SRI-UPDATE #4 - April 2006

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From: Norman Uphoff
Subject: SRI-UPDATE-L #4 (April 2006)

Dear SRI-Update-L subscriber,

This is the fourth in the SRI UPDATE series that is being sent out in alternate months. Enhanced versions of these e-updates and archives are available on the SRI website. This url also contains information on subscriptions for other SRI groups in other countries.

The numbered listing of sections below provides an overview of the contents of this Update, to let you know what items are included. To subscribe to the interactive SRI discussion list, instead of this announcement-only list, see

-Norman Uphoff
for CIIFAD SRI Group

1. Silicon uptake may be contributing to SRI performance
2. Update on SRI in Madagascar
3. SRI at the 4th World Water Forum
4. Grant from the Triad Foundation
5. CNRRI publishing book on SRI experience in China
6. NGOS in Philippines using SRI to help save World Heritage Site
7. Unusual SRI constraint in Peru
8. Book on biological soil management published



Dr. Mark Laing, a plant science colleague at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa who has been following SRI reports for some time, has raised the possibility that the stronger tillers of SRI plants could be due to greater uptake of silicon. This would help the plants resist lodging, and give them tougher leaves which resist insect damage. Laing suggests that the silicon uptake could possibly be enhanced by the heightened microbial activity that SRI practices promote in the soil. It should be fairly easy to test this hypothesis by measuring and comparing the silicon levels in stalks, in leaves, and in grains, between SRI and non-SRI rice.

Silicon, one of the most abundant elements in the soil (and in plants), is found in the soil mostly in insoluble forms such as metal silicates and silicon dioxide. So how does silicon become available for plant uptake? Apparently mostly by contact with acids released by processes in the rhizosphere stemming from root, microbe and/or ammonium activity. SRI practices may be promoting silicon solubility and uptake due to enhanced microbial activity, from greater root exudation and soil aeration, and from making more carbon available in the soil by providing compost. Under anaerobic, waterlogged conditions, conversely, these processes would not be occurring (as much), and silicon would remain mostly in insoluble, unavailable forms in the soil. Evaluating this with SRI vs. non-SRI plants and in SRI vs. non-SRI rhizospheres could be a very good topic for thesis research.

[Note: A Cornell colleague, Alice Pell in Animal Science, cautions, however, that if SRI rice stalks and leaves have higher silicon content, this will lower their value as animal fodder. If anyone has experience with SRI rice straw having reduced palatability and nutritional benefit for livestock, we would be interested in knowing details on this. So far this has not been reported in any farmer debriefings as far as we know.]


R. Emmanuel in the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Antananarivo, Madagascar has reported in a note to the International Rice Commission that in each of the last three years, when the Ministry of Agriculture as organized rice competitions to promote rice production in the country, there have been contests at regional and national levels to determine best rice farmers based on yield. In all three years, the winning farmers in each of the 22 regions and the best farmer at national level have been farmers who practice the System for Rice Intensification, according to Emmanuel.

He reports that rice yields with "improved" methods that rely very much on purchased inputs are 3.5-6 tons/ha in Madagascar, whereas yields with SRI are "up to 10 tons/ha (or more in some cases)." In a separate communication, the Minister of Agriculture has reported that over 200,000 farmers are now using SRI methods in Madagascar, with SRI yields averaging 6 tons. This is three times the national average, and the average yield is equal to the top yield with more costly, input-dependent methods.


Ir. Mohamad Hasan, Director of Irrigation in the Directorate-General of Water Resources in Indonesia's Ministry of Public Works, included a report on SRI experience in Eastern Indonesia in his presentation at the World Water Forum held in Mexico City, March 16-22, 2006. The data were taken from Mr. Shuichi Sato's evaluation of SRI reported at the 'International Dialogue on Rice and Water:  Exploring Options for Food Security and Sustainable Environments' a workshop held March 7-8, 2006, at IRRI, Los Baños, Philippines.

Also, the International Rivers Network (IRN) in its publication prepared for the 4th World Water Forum, Spreading the Water Wealth: Making Water Infrastructure Work for the Poor, included a section (see page 5) on SRI under the heading "A Rice Revolution." It cites material from CIIFAD and from a report by Himanshu Thakker.


The Triad Foundation based in Ithaca, NY, made a grant of $10,000 in 2004 to CIIFAD to support partners' SRI extension efforts, particularly to improve sustainability of tropical ecosystems. Those funds were shared among SRI partners in Madagascar, Cambodia, Nepal and Kerala State of India. As the Foundation was pleased with the results reported, it renewed the grant in March 2006, approving subgrants of $2,500 for CEDAC in Cambodia and the Morang District Agricultural Development Office in Nepal to extend their work from last year's grant; and to the Sherubtse College in Bhutan to introduce SRI into that mountain country, and to AME and the Green Foundation, two NGOs in Karnataka state of India, to help them expand their SRI work with disadvantaged communities. We hope that still more donors will provide this kind of flexible funding to further expand SRI work as SRI partners know how to use small amounts of money very effectively. (Note: we can also make good use of much larger amounts.)


Researchers at the China National Rice Research Institute in Hangzhou, together with colleagues from other research institutions working on rice improvement in China, are nearing completion of a 12-chapter book on SRI research and evaluations that started in 2000. The book includes chapters reporting on experience with SRI in Sichuan, Zhejiang, Heilongjiong and Guizhou provinces, i.e., representing agroecosystems in the west, east, north and south of China. Discussions are underway to do an English translation of this book so that the findings of Chinese researchers will be more widely accessible.


The Philippines Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM) which has provided a base of support for SRI-Pilipinas, the national SRI network in that country, has begun working with a local NGO, Save the Ifugao Terraces Movement (SITMo), to reverse the deterioration and abandonment of the world-renowned, 3,000-year-old Ifugao rice terraces, which have been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO for their cultural significance.

Over the past 50 years, the terraced area has declined from 15,000 ha to 7,500 ha because rice production there is no longer very profitable, given high cost of inputs and incommensurate yields. Terrace maintenance is not being kept up as farmers are abandoning rice culture. PRRM and SITMo have launched an effort to rehabilitate and conserve the Ifugao terrace system, both ecologically and sociologically. SRI is expected to raise productivity and lower costs of production enough so that rice production becomes attractive to farmers again.  These NGO partners are soliciting support for this effort from anyone interested, from an agricultural or an anthropological perspective, or both (


In 2002, we had a report from Pablo Butz of some initial SRI trials near Pucallpa in western Peru in the Amazon basin. He had read about SRI in Echo Development Notes and got some farmers to try out the new methods on 1 acre of land. They were on the verge of giving up rice production because given bird predation on the edge of the jungle and other problems, their yield was only about 2 t/ha. This was not enough to justify their effort, including 8-10 hours of bird-scaring daily in the weeks before harvest.

With SRI methods, their yield was 8 t/ha, however, and the heavy panicles hung down in such a way that there were no losses to birds. This saved a lot of labor because bird-scaring was no longer necessary. When a section of the field was protected from cattle grazing and allowed to ratoon, it gave another yield of 5.5 t/ha -- without replanting. So it seemed that SRI would quickly spread in the area -- but it didn't.

In March, Norman Uphoff e-mailed Butz, asking about the current status of SRI efforts and got this reply. A completely unexpected problem had emerged cultivating rice on the edge of the rain forest. With less water on the land, greater populations of frogs appeared, and according to the workers, this greater abundance of frogs attracted their natural predators, snakes, from the forest. These snakes are much feared as they are extremely poisonous and fatal in most cases. Two of the workers, one of them the son of the program director, were bitten while weeding the rice beds. Fear thus stopped the project, and workers would not even gather in the crop that season.

Butz added that he had recently consulted farmers about resuming SRI trials and had gotten '"a weak reply, but not completely negative." This particular 'pest control' problem with SRI was completely unanticipated. Hopefully, some satisfactory local solution can be found. In the region, the productive potential of SRI has been demonstrated, but it may not be utilized because of this unusual constraint. [Uphoff plans to meet with Butz while attending a meeting of the International Rice Commission, being held in Chiclayo, Peru, May 3-5, having been invited by FAO to attend as an observer and to present a poster on SRI.]


A book for which SRI experience was the impetus was published in early March by CRC Press, Biological Approaches to Sustainable Soil Systems. Its managing editor was Norman Uphoff, with an editorial team contributing a wide range of disciplinary perspectives and field experience. The 104 contributors come from 28 countries. The chapter on SRI was contributed by Prof. Robert Randriamiharisoa, the Malagasy agricultural scientist who did the most to advance a scientific understanding of SRI (and who most unfortunately died before the book's publication); Joeli Barison, who did both his baccalaureate and master's theses on SRI; and Uphoff. A description and table of contents are available.

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