Being involved in agricultural development work in Asia, obviously a major concern for ECHO Asia Regional Office clientel is rice production. A fairly recent rice farming innovation is known as SRI (System of Rice Intensification). Some key SRI distinctives include:
- Planting individual stalks of rice (aged 7-10 days) in widely spaced hills about 20-30 cm apart.
- Aerating the top soil and minimizing flooding of rice fields to increase the supply of oxygen to the rice plant root systems.
- Providing inputs of natural fertilizers (e.g. compost) and incorporating green manure cover crops to improve the fertility and structure of rice-producing soils.
Increased numbers of tillers generally translates into higher rice yields. Worldwide, SRI rice farmers are reporting increased yields that are 50% to 100% higher or even more (http://ciifad.cornell.edu/sri/) compared to conventional systems.
There are reported drawbacks to the system. Managing water levels to reduce flooding can be a challenge in many locations. Also, with reduced flooding, the consquence will be increased weed pressure.
Fortunately, appropriate technology has been developed to reduce the labor of weed removal. The cono weeder, a simple, hand-operated rotary cultivator, is one such innovoation. Reportedly developed at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines, these machines are being mass produced and sold in various locations in Asia.
So far, reports about the new weeders have been positive. The clip at the top is the Cono Weeder being used at Fair Earth farm (http://www.fairearthfarm.com/) just outside of Chiang Mai. Besides uprooting and incorporating weeds into the earth, the cultivator also aerates the soil, increasing the supply of air to rice plant root systems.