News / Africa

Growing More Rice with Less Water, Fewer Chemicals

Techniques promise bigger yields but questions remain

Proponents of the System for Rice Intensification (SRI) say developing-world farmers who use the SRI method grow more rice with less water and fewer chemicals
Proponents of the System for Rice Intensification (SRI) say developing-world farmers who use the SRI method grow more rice with less water and fewer chemicals

Multimedia

Audio

What if there was a method that could help developing-world farmers grow more rice while using less water and fewer chemicals than their usual methods?

It could make a big difference at a time when the population is growing, farming costs are rising, and water is becoming scarcer.

Advocates say they have just such a method, called simply the System for Rice Intensification (SRI).

But some of the biggest names in rice research say if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The techniques are spreading in developing world, however, with or without their support.

'Even I didn't believe it'

The environmental group the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has brought Duddeda Sugunavva from her fields in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh to a recent lunchtime conference in Washington, DC. She gets excited when she describes her experience with SRI.

"Even I didn't believe it initially," she says. "The first time I did it, I didn't believe that it could be possible. Then I tried it, and then I believed it."

It may be hard to believe, but Sugunavva says she produces more grain while putting fewer plants in the field and spacing them farther apart than she normally would. She uses less water because her fields are flooded and drained, not constantly flooded like rice paddies usually are. She fertilizes with manure, and weeds and aerates the soil with a simple tool. That reduces the cost of, and pollution from, inputs like chemical fertilizers and herbicides.

Dramatic gains

Using these tricks and a few others, Sugunavva says she's been amazed by the results.

"This is not the first day I'm doing agriculture. I've been doing it for 20 years," she says. "In the conventional method, the maximum you get is 100, 120 [grains per plant]. With this, I'm getting 300 and change."

Sugunavva says she makes enough money now to pay off some debts and buy a water buffalo to bring in extra income.

And she is not alone. The conference highlighted a report that says in eight countries, farmers using SRI increased yields by nearly half, reduced water use by 40 percent and costs by 23 percent, and increased their incomes by two-thirds on average.

Biksham Gujja heads a joint project of WWF and the global agriculture research institute ICRISAT. He says the idea that farmers can get more with less goes against what experts have been saying for years.

"We told the farmers the last three, four decades, 'If you want a little bit more, by the way, you've got to give more. You've got to give more seeds, more water, more fertilizer,'" he says. "Giving more has become so much more, they got into a debt trap. And also, they've spoiled the entire environment and ecosystem."

Backing lacking

Gujja says SRI could be a simple, inexpensive way to help change that. But he says because there is no money to be made, the system is not getting the support it deserves.

"It is so simple that…no one wants to promote it. No one wants to invest in it," he says. "If it [was]…a genetic modification or some sort of high-tech solution, some sort of hybridization, probably the money would have flowed."

Advocates say SRI deserves more support from leading global institutions like the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

'Unproven claims'

But IRRI's research program manager, Achim Dobermann, says supporters paint an overly rosy picture of SRI.

"There are some, I think, fundamental questions we have about some of the unproven claims," he says.

Doberman says there are many studies that do not show SRI improving yields or incomes. When farmers do see improvements, he says it may be because they were not using the best practices to begin with -- practices that IRRI has been recommending for years.

Dobermann says SRI might work on small farms. But it takes a lot of labor. And farming is moving in the opposite direction, he says, toward larger, mechanized operations.  

"I look at SRI as not fundamentally wrong," he says, "but it's an evolutionary step backward in farming."

Philosophical differences

And that highlights a philosophical difference between SRI's backers and skeptics. SRI's champions tend to be supporters of small-scale organic agriculture, while detractors question whether organic farming can feed a growing world.

Back at the Washington conference, Oxfam President Raymond Offenheiser says the two camps need to reconcile their differences.

"We've got to stop seeing these questions in terms of being polarized," he says. "And we've got to be looking at [as], in a resource-constrained world, how do we come up with smart approaches without getting into highly contentious polemics over the appropriateness or viability or sustainability of either one?"

Offenheiser says hundreds of thousands of farmers worldwide are adopting SRI methods, and the World Bank and the US Agency for International Development are making some small investments in SRI projects. Meanwhile, research is continuing in order to answer some of the lingering questions about how effective SRI really is.

You May Like

Ukraine: Mysterious 'Roaming Tank' Reportedly Takes Aim at Smugglers

Ukraine's TV, print media, Facebook abuzz with reports a 'roaming tank' is on the loose, destroying vehicles of those involved in smuggling More

US Wildlife Service Begins Probe of Killing of Cecil the Lion

Minnesota man accused of killing beast is in hiding, has been asked to contact US officials; White House to review extradition petition More

Video Kerry Tour Will Cover Security, Iran Nuclear Deal

US secretary of state to visit 5 countries in the Middle East, South Asia in bid to strengthen economic and security ties, ease concerns over deal with Tehran More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs