Print Edition - 2013-07-16  |  Development

SRI: Making a world of difference

- Maina Dhital, Kathmandu
SRI: Making a world of difference

Jul 15, 2013-

In 2004, Kishor Luitel, a farmer and social worker in Morang district started transplanting paddy with slightly modified method using the local seeds. He implemented a few minor changes: transplantation of very young rice seedlings, only one plant per hill instead of 3-4 together and regular irrigation but much less amount of water. Thanks to the new management technique—System of Rice Intensification (SRI), his yield increased by more than three times. “The use of SRI has increased the paddy yield to 320 kg per kattha, up from 100kg under the traditional methods,” he says.

SRI has been a ray of hope to many farmers like Luitel to increase productivity while reducing inputs amid growing food insecurity and climate change. Under this method, seedlings are transplanted between 8 and 12 days, compared with 40-45 days in the conventional methods. Farmers need to protect the seedlings’ roots and minimising the transplanting shock.

Unlike traditional methods, one plant per hill needs to be transplanted instead of 3-4 together to avoid root competition. According to experts, it requires widely spaced ridge or hill to encourage greater root and canopy growth. Similarly, it is transplanted in a square grid pattern, which is normally 25X25 cm or wider in good quality soil. “There is a formula to irrigate it. It does not require much water, but the soil always needs to be soaked with water,” explains Luitel.

The total area covered by SRI is around 1,000 hectares in Nepal. “More than 35 districts, where SRI was tested, reported positive results,” says Rajendra Uprety, senior agriculture training officer at SRI programme in Morang district. He claims that SRI gives high productivity compared with the conventional methods of paddy transplantation.

SRI is gaining popularity also in the western Nepal, especially in the dry season, according to Hari Prasad Acharya, an agriculture technician. “SRI paddy fields cover around five bighas in Kailali during this season, whereas it would cover up to 12 bighas during the dry season,” says Acharya, who is promoting the SRI project through FAYA Nepal in 10 VDCs of the district.

SRI is more popular among smallholder farmers due to intensive preparations, he explains. “We are running weekly training in two groups. We provide technical support and information, especially on seed germination, transplantation, weeding, and uses of pesticides and fertilisers apart from incentives to the farmers working on SRI.”

SRI was introduced in 1999 by a group of researchers at the Nepal Agriculture Research Council (Narc), but the trial at the Khumaltar research station failed to produce an encouraging result. Later in 2001, various development workers started testing SRI in their own areas. Finally in 2002, different technical advisors tried out SRI methods in Sunsari-Morang irrigation system. “As it produced eight tonnes per hectare, farmers were encouraged enough by the results of the trials,” Uprety recalls.

SRI is not only related to rice. In our geography, SRI is applicable to wheat, sugarcane and finger millet as well. Experts say SRI in Nepal provides several opportunities mainly increment in productivity there by maintaining food security and income generation. Though rice is the biggest contributor in the economy from the agriculture sector, Nepal still imports huge amount of rice each year, mainly from India. According to a Nepal Rastra Bank report, the country imported rice worth Rs 4.26 billion in the fiscal year 2011-12, which jumped to Rs 5.07 billion during the first seven months of 2012-13. “This method offers Nepal an opportunity to produce and sell local high-quality rice in the international market,” Uprety says. “As the production cost of both SRI and conventional methods is more or less the same, all increment in yield becomes the net-profit of rice farmers.”

The production of rice decreased by 11 percent to 4.50 million tonnes in the fiscal year 2012-13, mainly due to poor monsoon. If the government convinces farmers to adopt SRI method, experts claim, the country’s rice output would be less affected by poor monsoon as it requires very less amount of water. It even helps end seed scarcity and promotes local production in the national and international markets. “Adopting the SRI technique, 7kg of seeds is enough for one bigha of germination, whereas it requires 30 to 35kg seeds for the same area of land,” says Luitel.

Over the past decade SRI has helped millions of farmers, especially in Asia and Africa, to improve their food security and food sovereignty. SRI methods raise the productivity of land, labour, water and capital employed in irrigated rice production, according to reports. For all these benefits, SRI still could not gain wide acceptance at the farmers’ level. Water distribution system and intensive training opportunities need to be improved. While avoiding flooded conditions in the rice fields, weeds should be ideally be kept under control at an early stage. It can be removed using a rotary hoe mechanical push-weeder 10 days after transplanting besides manual weeding practices.

Convincing the rice growers to part ways with conventional methods and embrace the new technology remains the biggest challenge. Experts emphasise on collaborative efforts to promote SRI in Nepal in the future. Experts suggest a multi-sector collaboration with farmers, involving government agencies NGOs, universities, and the private sector. “SRI should be promoted in ways that achieve human resources development as well as greater rice production,” Luitel says if the government could include SRI program under its regular programme and at least provide training to farmers, the production of rice will be at least double under SRI.

Record paddy yield in Bihar

Like many other countries, farmers in Bihar, India, were also reluctant in the beginning when they heard about SRI five years ago and only one farmer decided to give it a try.

The government of Bihar has taken SRI in a big way, according to Anil Kumar Verma, agronomist at Professional Assistance for Development Action (Pradan), Bihar. “Much of this increase has come from the SRI field, where the average yields are around seven tonnes per hectare,” he claims in his article ‘SRI in Bihar: From one to 350,000’.

Sumant Kumar, an SRI farmer in the village of Darveshpura in Bihar’s Nalanda district, harvested 22.4 tonnes of paddy from a hectare—a world record yield. The output was almost 10 times the previous typical yield in the state. Many other states in India are now taking up SRI as a strategy to increase their rice and sugarcane yields. In fact, Indian experts have mentioned that the SRI method is one of the contributors for their higher yields, making India the world’s top exporter of rice this year.

“In 2013-14, the Bihar government plans to promote SRI in 1 million hectares out of the total 3.5 million hectares of paddy areas in the state,” Verma told the Post. During the 2011-12 season, SRI paddy was cultivated on about 335,000 hectares of land. Bihar has set a target of around 15 percent growth on around 8.7 million tonnes in 2012-13 to 10 million tonnes in 2013-14. And the state’s agriculture department has even launched a massive campaign to promote SRI.

Published: 16-07-2013 07:21

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