‘Revolutionary’ rice-growing method gets much more for less
A new way of growing rice in India is producing record-breaking crops,
reducing the need for chemical fertilizers and saving water
by Julian Rollins
Known as the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), this rethink of traditional ways of growing is raising the bar on crop yield, with one Indian farmer reported to have set a new world record using the SRI method.
The grower, from the northern state of Bihar, has harvested over 22 tons of rice from just a single hectare (2.5 acres) of land and did so using only farmyard manure as a fertilizer, according to the Observer. That’s close to 10 times the average yield per hectare achieved by India’s farmers.
Supporters say that the SRI method amounts to an agrarian revolution that could deliver a step-change in world food production, and in a low-tech way without the need for genetic modification.
The process, developed in Madagascar in the 1980s, focuses on giving plants care and attention: farmers use organic fertilizer and rice fields have to be weeded by hand; young rice plants are transplanted earlier and given more space; and plants mature in drier soil, rather than in standing water.
Rice plants grown in this way are stronger and have a more extensive root system than those grown traditionally, thus making them better able to survive in extreme weather.
The World Bank Institute (WBI) is an enthusiastic backer of SRI, noting that the method has been tried in 30 countries around the world and that in most cases it delivers benefits, namely that SRI-managed fields produce more rice and that it is often of a higher quality, which means that farmers get a better price per ton. Another big selling point for SRI is that input costs are cut too, with rice crops needing less water and chemical fertilizers.
WBI cites the example of trials in Uttar Pradesh in India that produce around two tons more rice per hectare, but do it using 90 percent less seed and 50 percent less water. Although crops need more care from farm workers, overall production costs are lower.
But SRI faces challenges. According to Dr Erika Styger, director of programs for the SRI International Network and Resources Center at Cornell University, efforts to sign more farmers up to the method are held back by a lack of spending on support to help growers on the ground, especially in remote communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Where money is available for farmer support, it is often focused on approaches that use inputs such as chemical fertilizers and new seed varieties, and, Dr Styger argues, with its low-input ethic, SRI is a direct threat to agro-business.
“SRI involves a paradigm shift: resource-limited farmers can improve the productivity of their agriculture with their own resources. Farmers can become more independent from outside resources,” she tells Positive News.
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