New record in Bihar thanks to SRI
A young farmer named Sumant Kumar set a new record in rice production beating the existing world record held by the so called “Father of Hybrid Rice”, the Chinese scientists Yuan Longping. This latter managed to produce 190 quintals of paddy in a hectare by means of a hybrid rice (DH2525), while Sumant achieved the extraordinary yield of 224 quintal paddy per hectare adopting “the system of rice intensification" (SRI).
Sumant’s result is of great significance. But what makes it noteworthy is not the record itself; or better, it is not merely that. There is more, it is the method that Sumant has employed to gain his bumper yield – SRI – which makes his record so relevant. Several times, on the pages of our magazine, SRI has been presented as a promising alternative to conventional ways of rice production. Yet, notwithstanding its potentialities, many within the formal agricultural establishment have often neglected, when not denied, its ability to be a convenient system of cultivation.
This approach was developed in Madagascar in 1983 by the French Jesuit Father Henri de Laulanié. It is the result of a series of empirical experiments in rice cultivation that de Laulanié started in the 1960s in order to help local farmers to deal with the scarcity of external input. As promoters like to define it, SRI is the system by which you can “produce more from less”. There are six basic elements that characterize and differentiate it from common practices:
- Seedlings are transplanted at a much younger age;
- single seedlings instead of clumps;
- wider spacing in square pattern;
- no floated but moist soil;
- rotary weeding;
- increased use of organic fertilizer.
The application of these elements promises numerous advantages like higher yield, reduced requirement of seeds and demand of water.
But why such a simple method, which is supposed to drastically reduce farmers' dependence from external inputs, at the same time allowing more gains, has found so many sceptics among farmers and institutions?
What we have to keep in mind is that SRI has not to be considered as a fixed set of rules but as a general method that farmers have to adapt – rather than adopt – to their local realities. This is why many of its supporters talk of SRI in terms of 'work in progress', as an approach that farmers have to tailor to their specific local conditions. Whether SRI will give positive results will depend in great part on how farmers (with the support of institutions that will provide adequate infrastructures) will be able to adapt it. As Norman Uphoff, Professor Emeritus at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, noted in an interview for the World Bank Institute, one of the main constrains in shifting to SRI is mental: ideas about getting more production with less input, or getting more rice reducing plants density seems to many farmers counterintuitive and refrain them to trust SRI.
For rice farmers, practices such as flooding the ground are considered as mandatory and indispensable to get a rich harvest. Moreover, SRI demands to change production techniques which are rooted in millennia of rice cultivation history. A shift to SRI requires first of all a change in mentality, and changes in mentality are probably the most difficult to accomplish. Even though SRI is already gaining more and more consensus, advocates can now count on Sumant's record as a representative example to promote the potentialities of this new methodology.
- More from less, from less to more: Dissemination of a rice cultivation technique (M. Vermeulen, Farming Matters, December 2009)
- System of Rice intensification gains momentum (N. Uphoff and E. Fernandes, LEISA Magazine, October 2002)
- The system of rice intensification - agroecological opportunities for small farmers? (N. Uphoff, LEISA Magazine, December 2001)
- Revolution in rice intensification in Madagascar (J. Rabenandrasana, LEISA Magazine, December 1999)