System of Rice Intensification
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The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) is a methodology aimed at increasing the yield of rice produced in farming. It is a low water, labor-intensive, method that uses younger seedlings singly spaced and typically hand weeded with special tools. It was developed in 1983 by the French Jesuit Father Henri de Laulanié in Madagascar. However full testing and spread of the system throughout the rice growing regions of the world did not occur until some years later with the help of Universities like Cornell.
History and main ideas of SRI
Assembly of the practices that culminated in SRI began in the 1960s based on Fr. de Laulanie's observations. Principles included applying a minimum quantity of water and the individual transplanting of very young seedlings in a square pattern.
SRI concepts and practices have continued to evolve as they are being adapted to rain-fed (unirrigated) conditions and with transplanting being superseded by direct-seeding sometimes. The central principles of SRI according to Cornell University, New York are:
- Rice field soils should be kept moist rather than continuously saturated, minimizing anaerobic conditions, as this improves root growth and supports the growth and diversity of aerobic soil organisms.
- Rice plants should be planted singly and spaced optimally widely to permit more growth of roots and canopy and to keep all leaves photosynthetically active.
- Rice seedlings should be transplanted when young, less than 15 days old with just two leaves, quickly, shallow and carefully, to avoid trauma to roots and to minimize transplant shock.
Spread of SRI
The spread of SRI from Madagascar to around the globe has been credited to Norman Uphoff, former director of the Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York from 1990 to 2005. In 1993, Uphoff met officials from Association Tefy Saina, the non-governmental organisation set up in Madagascar in 1990 by de Laulanie to promote SRI. After seeing the success of SRI for three years when Malagasy farmers previously averaging 2 tons/hectare averaged 8 tons/hectare with SRI, Uphoff became persuaded of the merits of the system, and in 1997 started to promote SRI in Asia. Uphoff estimates that by 2013 the number of smallholder farmers using SRI had grown to between 4 and 5 million. The rapid spread of SRI around the globe and especially in India can be partially attributed to the smart communication strategies by its proponents in which several newspapers in India disproportionately provided coverage on SRI and effective coalition building among several national and international organisations.
Proponents and critics of SRI debate the claimed benefits and many questions about it remain unresolved. Wageningen University has also published an article discussing the challenges of evaluating SRI in which one concluding sentence read: "Although the technical aspects of SRI have been contested, it clearly exists as a real social phenomenon".
The question at hand seems to be: is SRI better at delivering increased yield and other benefits to rice farmers, such as healthier soils, when compared with established recommended best management practices for rice production? A review of the extensive literature led researchers at Cornell to conclude SRI on average increased yields 20-200%, improved resistance to environmental stresses, and both increased carbon sink activity while reducing emissions, making it a triple-win situation for agriculture, climate security, and food security. 
Cases of success
Proponents of SRI claim its use increases yield, saves water, reduces production costs, and increases income and that benefits have been achieved in 40 countries. Uphoff published an article in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability that states that SRI "can raise irrigated rice yields to about double the present world average without relying on external inputs, also offering environmental and equity benefits".
A special issue on SRI in the non-SCI scientific journal Paddy and Water Environment collected recent findings in support of SRI.
In 2011 Five farmers beat the old yield record, the best was a young farmer named Sumant Kumar setting a new world record in rice production of 22.4 tons per hectare using SRI, beating the existing world record held by the Chinese scientist Yuan Longping by 3 tons. In 2014 S Sethumadhavan from Alanganallur, India harvested a record yield of nearly 24 tonnes of paddy rice per hectare using SRI.
The productivity of SRI is under debate between supporters and critics of the system. Critics of SRI suggest that claims of yield increase in SRI are due to unscientific evaluations. They object that there is a lack of details on the methodology used in trials and a lack of publications in the peer-reviewed literature. Some critics have suggested that SRI success is unique to soil conditions in Madagascar. While critics still claim this, there are over 700 articles and communications about SRI that are published in international scientific journals as of January 2016.
SRI picture gallery
- Intensive Rice Farming in Madagascar by H. De Laulanié, in Tropicultura, 2011, 29, 3, 183-187
- Cornell University, System of Rice Intensification
- Vidal, John (16 February 2013). "India's rice revolution". The Observer. London: The Guardian. Retrieved 21 May 2013.
- Basu, Soutrik; Leeuwis, Cees (2012-09-01). "Understanding the rapid spread of System of Rice Intensification (SRI) in Andhra Pradesh: Exploring the building of support networks and media representation". Agricultural Systems. 111: 34–44. doi:10.1016/j.agsy.2012.04.005.
- Science, practice and the System of Rice Intensification in Indian agriculture in Food Policy, Volume 36, Issue 6, December 2011, Pages 749–755
- The System of Rice Intensification: Time for an empirical turn by D.Glover in NJAS - Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences Volume 57, Issues 3–4, February 2011, Pages 217–224
- More rice for people, more water for planet: System of Rice Intensification (SRI) by Africare, Oxfam and WWF.
- Higher yields with fewer external inputs? The System of Rice Intensification and potential contributions to agricultural sustainability, in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, Volume 1, Issue 11, 2003
- Paddy and Water Environment, Vol. 9 No. 1, March 2011, Springer
- Verzola, Roberto. "The new SRI world record in rice yield: what does it mean?". Ecology, technology and social change. Retrieved 18 January 2016.
- Piras, Nicola. "New record in Bihar thanks to SRI". AgriCultures Network. Retrieved 20 May 2013.
- Chang, Gordon G. "Rice Production Records Set with New Method". World Affairs Journal. Retrieved 21 May 2013.
- Vidal, John (May 12, 2014). "Miracle grow: Indian rice farmer uses controversial method for record crop". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 January 2016.
- Does the system of rice intensification outperform conventional best management?: A synopsis of the empirical record by A.J. McDonald, P.R. Hobbs, S.J. Rihaa in Field Crops Research, Volume 96, Issue 1, 15 March 2006, Pages 31–36
- Field Crops Research Stubborn facts: Still no evidence that the System of Rice Intensification out-yields best management practices (BMPs) beyond Madagascar by A J Mcdonald, P R Hobbs, S J Riha in Field Crops Research, Volume: 108, Issue: 2, 2008, Pages: 188-191
- Christopher Surridge. Rice cultivation: Feast or famine? Nature 428, 360–361 (25 March 2004). doi:10.1038/428360a
- "JOURNAL ARTICLES ABOUT THE SYSTEM OF RICE INTENSIFICATION (SRI)". SRI International Network and Resources Center. Cornell University. Retrieved 18 January 2016.
- SRI at Cornell University
- SRI information from the International Rice Research Institute
- Rice Knowledge Bank: best management practices for rice production
- SRI - much more than more rice Farming Matters magazine, 29.1, March 2013
- Krishi Usha low-cost weeder developed by Krishi Gram Vikas Kendra and Usha Martin Limited, Jharkhand
- Article on SRI from Nature
- News article on SRI from the BBC
- SRI: Achieving More with Less - A new way of rice cultivation from the World Bank Institute