Exclusive interwith with Dr. Norman Uphoff
Dr. Norman Uphoff is the acting director of the Cornell Institute of Public Affairs and former director of the Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture, and Development. Dr. Uphoff is a strong advocate of System of Rice Intensification (SRI) initiative and has collaborated with universities and governments worldwide to introduce SRI to rice farmers.
The SRI technology is a new method of rice cultivation that is gaining popularity in India. This technology increases rice production multifold while reducing water and farm input costs. In this method rice seedlings are planted at a young age with wide spacing without flooding the fields. This cuts water and seed costs by more than half, while promoting healthier root and leaf growth. The resulting plants are more resistant to drought and extreme temperatures.
Dr. Norman Uphoff speaks to Agriculture & Industry Survey about the many benefits of SRI to farmers, consumers and governments, alike:
How successful has been SRI cultivation in India, in terms of yield and the area covered?
SRI was first evaluated in India at Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) in 2000.
It wasn’t until 2005 that it started getting support from the government and became part of a large World Bank project in 2006. In general the yields from SRI increased very widely in India – ranging from 50% to 300%. One of the most important report emerged in Damoh district, Uttar Pradesh where the farmers achieved an increase from 2 ton to 8 ½ ton yields.
Bihar has the most advanced SRI practices in place.
The area under SRI cultivation in Bihar has increased from 30 hectares in 2007 to 135,000 hectares in 2012. They have achieving significantly higher yields by changing how they manage their land, water, labour and nutrients.
How can farmers achieve the best results from SRI management?
The best result of SRI management can be achieved with increased organic matter in the soil. The idea is don’t feed the plant, feed the soil and the soil will feed the plant. The farmers can use any biomass, including farmyard manure, rice straw, or any vegetation from wasteland areas, to improve the organic matter.
The water should be controlled so that the soils are not flooded. If the soils are low lying and highly saturated then the soil organisms will be anaerobic as opposed to aerobic which are the most beneficial for the rice plants. Also due to excess water Indian farmers have innovated a rain fed version of SRI where they use unused rain water to feed the soils so that the roots don’t get suffocated and die. These plants develop deep root systems and can survive the water stress.
The plants may need some protection from pests and diseases but usually farmers face lesser problems when plants are healthier with deeper root system. Also they require less labour because plant population is cut by 90%, making weeding easier.
Above all the farmers should have good attitude, be experimental, and understand the principles of SRI to use it effectively. SRI is a way of human resource development and not just rice modification technique.
What are the future challenges of Indian Agriculture?
The first one is water. The water tables in some areas are dropping very rapidly and the monsoons are getting unpredictable. The biggest challenge is how to grow more food crops per drop.
With SRI practices the crops grow deeper and longer-life root system, and are more resistant to water stress. Another challenge is reducing the rampant use of chemical fertilizers. SRI significantly reduces the use of chemicals fertilizers by supplementing it with eco fertilizers.
How cooperative has the Indian government and the agricultural universities been in popularizing SRI?
We started our research with TNAU and the state government has been very supportive. We started with 30,000 hectares and now have over a million hectares under SRI cultivation. The state government of Bihar has done the most progress in SRI. NABARD and the state governments of Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Punjab are also extending support to the SRI projects.
What are the biggest advantages of SRI to farmers?
The farmers can maximize their yields from the available resources through concrete SRI practices. The primary beneficiaries, the consumers, will benefit from having healthier rice.
The environment benefits with less demand on water, less use of agro chemicals, and better soil health.
The government benefits from having more reliable food supply, reducing the expenditure on fertilizer subsidies and subsidies for pumping water. Indian agriculture, in 20 years’ time, is going to be really crippled following the reckless extraction of groundwater if affirmative action is not taken immediately!
For more information contact- Dr. Norman Uphoff
* Professor of Government and International Agriculture, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853. * Director, Cornell Institute for Public Affairs (CIPA), * Senior Advisor, SRI International Network and Resources Center (SRI-Rice),
Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development (CIIFAD)
Source : Agriculture & Industry Survey