Tuesday, June 18, 2013


The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) which originated 30 years ago has become a subject matter of intense scrutiny during the last couple of years and recent claim by an Indian farmer that he has harvested the highest yield from his land using SRI was independently verified by government scientists confirming that SRI is indeed here to say in spite of many skeptics raising serious reservations about the claim. A new twist has recently been added to the story of SRI when some studies averred that despite increased farm yield the overall income of the farmer did not show any increase but actually recorded lass income from their agricultural operations in general. This was attributed to neglect of other activities like livestock raising, poultry rearing etc because of much greater time required for SRI technique to achieve quantum jump in yield. Here is a commentary on this latest controversy which refuses to die down easily. 

First of all, Barrett and Takahashi found that SRI did, in fact, boost the farmers' yields of rice by an estimated 64 percent. But here's the bad news: Even though the farmers were harvesting more rice and spending less on seeds and chemicals, their household income did not go up at all. This apparent contradiction actually has a pretty simple explanation, Barrett says. Farming families in Indonesia — in fact, in much of the world — don't just work on the farm. When they have time, they also find work elsewhere to earn more money. But SRI demands more time for all that careful transplanting and soil improvement. And as a result, family members have less time for outside work, and that lost off-farm income cancels out any gain from the rice harvest. (Interestingly, although SRI reduced outside work, it did not appear to reduce the rate of school attendance among children.) Norman Uphoff, a professor of government at Cornell who has been SRI's most important advocate, says that what Barrett and Takahashi saw in Indonesia isn't typical of other places. "If you go to China or India, you'll find that farmers are saving labor with SRI, not using more labor," he says, because farmers in those countries already are spending a lot of time in their rice fields. In addition, he says, farmers who stick with SRI soon find ways to do the work more quickly. "It's not intrinsically labor-intensive; it's initially labor-intensive," he says.

Probably the holistic view taken by the above critics tells a different story that cannot be brushed aside easily. After all most rural households eke out a living performing many tasks with potential income generation as agriculture, being seasonal, cannot provide full time income generating opportunities round the year.  SRI cultivation needs undivided attention and a regime of dedication to achieve any meaningful increase in production from a given stretch of land and that calls for sacrifice of other activities by the farmers and if increased yield does not fetch as much income as that derived from supplementary activities, it is unlikely that farmers would continue with the new system. Extreme care and full attention needed to make SRI work at the ground level demand more workers and there is a critical shortage of rural workers because of government schemes like MGNREGA, SJSRY etc where guaranteed income is assured to every citizen who wish to work for150 days in an year by the government. In such an environment how can SRI technique work? Devoting too much time for rice cultivation under the SRI technique may not be possible every where in the country.  


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