SRI: An Innovative Agricultural Practice

Norman Uphoff

Indian agriculture largely depends on monsoon rain and farmers face challenges of erratic weather but majority of them follows tradition ways of agricultural practices. In this backdrop, an agro-ecological methodology is gaining ground in various pockets which is popularly known as SRI. System of Rice Intensification is a set of innovative agricultural practices and many farmers from states like Bihar and Chhattisgarh are adopting it. But its contribution is inadequately documented.
In this backdrop, Solution Innovation Review interviewedProfessor Norman Uphoff, Cornell Institute of Public Affairs, Cornell University, USA – who worked extensively on this innovative agricultural practice. Professor Uphoff shade light on this agro-ecological methodology. Edited Excerpts:

Now, several experts are advising about change in cropping. What your view on it?
The whole world is likely to face greater challenges of more erratic weather and climate stress. There will need to be some changes in cropping, but more important, changes in practices — how crops are managed. 

And how rice intensification can work in such scenario?
The methods of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) enable plants to become more resistant and resilient to climate stresses — especially drought and water stress, but also the damages from storms (lodging of plants due to wind and rain), and also flooding, and extreme temperatures.  This is because with SRI methods, the plants grow larger, healthier root systems that can take up more nutrients and anchor plants better.
There is also good evidence that the healthier plants grown with SRI methods are more resistant to pests and diseases, which are made a more serious threat by climate changes.

What are challenges ahead, you see?
Mostly making changes in mindset. SRI shows that reductions, rather than increases, in inputs like seed, water and fertilizer can give more production. The green revolution had many successes, but these are diminishing now. We need to be benefiting from genetic potentials for greater productivity and plant protection that can be evoked with SRI methods that promote greater root growth and also greater abundance and diversity of beneficial soil organisms that help nourish plants and protect them from predators and pathogens. There are strong interests still favoring input-dependent improvement. Inputs can be beneficial, but better when part of a larger management strategy to support the life in the soil and to promote symbiotic relationships between plants and their biotic environment.

In countries like India, we witness emergence of grass-root innovations. Such innovators express their concern over lack of funding in developing countries. What’s your take?
Innovations almost by definition do not have the same support base that established practices have. India is fortunate to have a very vibrant NGO sector (civil society), but there are some very good partners in universities, government agencies and the private sector. Such like-minded persons need to work together to mobilize resources within their respective organizations, and by working closely with farming communities to mobilize self-help resources there. If there are successful efforts being made to reduce hunger and poverty, it should be possible to attract some external support.  But that support will not come as a precondition for effective local efforts. And those efforts should be prepared to make as much progress as possible with their own resources. A big part of development is overcoming the psychology of dependence that pervades colonial and post-colonial situations. Too many people are still waiting for others to come to their rescue or provide their salvation. If such resources can be attracted and mobilized, fine, if there is a self-standing and self-directed base to work from.

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