Print Edition - 2013-07-16 | Development
Multi-sectoral collaboration can promote SRI
Jul 15, 2013-
Could you share your experiences while working on SRI in the initial phase?
It took me three years to accept that SRI is ‘for real’. After farmers in Madagascar had, for three years, averaged eight tonnes per hectare on the same fields with ‘poor soil’ and with the same seeds that had given them previously two tonnes per hectare I started to get researchers and farmers in other countries to try out the methods for themselves in 1997, to see if similar results would be possible elsewhere. It took several years, even as director of Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development (CIIFAD), to get anyone to take SRI seriously enough to give it a fair try.
The first trials were actually in Nepal, at Khumaltar, thanks to the initiative of Prof John Duxbury, my Cornell colleague. Unfortunately, the researchers did not exercise any water control, as recommended/required for SRI, so the trials during the monsoon season did not produce any positive results, as the tiny seedlings were inundated and could not perform as expected.
In China and Indonesia, however, my colleagues in 1999-2000 tried out the SRI methods and confirmed that they got higher yields from more productive phenotypes. In 2001, Chris Evans with a British NGO got SRI trials started in Nepal. In 2003-2004, under a DFID-funded project in Sunsari and Morang, there were systematic trials, which yielded good results.
What was your role in promoting SRI in Nepal?
My role throughout, from 1999 to now, has been to provide information on SRI to encourage people to try out its methods and to make whatever are the appropriate adaptations. I encourage Nepali farmers, the government, NGOs and university people to capitalise on the new ideas that we had gotten from our work in Madagascar.
As a matter of history, I visited Nepal for a week in April 2002 and gave two seminars on SRI at Narc. I visited Nepal again in November 2006, which was built around a conference of the Farmer-Managed Irrigation Systems Trust.
How SRI tackles the effects of climate change in agriculture?
The enhancement of crop production through SRI agroecological management practices is impressive. These methods evidently can make rice production more resilient under a variety of adverse climatic conditions and, to some extent, they may countervail the drivers of climate change. SRI is drought and storm damage resistance. It can tolerate to abnormal temperature and it has shorter crop cycle. For instances, in the summer of 2009, much of India was affected by poor monsoon rains, causing widespread crop losses. Farmers, who used SRI methods in Orissa, reported little or no loss of yield due to low rainfall or pest damage. Similarly, farmers in Sichuan province, China, were able to increase paddy yields while reducing water requirements using SRI methods of crop management with plastics mulching on raised beds. In Hehe village, SRI yield increases of 30 percent were accompanied by 70 percent water reduction.
You have a long working experience on SRI promotion in several countries, including Nepal. How can Nepal promote SRI?
A multi-sectoral collaboration with farmers, involving government agencies like the Ministry of Agriculture, NGOs, universities, and the private sector, is a must. We like to see SRI promoted in ways that achieve human resource development as well as greater rice production. I very much favour farmer-to-farmer dissemination. Scientists and extensionists are important participants in the process, but SRI has the greatest payoff and can proceed most quickly and effectively where the process is farmer-centred, with farmer field schools or simply with exchange visits, demonstration plots, etc where farmers can take ownership of this innovation.
Many scientists are still skeptical about SRI. What are the main challenges of SRI?
Overcoming the mental blockages created by ‘traditional practice’ in farmers’ minds and by ‘conventional science’ in researchers’ minds are the main challenges. There is a lot of scientific knowledge that is in fact becoming superseded by SRI experiences and researches. This is not an unscientific innovation, but it is a case where the ‘technology’ preceded the ‘science.’
Scientists should be humble and dedicated enough to join together with those who know the most about this innovation, eg, farmers and NGO workers, to learn together how to capitalise on these ways of raising the productivity of land, labour, seeds, capital and especially water devoted to rice production. There should be adaptations, as in India, for rain-fed SRI (not just irrigated SRI) and for application of these ideas to other crops, wheat, millet, maize, sugarcane etc.
Published: 16-07-2013 07:21