A new method of growing rice is now spreading in many rice-producing countries. It is called the System of Rice Intensification (SRI). The method was initially developed in Madagascar by a Jesuit agriculturist, Fr. Henri de Laulanie and continues to be refined by thousands of researchers and farmers all over the world.
In the Philippines, the promotion of SRI is being undertaken by SRI-Pilipinas, a consorium of NGOs which I coordinate. We have already conducted one-day trainings in at least 47 provinces in the Philippines. Now, we want to do trainings in every rice-producing municipality in the country. We need at least P10,000 (around $200) per one-day training, and hope to gather donations from Filipinos abroad who may want to sponsor a training in their municipality. If you are interested in donating, please contact me privately (firstname.lastname@example.org).
SRI involves a few simple but major changes in farmers’ methods. Not expensive, but challenging because it involves a major change in mindset.
- Farmers are used to transplanting 3-week old rice seedlings or older. Under SRI, 8- to 12-day old seedlings are transplanted.
- Farmers are used to flooding their fields. Under SRI, anything longer than a 3-day flooding is avoided. Wetting the soil, or intermittent flooding and drying, is instead encouraged.
- Farmers are used to planting distances of 15 cm or closer. Under SRI, planting distances start at 25 cm and may even be greater.
- Farmers are used to planting a bunch of seedlings per hill. Under SRI, one seedling per hill is encouraged. At most two is allowed.
- Farmers are used to chemical fertilizers. Under SRI, the use of organic matter is encouraged.
- Farmers are used to herbicides. Under SRI, a mechanical weeder is used instead, not only to control weeds but also to aerate the soil.
These simple changes in practices result in a very different kind (“phenotype” is the technical term) of rice plant. The plants produce much more tillers — 20 upwards, instead of the usual 5-10 tillers per plant. The tillers produce the grain, and the more tillers, the more grain, the greater the harvest. The loss of yield from wider spacing is more than offset by the bigger gain in yield from the greater number of tillers and the greater number of grains per tiller.
For details, please download this file: System of Rice Intensification: Practices and Results in the Philippines. You can also access the SRI Homepage of the Cornell University.
The benefits are many. The increase in yield, coupled with reduced cost, means greater income for the farmer. The health benefits should not be underestimated. Agricultural chemicals poison the soil, the food that comes from it, the drinking water and the surrounding fields. The environmental benefits are also considerable. Poisons are minimized and can be avoided altogether, giving common farm organisms (like mudfish, snails, crabs, frogs, etc.) a chance to return to the farm. Less flooding means less anaerobic decomposition of organic matter, which means less methane generation and therefore less greenhouse gases. Methane is actually worse than carbon dioxide in its greenhouse effect.
A mindset change among our farmers is bound to generate many positive consequences down the road. To accomplish this, we need a lot of support.