SYSTEM OF FINGER MILLET (RAGI) INTENSIFICATION (a 'second SRI')
- SRI Concepts and Methods Applied to Finger Millet -
Application of System of Rice Intensification concepts and methods to the growing of finger millet, known in much of India as ragi, was one of the first extensions of SRI thinking, starting in India, but then also undertaken in Ethiopia. Finger millet is a major cereal crop for the poor in both South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. (Unfortunately, there have not been SRI adaptations tried much with sorghum, a close relative of millet, but this is now starting in Ethiopia.) Ragi has been cultivated in India, and especially in the south Indian state of Karnataka, for thousands of years. However, over the last three decades, this crop has been in decline according to an article in InfoChange. The low price of ragi in the market has reportedly forced farmers to shift to cash crop cultivation and the trend is towards growing cash crops rather than ensuring your own food security. This has been compounded by the fact that the government provides subsidies for cash crop cultivation but none for food crops. Hopefully, a System of Finger Millet (Ragi) Intensification help make this crop more productive.
- Mukherjee, Kuntal. 2012. Toolkit: Promotion of SRI-Millet with small and marginal farmers in Chhattisgarh: A practitioner's manual. NewsReach 12(11): 28-35. [PRADAN's livelihood and development bimonthly magazine]
- 2012. Cultivating finger millet with SRI principles: A training manual. PRADAN and Sir Dorbji Tata Trust. System of Rice Intensification website. (20p., 2.16MB pdf) [Based on the experiences of farmers affiliated with the PRADAN rural development program in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand States and with the SRI Consortium, Chhattisgarh, India]
- Pages 19-23 of the 2011 Livolink Foundation booklet Growing Crops with SRI Principles (note: very large file) contains some tips specifically for finger millet. (There is a good section on managing pests and diseases as well).
- Video: 2009 (December 25). Guli Ragi. 7:32 min. Produced by Digital Green. Digitalgreenorg channel, YouTube.
[Kannada language video about the finger millet cultivation that uses SRI principles.]
In the state of Karnataka, 95% of the cultivated dryland crop is finger millet. In Haveri district of Karnataka State, the NGO Green Foundation based in Bangalore several years ago found an indigenous farmer-devised system called Guli Vidhana for raising the yield of ragi. This methodology developed in the 1980s echoed SRI practice in many respects. The poster that Green Foundation developed to popularize this methodology made explicit the connection to SRI. Guli Vidhana methods are raising ragi yields beyond the previous maximum for the area, 1.5 t/ha, to 1.8-2.0 t/ha and even up to 2.5 t/ha in a good year. A 2011 PowerPoint presentation by C.S.P. Patil provides updated information on this System of Finger Millet Intensification in Karnataka.
In Haveri district of Karnataka State, the NGO Green Foundation based in Bangalore several years ago found an indigenous farmer-devised system called Guli Ragi for raising the yield of ragi. This methodology developed in the 1980s echoed SRI practice in many respects. The poster that Green Foundation developed to popularize this methodology made explicit the connection to SRI.Guli Vidhana methods are raising ragi yields beyond the previous maximum for the area, 1.5 t/ha, to 1.8-2.0 t/ha and even up to 2.5 t/ha in a good year.
The system, described in a 2006 trip report by Norman Uphoff, involves two very interesting ox-drawn implements that farmers had adapted to their purposes.
The korudu (left) is pulled across the field several times between 15 and 45 days after transplanting, to bend over the young plants without breaking them off, causing the mildly traumatized plants to put out more tillers and more roots. The yade kunte (right) is a blade mounted on the end of a long handle pulled down the wide space (45 cm) between rows and between plants, aerating the soil at the same time that it eliminates weed competition.
In eastern India, the NGO PRADAN worked with farmers in Jharkhand state on adapting SRI practice to finger millet (left), in what they have called SFMI, the System of Finger Millet Intensification. These alternative methods can produce much more robust and productive phenotypes.
The contrast in phenotypes was seen in the picture that illustrated the introduction of SRI concepts and practices for other crops (see photo at right). On the right is shown a representative local-variety ragi plant grown with conventional methods; in the center, an improved-variety ragi plant (A404) grown with conventional methods; and on the left, a ragi plant of the same improved variety but grown with what PRADAN staff have labeled ‘SFMI’ methods -- System of Finger Millet Intensification - perhaps to avoid the confusion of having a second ‘SRI.’ An SFMI manual, now available on the SRI-Rice website, is based on the experiences of farmers affiliated with the PRADAN rural development program in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand States and with the SRI Consortium, Chhattisgarh, India.
PRADAN staff also provided pictures showing phenotypic differences in the length of panicles (shown far right), in the width of panicles (near right), and most important for understanding why these differences occur, in the roots of SFMI vs. conventionally-grown ragi (left).
Researchers at the state agricultural university (ANGRAU) did trials in 2004-05 with two improved varieties of ragi (762 and 708), comparing the plants’ root growth after transplanting. They were interested whether ragi would show the same young-seedling effect that is seen with rice plants when managed according to SRI recommendations.
Ragi seedlings were transplanted at 10 days, 15 days, or 21 days after germination. At 60 days after transplanting the plants showed the same positive response to transplanting at an earlier age as do rice plants with SRI management. Ragi plants transplanted at 10 or 15 days of age had much more prolific root growth than do those plants transplanted even 6-11 days later. (Click on photo at right to enlarge).
Farmers (N=340) working with the People’s Science Institute based in Dehradun in the 2009 season, a drought year, tried SRI-like methods with small plots of finger millet to assess their viability. They transplanted single young seedling at 20x20 cm spacing, adding homemade biofertilizers to the soil along with compost. The number of panicles (ears) per plant was increased to 5, compared with 3 on the control plots, with 428 grains per panicle instead of 290 grains. The yield was 50% higher, 1.8 t/ha instead of 1.2 t/ha. A greater yield increase was thought likely in a season with more normal rainfall.
Tigray, Amhara, and Oromia Provinces:
SCI applications with finger millet are began at the initiative of the Institute for Sustainable Development (ISD), working with farmers in Tigray, Amhara and Oromia provinces. In 2009, three farmers in Tigray adapted SRI concepts to finger millet and got yields of 3.2, 3.1 and 2.4 t/ha, considerably higher than the national average yield of about 1 t/ha. Seventeen farmers in South Wollo zone of Amhara had finger millet yields of 2.8-2.9 t/ha, with no real difference between direct-seeding and transplanting, so long as there was regular and wide spacing between plants and good supply of organic matter for the soil. (See ISD report on piloting SRI)
Several hundred farmers in Tigray have worked previously with ISD to raise their finger millet yields just by adding compost to their soil, which is very low in soil organic matter. They have reached average yields of 2.65 t/ha, so it appears that there is some additional yield gain to be achieved with SCI crop, soil and water management practices, accomplishing more than just by moving to organic means of fertilization. Subsequent reports from 2012 have affirmed farmer interest in SFMI methods. (For a closer look, click on photos sent by Tareke Berhe during a field day in Tigray Province.)
ISD director Sue Edwards reports that previously, one elderly woman farmer who had intuitively combined a number of new practices that resembled SRI methodology achieved a finger yield of 7.5 t/ha, quite unheard of anywhere. She had raised the plants singly and wide apart, with well-drained, aerated soil. So good SCI results are not surprising to ISD or some of the farmers with whom it has been working for over a decade in Tigray province.
Oxfam America is assisting ISD and Tigrayan farmers to adapt SRI concepts and methods to rainfed cereal production in this very dry and constrained environment. More reports will be posted as results and evaluations become available. One of the three farmers reported on above who tried SRI methods with sorghum got a yield of 4.44 t/ha, encouraging other farmers to try this adaptation as well. We anticipate that sorghum as well as pearl millet, as graminaceous plants, should also respond positively to SRI-like management as finger millet does.