Reaping Benefits: Rupturing Myths
Around 200 farmers in and around Goblej village near Ahmedabad are today driving a change that could potentially trigger the next green revolution in India. HCCB feels proud to be just one of the enablers.
“The yield from my field has now almost doubled.” Says Avanish (name changed), one of the early adopters of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) methodology in Goblej village. He quickly adds with an enviable sense of pride and achievement, “And, my income has more than quadrupled.”
His assertion may evoke wonder in most of us – for the lack of general awareness about the existence and benefits of such innovative practices. And, excitement too - at the prospect of raising large swathes of farmers’ population out of poverty.
Sure enough, the rice produced through SRI commands a price premium in the market. Reasons are obvious – the taste, flavour and even the food content of SRI rice are much better than the ones produced through the conventional farming method. Besides, the paddy under SRI is cultivated with organic manure sans any chemical fertiliser. The plants are, therefore, healthy and can resist insects naturally without any pest control.
Convincing farmers to adopt SRI was, however, not easy for HCCB in the beginning. The new methodology challenged the age-old concepts, techniques and practices of traditional rice farming. Sensing the resistance, HCCB started sending the farmers in small groups to nearby villages where SRI was already paying dividends. Simultaneously, HCCB in partnership with Development Support Centre (DSC), an NGO that specialises in SRI methodology, organised training programmes on SRI technique for the farmers. HCCB also developed demo plots to demonstrate the benefits of SRI technique to all the farmers. The idea was to show them the difference between traditional and SRI techniques for rice farming.
The system which was first developed during 1980s in Madagascar, has today spread to around 20 countries. It is also being adopted in many states in India notwithstanding the constraints.
The success of SRI is, thus, real and for everyone to see. It’s, however, intriguing to note that only 200 farmers in the region have adopted this innovative methodology in 3 years since the new technique was introduced to them by HCCB in 2016. Explains, Sanjay Bhatt, Zonal Head, Public Affairs and Communication (PAC), HCCB, “Initially, there were a lot of apprehensions about the efficacy of SRI methodology when we introduced this in Goblej. The resistance was understandable as the SRI technology challenged the well-entrenched beliefs and practices of rice farming.”
For instance, people for centuries have believed that rice is an aquatic plant and grows best in standing water. The SRI technique has now established that while paddy can survive in water, it cannot thrive under reduced oxygen levels. So, it took a great deal of training and persuasion to convince some progressive farmers to adopt this technique in which the fields are not submerged with water and just kept moist during vegetative phase. At a later stage, only one inch of water is required to be maintained in the field. On an average, SRI farming requires almost half as much water as normally used.
The SRI technique also challenged the conventional method of transplanting rice seedlings. Traditionally, the farmers first pull out the seedlings from the nursery bed at an average of 15 to 40 days after seeding and then transplant them in bulk – 2 to 3 seedlings per hill – placed close to each other in a random order. Under SRI technique, the farmers transplant 8 to 12-day old seedlings, using only single seedling per hill, not in clumps, in a square pattern 25cm x 25cm apart. Moreover, the nursery preparation for SRI is also different requiring the farmers to spread the sprouted seeds sparsely. This enables the farmers to lift single seedling at a time required for transplanting.
Single seedling particularly allows roots to grow deep and produce 30 to 50 tillers making the plants that much stronger. Besides, the spacing between the plants enables easy weeding. This coupled with increased microbial activity due to organic manure provides more nutrients to roots, further adding to their strengths. As Javed (name changed), another farmer in region who like Avanish also practices SRI technique, points to the neighbouring field, “Look at the paddy plants cultivated under conventional methods. The untimely rain and storm have destroyed all of them. But the ones grown under SRI in my field are still standing tall and green.”
In comparison with the traditional paddy cultivation, one can say that the SRI technique is a set of new practices requiring less water, less seeds and less time to produce larger quantity of rice of much better quality without requiring any chemical fertiliser or pest control.
Besides, the farmers can concurrently grow azolla in the paddy fields. Essentially an aquatic fern, azolla acts as bio-fertilizer, enriching the soil with organic nutrients. Most importantly, due to the increased fertility of the soil and moderate requirement of water, the farmers are able to grow the second paddy crop in a season. This further enhances their earning potential.
The benefits of SRI are indeed huge. The good news is that the farmers in the region are beginning to see the difference. On its part, HCCB in partnership with DSC, the NGO, continues to impart training to educate the farmers. The adoption is taking place slowly but surely. For now, the SRI technology is set to transform the agriculture landscape of Goblej village for better.