Hunger is not caused by lack of food it is caused by lack of money. No–one with money starves”.
The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) is a methodology aimed at increasing the yield of rice produced in farming. It is a low water, labor-intensive, organic methodthat uses younger seedlings singly spaced and typically hand weeded with special tools. It was developed in 1983 by the French Jesuit Father Henri de Laulanié in Madagascar. However full testing and spread of the system throughout the rice growing regions of the world did not occur until some years later with the help of Universities like Cornell
History and main ideas of SRI
Assembly of the practices that culminated in SRI began in the 1960s based on Fr. de Laulanie’s observations. Principles included applying a minimum quantity of water and the individual transplanting of very young seedlings in a square pattern.
SRI concepts and practices have continued to evolve as they are being adapted to rain-fed (unirrigated) conditions and with transplanting being superseded by direct-seeding sometimes. The central principles of SRI according to Cornell University, New York are:
- Rice field soils should be kept moist rather than continuously saturated, minimizing anaerobic conditions, as this improves root growth and supports the growth and diversity of aerobic soil organisms.
- Rice plants should be planted singly and spaced optimally widely to permit more growth of roots and canopy and to keep all leaves photosynthetically active.
- Rice seedlings should be transplanted when young, less than 15 days old with just two leaves, quickly, shallow and carefully, to avoid trauma to roots and to minimize transplant shock.
Spread of SRI
The spread of SRI from Madagascar to around the globe has been credited to Norman Uphoff, former director of the Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York from 1990 to 2005. In 1993, Uphoff met officials from Association Tefy Saina, the non-governmental organisation set up in Madagascar in 1990 by de Laulanie to promote SRI. After seeing the success of SRI for three years when Malagasy farmers previously averaging 2 tons/hectare averaged 8 tons/hectare with SRI, Uphoff became persuaded of the merits of the system, and in 1997 started to promote SRI in Asia. Uphoff estimates that by 2013 the number of smallholder farmers using SRI had grown to between 4 and 5 million.
Proponents and critics of SRI debate the claimed benefits and many questions about it remain unresolved. Wageningen University has also published an article discussing the challenges of evaluating SRI in which one concluding sentence read: “Although the technical aspects of SRI have been contested, it clearly exists as a real social phenomenon”.
The question at hand seems to be: is SRI better at delivering increased yield and other benefits to rice farmers, such as healthier soils, when compared with established recommended best management practices for rice production?
Cases of success
Proponents of SRI claim its use increases yield, saves water, reduces production costs, and increases income and that benefits have been achieved in 40 countries. Uphoff published an article in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability that states that SRI “can raise irrigated rice yields to about double the present world average without relying on external inputs, also offering environmental and equity benefits”.
A special issue on SRI in the non-SCI scientific journal Paddy and Water Environment collected recent findings in support of SRI.
In 2011 a young farmer named Sumant Kumar set an unverified and uncontrolled new world record in rice production of 22.4 tons per hectare using SRI, beating the existing world record held by the Chinese scientist Yuan Longping by 3 tons.
The productivity of SRI is under debate between supporters and critics of the system. Critics of SRI suggest that claims of yield increase in SRI are due to unscientific evaluations. They object that there is a lack of details on the methodology used in trials and a lack of publications in the peer-reviewed literature. Some critics have suggested that SRI success is unique to soil conditions in Madagascar.[13