System of Rice Intensification or SRI was conceived and developed by a French priest in the 1980s in Madagascar. SRI is not a standardised or fixed technology but a set of ideas to manage and conserve resources by changing the way that land, seeds, water, nutrients, and human labour are used to increase productivity from a small but well-tended number of seeds.
The methods adopted are radically different from traditional rice cultivation as followed over centuries, and entail a complete change in rice cultivation practices including Plant, Soil, Irrigation and Nutrition practices.
Yields obtained following SRI practices are higher – usually 25% on an average, though manifold increases of upto 4 times have been recorded. Input costs are lower, pest and disease incidence lower, and seed and water requirements much lower.
Interestingly, rice cultivation practices were questioned by many farmers in Tamil Nadu in the early 1900s, with some experimenting, practicing and writing about their results and experiences. Some important aspects of SRI such as wide spacing, single seedling planting and intercultivation was being practiced by these truly revolutionary farmers. At one time, British surveyors estimated that this system was being practiced on over 1 lakh acres and higher yields of 20-30% were achieved, much like SRI. Unfortunately, these practices died out slowly over time, and the coming of the Green Revolution finished it altogether.
The main aspects of SRI include:
The complete set of practices leads to increased productivity of water, land, seeds, nutrients and labour.
Unlike most current agricultural technologies, SRI is not based on material inputs. Instead it involves unlearning and embracing changes. Also, SRI is a work in progress, and it will continue to evolve over the next few decades. SRI emphasises adaptation and continuing improvement by farmers.
SRI does not require any change in rice varieties or purchase of fertilisers or chemical pesticides. It does require enough water control so that smaller amounts of water can be provided reliably during the growing season; all crops require at least some water. There must also be sufficient, motivated labour available for skilled crop management, and enough access to biomass starting with rice straw to make compost or do mulching to maintain soil organic matter.
There is nothing magical about SRI. It produces “More Output with Less Inputs ” and it is a resource conserving technique of rice production that is good for farmers, consumers, and the environment.