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More rice from less water

 With water becoming an important cost, and with climate change and soil degradation, the System of Rice Intensification offers disadvantaged farming households better opportunities

A truant monsoon is in the offing, with El Niño weather patterns expected to bring about drier conditions. India has the world’s largest area devoted to rice, a very water-intensive crop. This is a good time for giving impetus to “more crop per drop” practices, now that the rice-growing kharif season is upon us.
The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) has demonstrated in several States the ability to save water while raising yields in a cost-effective manner. About 60 per cent of the country’s rice area is irrigated, accounting for 75 per cent of production, but also by guzzling disproportionately large volumes of water. A subnormal monsoon accentuates the problem of water scarcity, keeping in view that India supports 16 per cent of the global population with just four per cent of the world’s freshwater resources.
The SRI is in step with the goal of enhanced food production keeping water availability in mind. With enhanced industrial and domestic demands, the demand for water is increasing and the agriculture sector is expected to adapt to a water discipline without letting up on the demand for increased agricultural produce. For small and marginal farmers, SRI can be a game changer because of reduced input requirement. The SRI method involves only reorganising the way in which available resources are managed. It was in Madagascar, some 30 years ago, that the SRI technique was developed by a Jesuit priest, Henri de Laulanie. In India, it was first tried out in Tamil Nadu in 2000-01, following which several States have demonstrated higher rice production using less water. SRI has shown an ability to raise rice yields to about eight tonnes per hectare (the current national average is 2.1 tons) without requiring new varieties, and with significantly reduced fertilizers and agrochemicals, while using only about half the water in business-as-usual irrigated rice. With the use of best practices, SRI yields of about 15-20 tonnes per hectare have been achieved.


As pressures mount to ensure that every drop of water counts, SRI is seen today as “climate-smart agriculture.” Benefits of SRI include lower costs, improvement in soil health, and the capacity to withstand biotic (pest and disease) and abiotic (climatic) pressures. From being an obscure rice cultivation method of Madagascar, SRI has now grown into a global trend defying the scepticism of the scientific establishment and the resistance of conventional agronomists and rice breeders. Much of the impetus for SRI has come from innovative farmers, civil society, a few universities and academics, and some government professionals.
It is estimated that there are now over five million farmers using SRI worldwide. In the 50 plus countries in which the benefits of SRI have already been demonstrated, there has been a 30-50 per cent decrease in water use compared to growing the same varieties on similar soil under flooded conditions. The spirit of SRI — “more from less” — is best expressed by the pithy slogan on a billboard in Tripura: Beej kam, saar kam, jal kam, aushadh kam, kharcha kam, phalan bishi, aay bishi (lesser inputs in seed, fertilizer, water, pesticides, costs, with increased output and incomes).
SRI, referred to as the new “green grassroots revolution,” is not dependent on purchased inputs, but on certain ideas and changes in practice that can be explained and justified in scientific terms. It is an assemblage of good agronomic practices which might vary across different agro-ecological and cropping system conditions, but earmarked to benefit farmers through higher yields and lower cultivation costs. Under SRI, farmers transplant young, single seedlings, spacing them widely in a grid pattern, while keeping soil moist and fertile, but not flooded. Soil aeration is ensured by regular weeding both manually and by specially designed Cono Weeders. Compost and other sources of organic nutrients are preferred over fertilizers to enrich soil biota.
Professor Norman Uphoff of Cornell University, who is credited with spreading the word about Laulanie’s work, sees the principles of SRI as being quite different to the first Green Revolution of the mid-1960s, which focused on improving yields through breeding new traits, using agrochemicals to enhance soil nutrients and providing assured irrigation. That resulted in adverse ecological effects. In the 21st Century, with water becoming an important cost and constraint, with soil degradation and shrinking land resources and climate change adverse impacts, SRI offers millions of disadvantaged farming households better opportunities. There are no patents, royalties or licensing fees — only the farmer benefits from SRI.

Across States

SRI started early in Tamil Nadu. With scientific and extension support from Tamil Nadu State University, the area under SRI management has now reached about half of the State’s rice area. In Tripura, from just 44 farmers using the methods in 2002, the number has increased to about 3,50,000 on 1,00,000 hectares, nearing half of that State’s rice area. Bihar started it with only a few hundred farmers, in 2007; four years later, the area under SRI was reported to be about 10 per cent of the State’s rice area, with a target area of 40 per cent set for 2013-14.
Some SRI results have made headlines. Two years ago, Sumant Kumar from Nalanda in Bihar set a record by claiming a harvest of 22.4 tonnes of rice per hectare. S. Sethumadhavan from Alanganallur in Tamil Nadu reported a yield of nearly 24 tonnes per hectare. While both these claims were verified by the State governments, they have been challenged by agricultural scientists who dismiss them as beyond the biological maximum. A woman farmer, T. Amalarani of Vasudevanallur, who harvested 18 tonnes per hectare, was awarded the “Krishi Karman Award” by the President in January this year. The votaries of SRI tend to play down these super-yields as statistical “outliers,” on the premise that it is the averages which are more significant than the extremes.


SRI is generally considered to be labour-intensive, one of the constraints to its rapid adoption. This characteristic has prompted possibilities of linking it with the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. Labour is required for more weeding, on-farm water control, and organic fertilizer application. Under the Employment Guarantee Act, works can be taken up on private farms of small and marginal farmers. SRI methods have also been used in crops like wheat, sugarcane, millets, potato and rapeseed-mustard, with similar benefits as for rice. These are referred to as the System of Crop Intensification (SCI). Wider adoption of SRI/SCI techniques will have implications for institutional arrangements such as canal and tube well irrigation system management, markets for inputs and agricultural commodities.
Despite its success in several States, there is no Central official site where the all-India impact of SRI may be found. If SRI is such a winning technique, it would appear that the national agriculture research and education and extension establishments would eagerly embrace it and begin to quantify and document its benefits. Adequate resources would be set aside for it. Its dissemination would be a priority with the Central and State governments. But that has not happened.
Although SRI is no longer a voice in the wilderness, the pristine science and research establishments still continue to hold out. Meanwhile, a dedicated band of innovative farmers, grassroots non-governmental organisations, development professionals, committed academics and researchers valiantly labour on — waiting for the walls of Jericho to finally collapse at the nagging of their persistent trumpet.
The rice-growing season is here. The disposition of the rain gods is speculative. Inter-State water wars are getting fiercer. An SRI movement is stirring and beginning to win some battles. Public policy and research must lead from the front in this area and not merely react. The time is ripe to champion the SRI cause.

By Rita Sharma  a former Secretary to Government of India and the National Advisory Council



Goa Govt gears up for kharif crop, more land under SRI

Gearing up for the kharif paddy crop this monsoon, the agriculture department is trying to raise the area under SRI (system of rice intensification) in Goa to an unprecedented 1,000 hectares in the uplands, agriculture director P Tufani said.

Last year, the area under SRI in Goa was hardly 150 hectares. But for the rabi paddy crop, the agriculture department took special efforts to raise awareness about the advantages of SRI among Goan farmers. Those efforts are bound to yield fruit now, Tufani said.

In the 'Atal Gram' (model village) of Netravali, the department had a crop cutting competition of SRI plots in the last rabi season. The yield ranged from 6.5 tonnes per hectare to about 12 tonnes per hectare.

"Considering that the conventional method gives yields of about four tonnes per hectare, we can expect 1.5 times more paddy production in SRI," Tufani said.

But overall, the agriculture department hopes to cover about 30,000 hectares under paddy cultivation this kharif season. Last year, it was 28,830 hectares.

The three government-licensed agencies for the supply of seeds have sold almost 353 tonnes of paddy seed so far. The agencies are Goa Bhagayatdar, which has 18 outlets, Krishi Bazaar, Mapusa and Pernem taluka society, which has about 10 outlets. Most of the seed sold is of the Jyoti and Jaya variety and the agencies are prepared to procure more seeds depending on demand.

Besides, the agriculture department procured 13 tonnes of Karjat-3 paddy seed and sold it through its zonal agricultural offices. The department also procured other varieties of paddy seeds in small quantities. These varieties include Aishwarya, Kunjukunju Varna, Kanchana, Prathyasa, Samyuktha, Vaisakh, Naveen, Sonshalu and Warangalshalu.

Tufani said small quantities of these seeds have been supplied to the department's farms at Margao, Ela (Old Goa) and Mapusa and also to progressive farmers across Goa. The department will conduct multi-locational trails on these varieties of seeds which have been procured from Kerala agricultural university and the regional agricultural research station at Pattambi, Kerala.

The agriculture department has arranged for the availability of fertilizers through various agencies including private dealers.

Source: (June 18, 2014)

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Over 3,100 hectares to come under summer paddy

The State agriculture department has proposed to cover over 3,100 hectares under summer paddy cultivation for achieving the food production target in the district.

The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) technique is being recommended for this cultivation, as it demands less water for irrigation. Against the usual 1,500 hectares, the department has planned to cover 3,100 hectares in all the blocks except Avudaiyarkovil and Manamelkudi.
An average yield of six tonnes per hectare expected during the current summer cultivation season.— File Photo: B. Velankanni Raj
The nursery is raised for 14 days and the popular variety is 'BPT 5204'.

“Farmers have a liking for the variety, though other varieties could also be cultivated under the system,” K.M.Shajahan, Joint Director of Agriculture, told The Hindu . The summer cultivation has various unique features, including raised bed nursery technique.

It can be raised as a second crop in Cauvery Mettur Project (CMP) areas and requires only two kg of seeds for one acre of crop. The mechanical transplanting ensures uniform spacing of nine inches – between rows and plants.



CM’s special award for Erode farmer

He reaped 6,119 kg of paddy per acre by adopting SRI cultivation method

An Erode-based farmer, who received the Chief Minister’s special award for accomplishing the highest yield in the State, made a strong case against converting traditional irrigation canals into concrete structures.

“Lining of the canals will prevent groundwater from getting replenished. Concrete bunds also block seepage of water into fields. Had seepage of water been allowed, one could achieve higher yield,” said N. Parameswaran, who received the award from Chief Minister Jayalalithaa in the presence of Governor K. Rosaiah on the Marina here as part of the Republic Day celebration.

The award included Rs. 5 lakh in cash and a medal worth Rs. 3,500.

Mr. Parameswaran, from Nasiyanur in Erode district, produced 6,119 kg of paddy per acre by adopting the system of rice intensification cultivation method (SRI). He used BPT-5204 paddy seeds, known as ‘samba masuri,’ from the Erode block agricultural extension centre.

“There was no adequate rain in 2012-2013 and both Cauvery and its tributary Bhavani dried up. I used the seepage of the drinking water released from the Lower Bhavani three times and water from wells,” he said, while acknowledging the help rendered by his mother N. Rukmani and wife P. Umadevi.

He planted 14 day-old paddy and maintained a gap of 23 cm between each plant. Weeding was done four times and the harvest was made after 130 days. He sold the yield to the Agriculture department for storage of seeds.

Mr. Parameswaran said the price fixed for paddy was not adequate as the cost of input and labour had increased.

The Chief Minister also presented Anna medal for Gallantry to six persons, Gandhi Adigal Police medal to policemen who had done outstanding work to curtail illicit liquor and Kottai Ameer Communal Harmony award to A.R. Basheer Ahamed from Coimbatore.

Earlier, the Governor hoisted the National Flag and took the salute of the three armed forces and other security agencies.

The celebrations were marked by the presentation of traditional cultural programmes of school and college students. Floats displaying achievements of various government departments were part of the customary procession taken out on the occasion.

Awards to eight others

Ms. Jayalalithaa distributed awards to eight persons who have made great contributions to the respective fields. She presented the Periyar Award to Sulochana Sampath; Anna award – Panruti S. Ramachandran; Thiru-Vi-Ka award - writer Ashokamitran; Ambedkar award - Bishop M. Prakash; Kamaraj award - Ayyaru Vandaiyar; Bharathiyar award - K. Gnanasambandan; Bharathidasan award - Radha Chellappan and K.A.P. Viswanatham Award - V. Jayadevan. Each award carried Rs 1 lakh cash, a gold medal and a citation.

Mr. Ashokamitran said he was happy to receive the award named after Thiru-Vi-Ka who, he said, was one of the pioneers of the modern Tamil prose.



Protect crops from disease, officials advise farmers

A total of 1.28 lakh hectares of land have been covered under samba cultivation during the current season in the district.

Direct sowing was done on 70,264 hectares of land. Of the 58,148 hectares covered under transplantation method, 23,842 hectares were covered under conventional method and SRI method of cultivation was adopted on 34,306 hectares, District Collector S. Natarajan said while addressing the farmers grievances day meeting here on Thursday.

A total of 18,394 hectares of land had been brought under Kuruvai cultivation in the district during the current season — SRI method 12,176 hectares, direct sowing 274 hectares, and transplantation method 5,944 hectares.

Thaladi transplantation has been completed on 18,358 hectares of land, — 8,693 hectares under conventional method and 9,665 hectares under SRI.

The samba and thaladi crops are in an advanced matured stage. They are prone to some kind of disease. The Collector advised farmers to take up crop protection strategy by applying pesticides.

The Collector said the district experienced a rainfall of 150.74 mm. so far in December, against a normal rainfall of 175.28 mm.

Referring to the extension of financial assistance to farmers, Mr. Natarajan said the nationalised banks had targeted to extend crop loans to the tune of Rs. 1,81,138 lakh. Thanjavur District Central Cooperative Bank targeted to provide Rs. 6,500 lakhs worth crop loans, of which 5,062.10 lakh had been distributed to 17,755 farmers, Rs. 2,341 lakh as jewellery loans to 6,772 farmers.

The Kumbakonam District Central Cooperative Bank targeted to extend Rs. 7,500 lakh as crop loan and had so far sanctioned Rs. 6,846.89 lakh to 20,762 farmers as crop loans, and Rs. 2,497.17 lakh as jewellery loan to 4,803 farmers.

The government recently opened 62 direct procurement centres in the district in addition to 16 centres existing. During the kharif season, 2013-14, 16,928 tonnes of paddy had been procured by these centres.

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