“Not peer-reviewed” but it seems to work – A new green revolution underway in Bihar

The System of Rice Intensification was discovered almost by accident in 1983-84 in Madagascar by the French Jesuit Father Henri de Laulanié. It is a system of managing crops and is not based on fertilisers or insecticides or new gene modifications. As such it does not give rise to a huge number of supposedly “peer-reviewed” publications. Politically correct “scientists” are not keen to accept the benefits of SRI since it is not a   “science”.

Father de Laulanié died in 1995 but SRI has spread globally largely due to the efforts of Norman Uphoff and the International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.

SRI field

SRI field wikipedia

Father Laulanié’s unpublished paper from 1992 is here: Laulanie SRI unpublished

This System of Rice Intensification was discovered almost by accident in 1983-84. Due to a lack of time for letting rice seedlings grow for 30 days before being transplanted, students in a farm school at Antsirabe (1,500 meters a.s.l.) were obliged to use their very small nursery twice within a month. ….. Such was the beginning of the System of Rice Intensification.

But now some 3 decades after it was discovered SRI seems to be having a quite dramatic effect in the State of Bihar in India and rice yields have risen by a factor of 2 – 4. So much so that it is being called India’s secod “green revolution”. For Bihar and Chattisgarh – which have long had to put up with being labelled India’s least developed States – SRI is part of a new vigorous and  unexpected growth.

India Today: Bihar’s resurgence begins at the grassroots level. For many years, villages in Bihar saw their youths migrating to other states in large numbers in search of livelihood. It was left to the minuscule minority of do-gooders to stay back and contribute their mite towards a silent agricultural revolution in the state. 

Leading the pack of achievers are five young and doughty farmers from Darveshpura village from Nalanda district who recently created a new world record in paddy cultivation. Sumant Kumar had a bumper yield of 224 quintal per hectare which was enough to eclipse the world record set by a Chinese farm scientist Yuan Longping. Four of his friends from the same village – Krishna Kumar, Nitish Kumar, Ramanand Singh and Sanjay Kumar – also had extraordinary produce.

The achievements in Bihar and Chattishgarh are begining to attract international attention much to the chagrin of the International Rice Research Institute which does not like to acknowledge any advance which does not originate with them. Low tech solutions just aren’t sexy enough to attract funding especially when no large corporation will make any extra profit on new, expensive, high-tech products.
The Guardian: Sumant Kumar was overjoyed when he harvested his rice last year. There had been good rains in his village of Darveshpura in north-east India and he knew he could improve on the four or five tonnes per hectare that he usually managed. …. This was not six or even 10 or 20 tonnes. Kumar, a shy young farmer in Nalanda district of India’s poorest state Bihar, had – using only farmyard manure and without any herbicides – grown an astonishing 22.4 tonnes of rice on one hectare of land. This was a world record and with rice the staple food of more than half the world’s population of seven billion, big news. 
…… It beat not just the 19.4 tonnes achieved by the “father of rice”, the Chinese agricultural scientist Yuan Longping, but the World Bank-funded scientists at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, and anything achieved by the biggest European and American seed and GM companies. ….
……. That might have been the end of the story had Sumant’s friend Nitish not smashed the world record for growing potatoes six months later. Shortly after Ravindra Kumar, a small farmer from a nearby Bihari village, broke the Indian record for growing wheat. ….
…. What happened in Darveshpura has divided scientists and is exciting governments and development experts. Tests on the soil show it is particularly rich in silicon but the reason for the “super yields” is entirely down to a method of growing crops called System of Root Intensification (SRI). It has dramatically increased yields with wheat, potatoes, sugar cane, yams, tomatoes, garlic, aubergine and many other crops and is being hailed as one of the most significant developments of the past 50 years for the world’s 500 million small-scale farmers and the two billion people who depend on them. ……  While the “green revolution” that averted Indian famine in the 1970s relied on improved crop varieties, expensive pesticides and chemical fertilisers, SRI appears to offer a long-term, sustainable future for no extra cost. ….
…… In its early days, SRI was dismissed or vilified by donors and scientists but in the past few years it has gained credibility…..
Low -tech crop management does not lead to a splurge of publications, corporate funding or scientific career advancement. It does not offer the chance for developing new high-tech plants or fertilisers or insecticides. In modern “science”- it would seem – being “peer-reviewed” is more important than being real!
…. The state will invest $50m in SRI next year but western governments and foundations are holding back, preferring to invest in hi-tech research. The agronomist Anil Verma does not understand why: “The farmers know SRI works, but help is needed to train them. We know it works differently in different soils but the principles are solid,” he says. “The biggest problem we have is that people want to do it but we do not have enough trainers.“If any scientist or a company came up with a technology that almost guaranteed a 50% increase in yields at no extra cost they would get a Nobel prize. But when young Biharian farmers do that they get nothing. I only want to see the poor farmers have enough to eat.”

The System of Rice Intensification (SRI)

was developed as a methodology aimed at increasing the yield of rice produced in irrigated farming without relying on purchased inputs. Its main elements were assembled in 1983 by the French Jesuit Father Henri de Laulanié in Madagascar after 20 years of observation and experimentation.[1] However, systematic evaluation and then dissemination of the system did not occur until some 10-20 years later. The productivity and merits of SRI have been debated between supporters and critics of the system since 2004, but the controversy has waned in recent years.

SRI concepts and practices have continued to evolve as they are being adapted to rain-fed (unirrigated) conditions and with transplanting being superseded sometimes by direct-seeding. Regarding the management of rice plants, the basic practices of SRI according to SRI-Rice at Cornell University are:

  • Rice plant seedlings should be transplanted very young (usually just 8-12 days old) with just two small leaves
  • Seedlings should be transplanted carefully and quickly to inflict minimum trauma on the roots
  • Seedlings should be transplanted singly, with only one per hill instead of 3-4 together to minimize root competition
  • Seedlings should be widely spaced to encourage greater root and canopy growth
  • Seedlings should be transplanted in a square grid pattern (25×25 cm, or wider in good quality soil)

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