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

China’s Influence Grows With New Infrastructure Bank

Multibillion-dollar China-backed and BRICS-supported Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank seen as possible challenger to such lenders as IMF, World Bank More

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

Rabbi Michel Serfaty makes the rounds in his friendship bus to encourage dialogue and break down barriers between the two groups More

Post-deal Iran Leaders Need 'Economic Momentum' to Solidify

Economists say deal could inject more than $100 billion into coffers - not enough to entirely rescue ailing economy - but maybe adequate to create 'economic momentum' 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.
US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impacti
X
Michael Bowman
June 28, 2015 10:05 PM
Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impact

Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Syrian Refugees Return to Tal Abyad

Syrian refugees in Turkey confirm they left their hometown of Tal Abyad because of intense fighting and coalition airstrikes, not because Kurdish fighters were engaged in ethnic cleansing, as some Turkish officials charged. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer, in Tal Abyad, finds that civilians coming back to the town agree, as we hear in this report narrated by Roger Wilkison.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Chemical-Sniffing Technology Fights Australia's Graffiti Vandals

Cities and towns all over the world spend huge amounts of resources battling graffiti writers who deface buildings, public transport vehicles and even monuments. Authorities in Sydney, Australia, hope a new chemical-sniffing technology finally will stop vandals from scribbling on walls in the passenger areas of commuter trains. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Cambodia Struggling to Curb Child Labor

Earlier this year a United Nations report found 10 percent of Cambodian children aged 7-14 are working – one of the highest rates in the region – and said one in four children in that age bracket are forced to quit school to help their families. Although the child labor rate has dropped over the past decade, Cambodia has a lot more to do – including keeping more children in school. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.

VOA Blogs