. Another example of untapped opportunities lies in the potential use of crop-fallows such as rice-fallows in the Indo-Gangetic Plain.

These crop-fallows are dynamic in nature, changing year by year across landscapes, mostly driven by monsoon climate but also by human interventions that are economic, agronomic, and cultural in nature. The implementation of a digital, open access decision system, able to provide timely information on arable land area, would facilitate the development of appropriate intervention packages, optimizing land management and boosting production.

ICARDA’s "Geoinformatics Solutions for Integrated Agro-Systems" (GIS) can provide the desired digital service and more, harnessing the power of big-data analytics with near real-time satellite remote sensing images, weather/climate and in-situ observations, monitoring and identifying suitable introversion zones. This unique capability is empowering farmers, researchers and policy-makers, providing them with a tool to make strageic decisions and actions, focusing on land management, crops and water usage, agricultural inputs and markets.

The spatial analysis and visualization tool, for example, has contributed to research in India on "Intensification and crop diversification of nutrient rich food legumes". The study allows scientists to tap vast tracts of land left fallow after the first rice harvest of the year that can potentially be used to grow pulses and oil seeds. The mapping allows farmers to strategically intervene ingrowing grain legume varieties that fit into these cropping systems.


The digital interactive map, comprehensive of land coverage and vegetation patterns, provides information on the length of fallows, the start and end of the fallow periods, their seasonality, and cropping intensity, etc. By analyzing these data, it is possible to identify potential areas where high-yielding, short or long-duration legumes can be grown in the fallows. In addition crop breeders have developed extra early varieties (as little as 58 days), dual purpose crops, zero-tillage techniques, all leading to high-efficiency land management practices.


A further example of geoinformatics' impact on agriculture is presented by recent advances of the NASA’s mission mapping soil moisture, that provided crucial information to track the base level of residual moisture. This data can now contribute to inform better decisions, targeting landscapes with crops featuring higher returns on investment, adaptability, and fits with local irrigation assets.

ICARDA’s "GIS" online open access tool can help identify areas of interest, to target and accelerate decision making and interventions, by providing strategic information. Tapping the opportunities presented by such mapping approaches will have benefit returns on investments and support the development of sustainable land, water and crop management practices, promoting food security and better livelihoods in agricultural systems.


This study has been undertake with the support from ICAR, University of Oklahoma.

This research has been conducted in the framework of the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems and Grain Legumes and is funded by Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) in collaboration with University of Oklahoma (OU) and Indian Institute of Technology (IIT).


  • C. Biradar*, Z. Geli, X. Xiao, A. Sarker, J. Dong, S. Kumar, M. Singh, R. Singh, J. Omari, L. Atassi and A. Noble. 2016. Spatial BigData Analytics for intensification of pulses. International Conference on Pulses. Marrakesh, Morocco, 18020, 2016.

About the author

Chandrashekhar Biradar is Principal Scientist (Agro-ecosystems) and Head (Geoinformatics unit) at The International Center for Agriculture Research in the Dry Areas.