1.Less is more: working miracles in Nepal's rice fields
2.MORE SUSTAINABLE HIGHLIGHTS
One of the interesting aspects of this article from Scidev.Net (item 1) is the nature of the surprise about the high yields obtained:
"It sounds too good to be true. After all, this is not a high-yielding variety of genetically modified rice but the normal local variety, mansuli."
The joke is that there have been no GM crops successfully engineered for increased yield - just questionable claims of indirect yield gains plus consistent reports of yield losses.
By contrast there is good evidence of truly remarkable yield gains being achieved through new sustainable approaches to cultivation in the developing world.
As a New Scientist editorial pointed out more than 4 years ago:
"Low-tech 'sustainable agriculture,' shunning chemicals in favour of natural pest control and fertiliser, is pushing up crop yields on poor farms across the world, often by 70 per cent or more... The findings will make sobering reading for people convinced that only genetically modified crops can feed the planet's hungry in the 21st century... A new science-based revolution is gaining strength built on real research into what works best on the small farms where a billion or more of the world's hungry live and work... It is time for the major agricultural research centres and their funding agencies to join the revolution." - New Scientist editorial, February 3 2001
Four years on, those research centres - with their corporate and misdirected public funding - continue their hostility to low-tech solutions and continue their steadffast promotion of a corporate agenda.
Of nowhere is that more true than the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), mentioned below (item 1). For more on the IRRI: http://www.gmwatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=296
1.Less is more: working miracles in Nepal's rice fields
SciDev.Net, 15 September 2005
[image caption: "Why didn't my ancestors think of it?" asks Ananta Ram Majhi]
Dan Bahadur Rajbansi is planting rice seedlings on his farm near Nepal's border with India, 300 kilometres southeast of Kathmandu.
The monsoon rains came late to Nepal this year and many farmers delayed transplanting their rice seedlings from nursery beds to paddy fields.
But Rajbansi was ready. He is one of a dozen farmers in Morang district testing a new method of planting rice. It is reported to boost harvests without requiring farmers to flood their fields or use chemical fertilisers and pesticides.
It sounds too good to be true. After all, this is not a high-yielding variety of genetically modified rice but the normal local variety, mansuli.
The secret lies in the cultivation method: the seedlings are transplanted when they are only two weeks old instead of at six weeks. Instead of being flooded, the field is drained. And the seedlings are planted farther apart - while a normal paddy field needs 50 kilograms of seed per hectare, the new method uses less than ten kilograms.
Yet because each seedling produces many more shoots than when planted conventionally, the harvest can more than double.
"I thought, how can this be?" says local agriculture officer Rajendra Uprety, recalling first reading about the technique on the Internet. He decided to test it out. "Since 2002, we've achieved double and triple harvests on test plots. It's just amazing."
Ananta Ram Majhi, another of Morang district's rice farmers, admits he was sceptical. "Initially, I thought to myself, if this is such a great idea why didn't my ancestors think of it?" he says, wading ankle-deep in mud to prepare his next field. "But I decided to take the chance and this is my third year using the new method."
Majhi used to harvest five tonnes per hectare, but is now getting at least twice as much. He has achieved those yields with only one-third of the seeds he used before and with less water.
News of the amazing harvests spread quickly from Morang district, where about 100 farmers have adopted the new method. Uprety brings farmers from other districts there on inspection visits. "Actually, it has been more difficult convincing the agronomists and officials than the farmers," he laughs.
It hasn't been easy to convince international scientists either. Agriculture research institutes have been doubtful ever since Henri de Laulanie, a French Jesuit priest in Madagascar, devised the new method in 1983.
It was only after the International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development at Cornell University in the United States started pushing the idea that it was taken seriously.
The System of Rice Intensification (SRI), as it is now called, has been tried and tested in about 20 countries, from Cuba to China.
Tens of thousands of farmers have adopted the method in the few years since researchers introduce it in Cambodia. There, as in India, Laos, and Sri Lanka, farmers report that SRI means bigger harvests and better incomes, for fewer seeds and less water.
But critics say that scientific evidence for such claims is lacking. Most field trial results have, for instance, not been recorded in detail and published in peer-reviewed journals
Can 'rice intensification' feed the world?
When researchers at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and colleagues tested SRI in field trials in China, they found no difference in yield between SRI and conventionally-grown rice.
Their study, published in Field Crops Research in March 2004, concluded that: "SRI has no major role in improving rice production generally".
Training the trainers
For Uprety though, the results speak for themselves. He points out that the technique's success depends on skillful farming, good timing and careful planting and drainage. Since planting on flooded paddy fields helped to control weeds, the drier SRI fields need weeding several times during the growing season.
But the benefits far outweigh these obstacles, says Uprety, adding that the main challenge is training.
He has turned local farmers like Kishore Luitel, who are now total converts to SRI, into trainers. A few years ago Rajbansi thought Luitel had gone mad for adopting the new technique. But earlier this month, Luitel was in Rajbansi's field teaching him how to plant his seedlings the new way.
The tiny two-week-old seedlings look fragile in Luitel's hands as he picks them up one by one and plants them 20 centimetres apart in the sticky mud Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒ”žÃƒ® not the 10 centimetres apart in slush needed for normal rice planting.
Luitel points out his own field where rice now grows in thick tufts with more than 80 shoots from one seed. "Using the old method, you plant three or four seedlings in one spot and you only get about ten shoots per seed," he says.
For Uprety and Luitel, seeing is believing. They are convinced that no part of Nepal need be short of food anymore if SRI is promoted nationally. Every year, Nepal needs to produce more than 90,000 tonnes of rice seeds. The SRI advocates say the method would save 80,000 tonnes and harvests nationwide could be doubled.
Uprety sums it up: "Sometimes the best solutions are the simplest ones."
2.MORE SUSTAINABLE HIGHLIGHTS
(taken from an article by Prof Jules Pretty)
* some 223,000 farmers in southern Brazil using green manures and cover crops of legumes and livestock integration have doubled yields of maize and wheat to 4-5 tons/ha;
* some 45,000 farmers in Guatemala and Honduras have used regenerative technologies to triple maize yields to some 2-2.5 tons/ha and diversify their upland farms, which has led to local economic growth that has in turn encouraged re-migration back from the cities;
* more than 300,000 farmers in southern and western India farming in dryland conditions, and now using a range of water and soil management technologies, have tripled sorghum and millet yields to some 2-2.5 tons/hectare;
* some 200,000 farmers across Kenya who as part of various government and non-government soil and water conservation and sustainable agriculture programmes have more than doubled their maize yields to about 2.5 to 3.3 t/ha and substantially improved vegetable production through the dry seasons;
* 100,000 small coffee farmers in Mexico who have adopted fully organic production methods, and yet increased yields by half;
* a million wetland rice farmers in Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam who have shifted to sustainable agriculture, where group-based farmer-field schools have enabled farmers to learn alternatives to pesticides whilst still increasing their yields by about 10%.
SEE ALSO: FARMING SOLUTIONS