Wednesday, June 18, 2008
S. R. I. -- Fact or Fiction?
S.R.I. -- System of Rice Intensification -- the brainchild of Cornell scientist Norman T. Uphoff, is a system for increasing rice yields per hectare by improving the quality of individual paddy plants rather than increasing the total number. Perhaps I am more ignorant than most, but the first I heard of SRI was recently in a Times of India news item that reported that Tamil Nadu, the state I live in and work, is planning to increase the area under SRI cultivation from 4.2 lakh hectares to 7.5 lakh hectares this agricultural season. (A lakh is a hundred thousand). It is claimed that the areas under SRI cultivation in Tamil Nadu had achieved the optimum yield of about 13 to 14 metric tonnes of paddy per hectare (compared to 2 - 5 tonnes for the normal variety). Soon thereafter I found an article in the New York Times profiling Dr. Uphoff. (I cannot find the link to the Times of India article - I read it in the hard copy version of the newspaper). The idea behind SRI is that during drought months, rice plants and particularly roots become much stronger so as to better withstand the drought. This turns out to be the key to healthier plants. By keeping the soil moist but not wet to allow better soil aeration and root growth, coupled with wider spacing letting plants absorb more sunlight, each plant sends forth more tillers (the side shoots that a plant gives out) and each tiller produces 200 to 500 grains instead of the usual 100 or so. Moreover, an added benefit is significant savings in water utilisation. Unfortunately, the issue of greater productivity per hectare is still mired in controversy. The world famous International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines has dismissed Dr Uphoff's claim as either overblown, or the result of poor book-keeping or just plain wishful thinking and difficult to replicate on a large scale. It has also been criticised for increasing drudgery for farmers, particularly poor women who work in the fields. However 28 countries among them Vietnam, Cambodia, India, China, Indonesia (mostly countries with rice intensive farming) have become some of the top SRI users, and there has been uniform praise from these countries for improved yields that have come from SRI varieties. More details can be accessed at the SRI website. Links to many Indian newspaper articles on SRI are also available here.