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SRI Workshop at the Menelao Mora Cattle Cooperative in Cuba

The cooperative “Menelao Mora” (Coop of Credit & Services), located in the town of La Ruda, San Jose de las Lajas, Havana province, has 430 ha dedicated to crops and cattle, basically milk production. This coop, which has 173 members, requires more rice to feed its workers and their families. The coop would like to receive an additional 14 ha of former sugar cane land in order to develop a centrally-managed rice farm. 

A SRI workshop, organized by Deborah Gonzalez, Head of the Agronomy Department at the Institute of Rice Investigations (IIA), and further coordinated by local municipal authorities of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP), was held on February 27, 2008. It was a rainy, cold, dreary day when we approached this small town. The meeting was scheduled for 2 pm; we arrived at 2 pm, but we couldn’t find anyone.  All of a sudden someone came running to where we had parked and said, “but it’s over there.”  “Over there” was a building with practically no chairs, no table, no electricity but at least a sound wall to which  we were able to tape our seminar material.  We arranged the broken chairs in a semi-circle, distributed some SRI brochures to the men standing outside while we asked them to please come in, saying, “If we don’t start, we can’t finish.” This usually makes them laugh, something very important for me. 

We began the workshop on SRI by asking them questions about what they normally did.  And all the time drawing comparative pictures on the  wall: a SRI transplant of ten days and five inches in height compared to their previous seedlings of 35 days and 12 inches.  Formally, they “pulled” seedlings in the afternoon and planted them the following day, or the next. SRI meant, at the most, 30 minutes between “pull & plant.” Finally, we tried to draw the analogy to  SRI of harboring only a mother-in-law, her daughter, maybe a grandmother and an infant or two in one square meter to that which they now did of setting out some 200 female plants in the same square meter. Once they started laughing, I knew I had them, as Cuban men are skeptical  of mother-in-laws. It’s at that moment when they somehow began to have confidence in SRI and began to question and criticize what  they have been doing. Someone else intervened and it gave me time to  count heads, some 35 coop members were now in the room.

After SRI was presented --and I only use some 40 minutes to present SRI as an alternative to what they do-- a lively discussion ensued. I heard things like “no water,” “too small,” “no fertilizer,” “red, porous soil”, “how to get seeds,” “too difficult,” the usual post-workshop gloom.  “OK, OK,” I said, let’s look at a CD I brought on the use of SRI on a nearby farm... then we’ll talk.”  There was no electricity, but luckily my laptop was charged and they were able to see the 36 minute (Spanish) CD, “Sistema Intensivo de Cultivo Arrocero,” (see also English version). 

Things changed dramatically after seeing the CD. In fact, it was then that the president of the coop, Jose Maria Diaz, really became enthusiastic  and began plying me with questions.  Until then, he has been polite, but uncommitted. He explained that their land is good for cattle and crops but too porous for rice, at least, inundated rice, which is the only thing they know.  So I said, “Wait a moment” and began to show them other pictures in my PC, those that Dr. Uphoff, presently CIIFAD program leader for Sustainable Rice Systems,  has so graciously shared with us over the years, things like the upland approach to rice in the Philippines, where they use mulch to conserve moisture, and the system used in India where they broadcast pre-germinated seeds and then at 13-15 days cultivate at right angles to establish a sort of SRI in reverse.

It was getting late and we had an hours drive back to Havana. It had been a fantastic afternoon in this basically cattle coop, and we left convinced that SRI would soon become familiar in “La Ruda,” a little town midway between Cuba’s northern and southern coast  in Havana province.

Rena Perez
February 29, 2008

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