Our readers write
In our previous issue, we published a photo with the article on SRI that showed exactly the opposite of what SRI stands for: rice fields should be kept moist but not flooded. This photo better captures this principle. Thanks to the observant reader who pointed this out to us.
Do you also have comments, ideas, suggestions? Send an e-mail to ileia[at]ileia.org or write to P.O. Box 2067, 3800 CB, Amersfoort, the Netherlands.
Two views: The future of family farming
One of the questions raised in the previous debate was whether family farming can compete with large-scale industrial agriculture. However, the choice is not either-or, but rather: how much of each, and how can the two function in complementary ways that compensate for each other’s limitations?
The industrial, largescale farming system advocated by Rudy Rabbinge meets the needs of the commercial sector more than the needs of the world’s poor. The seed and agricultural chemical producers and food processing industries operate in a close coalition with governments and with major research institutions.
Company profits take precedence over consumer and environmental issues. Against that background, the arguments supporting large-scale industrialised agriculture as the template for the future, should be considered with a degree of scepticism. The rhetoric on the issues of poverty alleviation, global food security, and environmental sustainability used by major institutions are attempts to satisfy a poorly-informed general public that these challenges can be met effectively through what is called “modern” agriculture. While it has served the world reasonably well for the past half century, “more of the same” is no longer justifiable. Some pluralisation, rather than homogenisation, of the agricultural sector is urgently needed.
Therefore the role of Farming Matters in voicing the many viable, environment-friendly, agro-ecological alternatives should be warmly applauded.
Farmers' facts vs “proven” statistics
The article on SRI in the previous issue of Farming Matters raises the question whether scientists should consider farmer results from the field or only their own data to assess the potential of new farming techniques.
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. There are, however, many examples available of measurements according to scientific protocol. 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.
In Aceh, Indonesai, the NGO Caritas recently reported that farmers working with SRI methods introduced after the tsunami there, are averaging 8.5 tons per hectare compared to their previous average yield of 2 tons per hectare (Caritas News, Spring 2009). Also, SRI’s merits are being confirmed and reported on more and more, among others in peer-reviewed scientific literature, such as the journal Experimental Agriculture. 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 resourcelimited ones, rather than find reasons to dismiss reports without field testing and persist in working along their preconceived tracks.
Measuring successI enjoyed reading your article “Building on success”. I agree with the premise of it, that we need to “support and manage the endless process of knowledge generation, facilitation and networking involved in what is essentially a spontaneous activity of sociotechnical change.” Recently our organisation has been striving to monitor and evaluate the success of our projects. We are still working to identify ways of measuring our impact in communities and on individuals. How to measure ones success in meeting ones goals when it comes to the generation and exchange of information? I would greatly appreciate any insight.
Jeff Follett (jeff[at]treesftf.org), South America Program Officer, Trees for the Future, Australia.