An ongoing effort at the regional level is aiming at improving rice production through empowering rural farmers to achieve that objective. Presently, the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) is helping to bring rural farmers closer to food self-sufficiency in over 50 countries with the help of organizations like the West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (CORAF).
The new strategy can potentially reduce water use, increase land productivity, and provide a buffer against the impacts of climate change while reducing reliance on artificial inputs, like pesticides and artificial fertilizer.
“We should not need to have food shortages in the world if we would make better use of our existing land, water, seed, labor, and capital resources,” according to Norman Uphoff, Professor Emeritus of Government and International Agriculture at Cornell University and senior advisor, SRI International Network and Resources Centre, SRI-Rice.
Rice is the most important grain for human consumption, according to the International Rice Research Institute, IRRI, and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO. Globally, rice provides 20 percent of all calories consumed, with up to 70 percent in some regions and rice is grown predominantly on smallholder farms and the average global yield is approximately four tons/hectare. While rice production has stayed level for decades, rice demand is steadily increasing as populations grow.
“Meeting our food needs more adequately, more equitably, and more sustainably is not going to be possible with our current technologies and mindsets, given the growing constraints of climate change,” said Uphoff. “What we are learning about the contributions that beneficial microbes can make to crop and animal (as well as human) growth and health is itself an inspiration and impetus for multidisciplinary, collaborative work on agricultural and rural development.”
SRI is a crop management approach developed by Fr. Henri de Laulanié in Madagascar in 1983. The goal is to create nutrient-rich soil and provide individual plants with the space to grow, allowing them to develop a stronger root system. This leads to stronger plants and larger yields.
For irrigation rice production farmers transplant young, single seedlings, spacing them widely in a grid pattern. They keep soils moist and fertile but not flooded, enhancing them with compost and other sources of organic nutrients. Weeding is done early and regularly, aerating the soil, with weeds added back to the soil to decompose.
These practices can be adapted to local conditions, such as water availability, soil conditions, weather, labor availability, and access to seeds. Adapting SRI practices can double yields while reducing costs by a quarter and saving up to 40 percent more water.