Performance of SRI in Nepal
Average rice yields in Morang district in Nepal are low because farmers use older-generation seeds and cultivation practices are not optimal. Having read about the success of SRI (= System of Rice Intensification) in other countries, the author decided to try this technology on his farm, with excellent results. This encouraged several other farmers to plant their regular season rice crop using the SRI system. They found that SRI rice needed less time to mature than conventional rice, and that all but one SRI crops yielded at least twice as much grain as traditionally grown rice.
LEISA Magazine • 21.2• June 2005
FIELD NOTESMore than 65 percent of the economically active population of Nepal depend on agriculture for their living. Rice is the most important crop and Morang is one of the important rice-producing districts in eastern Nepal. Average productivity – just over 3 tons/ha – is low because farmers use older-generation seeds and cultivation practices are not optimal: Farmers generally use more than 60 kg/ha of seeds, transplant very old seedlings (30 - 45 days old) and plant many seedlings per hill.
In 2002, I read an article by Norman Uphoff on SRI in the LEISA Magazine. I thought that this technology might be useful for Nepalese farmers as well. I contacted Mr. Uphoff for more information on SRI, and in 2003 I established two small rice plots using SRI principles: planting young seedlings, wide spacing, less water, and some weeding. My healthy plants produced an equivalent of more than 7 tons/ha. This was very encouraging, and we started to share the results with local farmers through training, articles in our newsletter and personal and group contacts.
Many farmers wanted to try the SRI technology, but first they wanted to see the results on someone else’s field! So three farmers volunteered to plant their early rice crop according to SRI principles. Two of these farmers harvested nearly 6 tons/ha. The third farmer, Mr. Udaya Narayan Nepal, transplanted rice seedlings of different ages – 8 days, 12 days, and 17 days – on different plots. In spite of the lack of irrigation and poor soil, the vegetative growth was very good with up to 130 tillers per hill. Even after evident water stress, his crop produced rather well, see Table 1.
After observing these good results in the early rice crop, farmers from 15 Village Development Committees and one Sub- Metropolitan City decided to plant the regular season rice crop using the SRI system on plots ranging from 500 m2 to 2 hectares. Many of their neighbours were sceptical because the SRI plot which had so few tiny plants and no standing water looked so pitiful in the beginning. But after one month, most of them were surprised at the “magical” growth that occurred. After this more and more farmers started to come and see what was happening on the SRI plots.
Nearly all SRI plots received very few inputs, small quantities of water and very few seeds (3 - 5 kg/ha). The rice plants in many plots started tillering 2 - 3 days after transplanting, and single seedlings produced up to 135 tillers per hill, showing their high potential. We realized that if we keep the soil just a little moist (and sometimes dry), even older seedlings would produce more tillers. In one case 21-day-old seedlings produced more than 40 tillers/hill with 350 - 400 grains/panicle.
Most of the SRI plots were planted with a wide spacing of 40 - 45 cm between plants in both directions. We based this decision on our experience of the early rice crop which had produced more than 100 tillers per hill, making us believe that plant spacing could be increased.
However, contrary to the early rice crop there was no water scarcity during the normal season. This decreased the tillering rate. While the yields were good, we could probably produce even more by using a somewhat closer spacing (30 x 30 cm).
We also found that SRI rice needed less time to mature than conventional rice: between 7 - 30 days less, depending on variety, soil type, water availability, and the age of the seedlings when transplanted. When young seedlings were under water stress, the period needed to reach full maturity using SRI was 15 days shorter that when traditional methods were used. SRI rice plants also started tillering 20 - 35 days earlier than 30 - 45 day-old seedlings grown in the traditional way. They reached each stage of growth earlier and matured earlier. These results are being verified this season.
All SRI crops with the exception of one, yielded at least twice as much grain as traditionally grown rice. The average SRI yield was about 130 percent higher than that of the traditional crop.
Besides higher production and an earlier crop another advantage of the SRI method was the reduced need for pesticides to control stemborers, leafhoppers, caseworms and other insects. The pesticides farmers normally use leave long-lasting toxic residues and have adverse effects on soil organisms. They also pollute water and affect useful insects such as spiders, tiger beetles, dragonflies, honeybees, and ladybird beetles. Our SRI farmers did not use any insecticide because the high number of tillers per hill compensate for damage inflicted on individual tillers. Some farmers did use fungicides for controlling leaf spots and neck blast, but these fungicide applications might be unnecessary if seeds are pre-treated with fungicide.
The experiences of Morang farmers with SRI was broadcast on national television and reported in national newspapers. Many farmers and development workers from different parts of the country contacted me after hearing the news to get more information about the SRI method. Since then we have published and distributed booklets and sent a special issue of our monthly newsletter on SRI to farmers, NGOs, District Agriculture Development Offices and others in the agricultural sector. All these efforts have created a very favourable environment for the development of SRI in Nepal. My proposal for a SRI promotion project was selected as one of the finalist in Nepal Development Marketplace 2005 organized by World Bank/Kathmandu, and awarded US$20 000. During 2005 and 2006 the project will be implemented in Morang and Panchthar districts.
Agriculture Extension Officer, District Agriculture Development Office, Biratnagar, Morang, Nepal. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For more reading on SRI, see LEISA Magazine Issue 15, Dec 1999, pp 48-49; Issue 17.4, Dec 2001, pp 15-16; and Issue 18.3, Oct 2002, pp 24-29.