Farmers' facts vs. "proven" statistics?
In the article, Harro Maat commented that scientists discounted the high SRI yields reported by NGOs and others because there was no information on the measurement methods used. This is a lame justification as there have been many evaluations where information on measurement methods was reported and conformed to standard ‘scientific’ requirements.
Half a dozen theses were done by Madagascar students for degrees from the Faculty of Agriculture (ESSA) at the University of Antananarivo in the early 1980s. Their measurements were done meticulously according to scientific protocols, with multiple replications, random block design, etc. That the theses were written in French is no excuse for IRRI and other scientists to not have followed up such reports, which were available upon request. There was no evident interest from these scientists in knowing factually about SRI.
NGOs do not have the training or equipment to do similar measurements. However, when they have reported SRI yields, they had used the same methods for measuring the comparison yields from conventional methods, usually on neighboring fields with same varieties and growing conditions. Even if the absolute yield levels might be questioned, the relative yields (ratios) should have been considered seriously. Three years of data from farmers using SRI methods in Madagascar showed average SRI yields of 8 tons/ha where farmers with same varieties on same fields were getting only 2 tons/ha with their usual methods. This four-fold difference was not attributable to ‘measurement error’ or uncertainties.
The NGO CARITAS recently reported that the farmers in Aceh, Indonesia, working with SRI methods introduced after the tsunami there are averaging 8.5 tons/ha compared to their previous average yield of 2 tons/ha (CARITAS NEWS, Spring 2009). It is incumbent on NGOs and others to report results as systematically and precisely as possible; but it should be similarly expected of scientists that they will take an open-minded interest in innovations that could be beneficial for farmers, especially resource-limited ones, rather than find reasons to dismiss reports without field testing and persist in working along their preconceived tracks. Sadly, many of the SRI skeptics/critics are continuing to ignore evidence of SRI’s merits now that these are being confirmed and reported in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, esp. in the journal Experimental Agriculture."
Norman Uphoff, Cornell University, U.S.A.