System of Rice Intensification (SRI): failure still counts as success

Last November 27, I was invited by SRI-Pilipinas trainor Aga Milagroso as guest speaker at the graduation ceremonies of 36 farmers of Alaminos, Pangasinan, whom he had trained over a whole season on the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), organic fertilizer making, indigenous microorganism (IMO) activators through rice fermentation, and other useful knowhow for the farm. SRI-Pilipinas national training coordinator Venancio Garde Jr. also made occasional trips to help handle some sessions. SRI-Pilipinas is the consortium of Philippine NGOs, academics and government researchers promoting SRI and organic farming in the Philippines.

The training was conducted over 16 weekly one-day sessions, spanning a whole planting season. It was a hectic schedule for Aga, who had to make the 4-5 hour trip by bus every week from his hometown in Malolos, Bulacan to Alaminos, Pangasinan. Aga says the enthusiastic response from the graduates made it all worth the effort.

Normally, due to funding limitations, SRI-Pilipinas squeezes all the SRI knowhow in a one-day session that includes a half-day of lectures and a half-day of hands-on training. This particular training program, which was funded by the city government of Alaminos, was quite intensive, giving Aga a chance to go into all kinds of details and to cover a lot more ground.

The graduation program itself was held at the village of Linmansangan in Alaminos, Pangasinan, where the 16 sessions of the season-long training were also held.

Official presence was impressive. The regional office of the Department of Agriculture Ilocos Region sent a representative, Wilfredo Pal-laya. Alaminos Mayor Hernani Braganza also sent a representative, city administrator Col. Wilmer Panabang. City councilor and Committee on Agriculture chair Earl James Aquino and fellow councilor Radoc were also there, as was city agriculturist Ernesto S. de Leon. They all exhorted the farmers to apply what they learned to raise their incomes and to take advantage of the emerging organic market.

Here’s the list of SRI graduates:

Women (9): Carmelita D. Foronda, Delia D. Babera, Delia F. Garcia, Febe B. de Ocampo, Generose V. Castro, Imelda O. Rabanal, Jessica V. Baillo (Secretary), Lorena B. Pamittan, and Rosalinda R. Corpuz. Men (27): Agapito B. Tugade, Alfredo R. Purganan, Alselmo O. Corpuz, Armando H. Bautista, Armando L. Laguisma, Boy Cristy Rosales (Treasurer), Eduardo A. Rabago, Fernald S. de Guzman (Sgt-at-arms), Ismael M. Laguisma (Sgt.-at-arms), Jaime P. Abarra, Jerry D. Ico (Public relations officer), Joel R. Zabala (Business manager), Joseph C. Estrada, Julio C. Abora, Lorenzo B. Laguisma Sr., Lyndon B. Baillo (Business manager), Mariano B. Quiam, Orlando Bernas, Oscar B. Duco, Osmar A. Mejia (President), Paulino R. Rabaya, Ramil G. Camba, Rogelio L. Laguisma Sr. (Vice-president), Rogelio R. Reyes (Public relations officer), Rolly B. Laguisma, Romel C. Purganan (Auditor), and Veronico B. Verzola.

I was all attention, when one of the graduates Osmar Mejia reported the results of the group’s SRI trial. The results were not really impressive. In fact, it looked definitely disappointing to me:

SRI

Conventional

Paddy rice yield (palay)

1,696 kg

4,033 kg

Polished rice (bigas)

1,159 kg

2,086 kg

Gross revenue (P40/kg)

P46,360

P83,448

Total production cost (P)

P43,770

P36,832

Net income (P)

P2,590

P46,616

Mejia explained why, despite the seemingly disappointing results, they felt encouraged and positive about SRI. He said the SRI plot had been ravaged by the dreaded tungro disease as well as the rice bug. But in the training, they learned how to control these through botanical preparations. They were especially awed by the anti-tungro concoction they learned from SRI-Pilipinas national trainor Jun Garde — ordinary cooking oil, onions and garlic ground on a pestle and sprayed on the rice plants. That the plants would actually recover and even give them a small net income was truly impressive, Mejia said. They also saw with their own eyes the high-tillering rates that distinguish SRI-grown plants from the conventionally-grown ones, and they understood what this meant in terms of higher yield, had their triat plot not been attacked by tungro and the rice bug. Thus, when Ilocos DA representative Wilfredo Pal-laya asked the graduates, “Was your trial successful?”, they enthusiastically chorused, “Yes!”

Mejia further explained that the high SRI production cost was mainly due to labor cost, which he attributed to the steep learning curve. Hired hands were not used to the unusual SRI practices and demanded higher wages, and they were slower at their tasks too. The labor costs will go down, he said, as people became more familiar with the method. Already, some graduates were saying that they would in fact save on labor costs, once they had mastered the method.

When it was my turn to talk, I basically told the graduates the following:

Graduation rites are often called “commencement exercises” because, they not only mark the end of one phase but also the beginning of the next phase of the learning process. You are done with the training, it is now time for action, to put into practice what you have learned in the past 16 weeks. Then, SRI-Pilipinas can tap you, like we have tapped Aga, to train your fellow farmers and help them learn how to improve their income, at the same time, creating a healthier environment for themselves and their families.

Actually, SRI-Pilipinas taps for its trainors farmers who have had at least two seasons of experience with SRI. You must try what you learned, learn from your mistakes as well as your successes, and acquire confidence in the method. Then you can teach others.

It doesn’t really take much to learn SRI. SRI-Pilipinas got a grant of a little bit more than eight hundred thousand pesos from the Department of Agriculture, and we were able to train nearly a thousand farmers in 48 provinces with that money, mostly through one-day trainings attended by 25-30 participants. Since you had 16 one-day sessions, you probably know by now sixteen times more than Aga does, who learned his SRI after he attended a one-day seminar conducted by my wife Flora in November 2006 in San Miguel, Bulacan. Aga brought home the primer he got from that seminar, tried SRI, and was immediately successful with it. Of course you learn more in 16 days than in one. When Aga himself trained the members of his Crop Growers Association in Malolos, Bulacan, he also used the farmers’ field school method of season-long training.

But I want to emphasize that for a farmer who is determined to learn, a one-day session is enough. In fact, the primer should be enough. We have farmers who simply wrote us to send them our free primer, and they learned SRI this way, supplemented with occasional text messages when they had questions that needed quick answers.

The Department of Agriculture has committed to convert 10% of the country’s nearly four million hectares of rice lands to organic/SRI production. At an average of one farmer per hectare, that’s around four hundred thousand farmers to train. When you are ready, after having accumulated some practical experience in using SRI, we will be asking you to train other farmers, as Aga has trained you, perhaps in this region, in your province or in your town.

14 Comments

  1. Ricardo B. Pulido
    Posted May 20, 2009 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Sir,

    I would like to try sri but i have no knowledge about it so if you please send me the methods on how to grow rice by sri

  2. Roberto Verzola
    Posted May 21, 2009 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Hi. May I know where your farm is located and roughly how large the riceland is?

    The best way to get SRI materials is to simply download them from the Web. Search for “system of rice intensification” and go into the Cornell Univ. site, which contains the most complete collection of SRI primers, papers, stories, reports, etc. Please get in touch again if you have problems. Greetings,

    Obet Verzola
    Coordinator, SRI-Pilipinas

  3. Ricardo B.Pulido
    Posted May 23, 2009 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Sir,

    i am from Bo. Naguilayan east Mangatarem, Pangasinan. I have a small land 2.5 hec. last year i had shited to organic farming under the masipag for now i am planning to plant Basmate, Red rice (skk), and ag17. I had read about SRI in India, Madagascar and manny more and amazed of thier outcome in sri farming. I had also come across to read the sri trial in Alaminos, For now i am Practicing the Korean and Dr, Higa technology of farming, for this season of planting I will try SRI with Korean and Dr, Higa technology, can you pls. recommend a good organoic foliar for my sri.
    Thanks

  4. Roberto Verzola
    Posted May 25, 2009 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    The Masipag system is somewhat different from SRI. SRI is generally variety-neutral (although SRI-Pilipinas discourages hybrid seeds, which are unsustainable). When I worked with them years ago, the Masipag people tended to push their own varieties (then make you go through political indoctrination before giving the seeds to you). I don’t agree with the way they also exercise control over rice varieties. The recommended SRI starting distance of 25×25 is somewhat more sparse than Masipag’s 40×10. SRI also emphasizes no continuous flooding, to ensure enough air for the roots, and very young seedlings, to encourage more tillers.

    If you want to try SRI, there’s a lot of materials on the Web (search: “system of rice intensification”). Most of the materials are in the Cornell Univ. site, which is a collaborative effort by SRI practitioners/advocates in different countries. There are also videos (search: “SRI video”). The World Bank video contains some Philippine experience.

    The way I understand it, Korean nature farming is somewhat different from Dr. Higa’s EM (effective microorganisms). The latter is patented and only available commercially. I know a farmer who buys his EM from Philrice. KNF emphasizes indigenous microorganisms (IMO), which farmers themselves can collect and culture using cheap indigenous materials like molasses or brown sugar. Our group is more inclined towards the Korean approach. One of my posts is a simple procedure for culturing IMO, which can also be used as a foliar spray. But I can’t tell you which foliar sprays is best. Our emphasis is on materials and methods that are easily accessible to farmers, which are an improvement over their current methods. Then we encourage them to experiment.

    Greetings,

    Obet Verzola

  5. Ricardo B. Pulido
    Posted May 26, 2009 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    Sir,
    Thanks for the nice info you shared to me, As for now i am confuse of the many product which they claim as an organic, to mention of some product, they are ( mineracle, agriplus, X-TEK and growth.) i search all the product above in the internet and i was amazed of the outcome of their product, but i dont know if its all true. I had read about amrit jalam for pesticide, cow urine,dung and jaggery(organic). Will you please help me locate jaggery(organic) or jaggery is the same as citronella oil and where can I buy this materials.

    Thanks and Regards

  6. Roberto Verzola
    Posted May 27, 2009 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t even heard of many of those you listed. That’s why I think it’s best that farmers make their own formulas, after experimenting with them and learning from other farmers’ experiences. I heard about jaggery from an Indian. The way he described it, it’s like our own sangkaka, pakaskas or matamis na bao (Tag.) or tagapulot (Ilok.), basically molasses or raw sugar. Remember, the principle is very simple: collect the beneficial organisms from the soil, then multiply them rapidly in a sugar medium. Everything else is just details and depends on local materials, culture, etc. Some compost tea procedures I’ve read simply suggest getting soil samples in your best soil (where your crops grow the healthiest), wrap this soil sample in cloth, and put that in your sugar solution. Keep the principle in mind then work things out yourself through experiment.

  7. Vong Rithy
    Posted October 2, 2009 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

    i am in cambodia .i am a farmer i have some problem to grow rice . my land is not good Why? What should i do to make it better than now.

  8. Roberto Verzola
    Posted October 5, 2009 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    Try to get in touch with an NGO in Cambodia called CEDAC, headed by Dr. Yang Saing Koma. They will be able to help you about SRI.

    Greetings,

  9. Cesar C. Dizon
    Posted December 2, 2009 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

    I am really impressed with SRI when I saw it in Internet especially the multimedia video from World Bank Institute and some articles of Dr. Norman Uphoof from Cornell University. It’s really a great help to our farmers to increase their yield by disseminating this information to them. We can get many benefits from it if applied properly in our farms since its sustainable. I am planning to apply this SRI in my small farms when going back there for for good from Saudi Arabia. You know,I’ve been working here for more than 25 years already and I like to involved myself in rice farming when back there.

    Regards,

    Cesar C. Dizon
    Saudi Electricity Company

  10. Roberto Verzola
    Posted December 3, 2009 at 6:13 am | Permalink

    Hi Cesar,

    Don’t wait too long. If you use the right approach, you don’t need much cash to keep a farm going.

    Greetings,

  11. Cesar C. Dizon
    Posted December 3, 2009 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the advise.

    Regards,

    Cesar

  12. Posted November 29, 2010 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    hi im tommy an sri farmer out of an area of one thousand six hundred twenty sm. with an in bred rice variety (red aromatic) i harvested forty seven sacks, it is grown organically. This cropping with the help of God i will expand it up to 2.3 hectare.

  13. Roberto Verzola
    Posted December 25, 2010 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    Hi Tommy, can you share with us details of your SRI trials? Greetings,

  14. Alberto Fille
    Posted April 13, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Hi I am Albert from Iloilo, I have a small farn in Pototan, Iloilo. I am not a farmer, so I have really to learn farming. I came across SRI in my research for better alternative after i lose and failed in 2 successive chemical farming. Now I’m practicing sri for I year with different rice varieties from Philrice and Upland aromatic varieties. And in my observation upland varieties that on flowering or panicle initiation it es not affected by rain or wind because before grains go out from the stem it was already fertilize and out for grain filling. Amd under SRI my soil is improving now and happy with the results. Now I am already considering to expand my area of rice cultivation. Continue spreading SRI, it really helps the poor farmers.Thanks a lot more power.

    Albert

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