System of Rice Intensification is new mantra for reducing water usage and increasing productivity
Rice intensification for increasing productivity
Jai Sri is a common greeting in the Koraput countryside these days. A Paraja tribal woman working in her fields, a passing motorcyclist driving through the rutted lanes, a teacher heading for his school, they all greet each other and visitors with a Jai Sri. It has nothing to do with religious revivalism, but is the new buzzword sweeping the farmlands of Odisha—and large patches of India. SRI is the acronym for System of Rice Intensification, a new technique to grow rice more efficiently using much less water and seeds but yielding far greater quantities of rice.
It is a system that is being spread by a band of somewhat unlikely evangelists: academics, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), top-flight charitable trusts, crop research institutions, wildlife organisations, the World Bank and most surprisingly the Government of India.
Muralidhar Adhikari, who works with Koraput NGO Pragati, exemplifies the spirit of the SRI missionaries. He goes from farm to farm with a message that comes across as heretical to rice cultivators. Stop growing rice in standing water, use as little of the precious resource as possible, reduce seed consumption and throw out pesticides and chemical fertilisers. “Initially farmers are sceptical and it takes a lot of convincing to get them to try SRI,” says Adhikari, district coordinator of Pragati which is channelling most of its energies into transforming rice cultivation in this backward tribal district of Odisha.
In SRI 8-14-day seedlings instead of the normal three-four-week-old seedlings are transplanted at wider spacing through a marker system for uniformity. Only one seedling is planted per hill. Water is used sparingly to keep the soil moist (alternate wetting and drying) but not continuously flooded. Weeding is carried out mechanically through a rotary weeder (small hand-driven machine), but instead of throwing out the weeds these are pushed into the soil for aeration and providing organic compost. Use of farmyard manure is encouraged because SRI cultivation responds better to organic fertiliser than chemical fertilisers. Seedlings are raised in unflooded nurseries, not planted densely and have to be well supplied with organic matter. There is an option of direct-seeding, but transplanting is common. Seedlings have to be transplanted quickly and carefully in a square pattern, usually of 25x25 cm, to give roots and leaves more space to grow.
It is these simple but time-consuming and intermittently labour-intensive practices that could prove the saviour of rice farmers, increasing yield between 30-80 per cent and cutting down water consumption by as much 40 per cent. Seed use, too, is drastically pared.
Ask Duddeda Sugunavva, a 38-yearold Dalit farmer from Katkur village in Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh. The delighted farmer, who works on two acres (0.8 ha) of leased land, says, “I was reluctant at first to try a method that was completely contrary to what I’ve been used to for decades.” But grudgingly she tried out SRI on about one-tenth of an acre. But after harvesting six 70-kg bags rather than the usual four bags from that plot, she quickly extended the technique to the entire two acres, and has now been using only SRI practices for five seasons.
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