Friday, December 31, 2010

SRI in Northeast India

Among millions of rice growers throughout Asia, SRI rice production is still very much the exception rather than the rule. However, the promotion and adoption of the innovative approach in the region is quite widespread and growing. For more information about the status of SRI worldwide, check out this website,, maintained by the SRI International Network and Resources Center (SRI-Rice) with support from Jim Carrey's Better U Foundation and the Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development.

In October, I had the opportunity to visit the Patharkhmah District, a focus area of NEICORD ( in the northeast Indian state of Meghalaya. With support from CRWRC ( and the Food Resource Bank (, the NEICORD team is promoting various food security projects in the district, including home gardening, SALT (Sloping Agricultural Land Technology) and SRI.

Although NEICORD attempted a couple of trial plots last year, in 2010 they were basically starting their SRI programming from scratch. However, the project had done its homework by training their agricultural staff and key farmers in the basics of SRI during the dry season. By the beginning of the 2010 rainy season, 53 local farm families were prepared to experiment with SRI on their paddy land.

When I visited the NEICORD Patharkhmah project in October, the rice in the SRI trial plots was beginning to ripen. Inspecting the farms of several NEICORD partnering households, I was impressed with the overall quality of their SRI effort. Overwhelmingly, the farmers were satisfied with the SRI package of planting single young seedlings in hills arranged in straight rows that were widely spaced (between approximately 20-25 cm apart). During the time of my visit, in most fields the rice panicles were heavy with grain and the local farmers were giving the trial SRI plots high marks.

The early adopters also reported that managing water levels in the paddy to minimize flooding was not a problem. Less water in the paddy means more oxygen gets to the roots of rice plants, which promotes improved growth and production. On the other hand, with unflooded conditions, there were reports of more weeds in the fields. However, most of the farmers were able to control weeds with the simple SRI cono-weeders that are pushed between the rows of rice (see my earlier blog posting).

Regarding the early maturing rice, this was a bit of a problem as the rest of the rice in the area ripened 2-3 weeks later making the early ripening rice a target for hungry birds. You can see a video link of one farmer using a bamboo "clapper" that scares birds off. But having learned that SRI rice matures a bit earlier, the farmers simply plan to establish their SRI plots 2-3 weeks later next year.

I was impressed with NEICORD's 2010 efforts to promote SRI. I was also encouraged about the "adoptability" of SRI. To most rice growers the innovation is probably strange and counter-intuitive. But if seeing is believing, then the positive 2010 SRI results in Patharkhmah are probably going to yield more local adopters in 2011.

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