Featured Items: FEBRUARY 2012
FEBRUARY 8, 2012
SRI LANKA: Flood Resistance in
SRI Paddy Fields and Arsenic-related Health Issues Generate Interest in
It is not unusual to hear reports of rice fields planted with System of Rice Intensification (SRI) methods that do not lodge (fall over) in inclement weather or that can resist drought when the rains disappear. These positive outcomes are, at least in part, attributed to stronger, deeper roots that result from SRI practices. Now, reports from Sri Lanka suggest that SRI fields can be less susceptible to flood damage as well. According to an Oxfam Australia (OAU) report, interest in SRI was renewed during 2010/2011 due in part to farmers' experiences with flood-resistance by rice grown in the SRI paddies. The report further mentions that research in Sri Lanka linking arsenic-related health problems to agricultural chemicals used in rice production have spurred an additional interest in organic SRI. (See full OAU report for details).
Farmers in the north central region noticed that the paddy fields under SRI cultivation had not suffered as severely during recurring floods as per the experience in the northeast. A video about these farmers' experiences and subsequent seminar involving farmers, researchers, NGOs and government officials, resulted in training of extension officers, a home gardening / SRI program in the Thambuttegama DS division, training of 300 Community Health Workers and voluntary leader-farmers working in 27 DS divisions in Anuradhapura district, and plans for the agriculture faculty of Rajarata University to begin conducting SRI research.
Regarding the health issues, research carried out by Rajarata and Kalaniya Universities in Anuradapura district revealed presence of arsenic in Sri Lankan rice. The researchers believe this to be related to heavy agricultural chemical use and linked the high level of chronic kidney disease there. As a result, interest has been generated in different sectors who are working with the farmers in environment-friendly paddy farming methods such as SRI.
As SRI generates more positive results, SRI network partners have been featured in newspaper articles, radio broadcasts and telecasts. Chaminda Fernando at OAU in Sri Lanka forwarded us several of these stories. Mohommed Ismail Rizana (at right), a woman farmer in Ampara District, achieved almost 80 bushels of rice with organic SRI methods, a 45% increase over average rice yields in the area (see full story). This was demonstrated in a public crop-cut survey conducted by the Department of Agriculture with the participation of several government officials. R. M. Heenmenike (at left), who began working with SRI in 2008 through the community-based organization RGNK, originally tried SRI to save water. After her success in adopting organic SRI methods, she has become a volunteer SRI trainer and has been featured in newspaper articles and a video. (Read Heenmenike's story.)
Oxfam Australia, which now promotes SRI with 400+ farmers in Sri Lanka, is also a supporter of the Sri Lanka's SRI Network (SRIN). SRIN, an active network since its establishment in 2008, continues to expand its membership; the network undertook three meetings during 2011 that were focused on regional establishment of demonstrations and long-term partnerships. International NGOs and several government departments have also become members and combined forces on SRIN activities. For example, the advocacy programme done at Anuradhapura focusing on home gardening and SRI was a result of a joint effort of the Ministry of Indigenous Medicine, World Vision Lanka Horowpathana, and OAU.
For more information, including the history of SRI in Sri Lanka, project documents, photos, and extension information, see our Sri Lanka page.
FEBRUARY 20, 2012
KENYA: SRI Farmers now
Turned into Trainers in Kenya!
With encouragement from Norman Uphoff to start SRI in Kenya, the first meeting to plan and introduce SRI was held at the Mwea Irrigation Scheme in July 2009, organized by Prof. Bancy Mati (at right) of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) and Markus Moeller (then the Irrigation Specialist at the World Bank office in Kenya). By the 2011-2012 cropping season, there were about 2,000 SRI adopters over four schemes irrigation schemes in Kenya.
In 2009, Mati and Moeller drew together some like-minded individuals to form a collaborative team comprised of staff JKUAT, three government ministries and numerous irrigation groups, the African Institute for Capacity and Development (AICAD), IMAWESA (then a network of ICRISAT funded by IFAD), the Kenya Dry Areas Project, Cornell University (USA), and farmers from the Mwea Irrigation Scheme.
The SRI initiative started out as a three-pronged approach combining: (i) scientific research on SRI, (ii) concurrent trials implemented by volunteer farmers within the Mwea Irrigation scheme, which would give farmer-level results, and (iii) capacity-building and outreach activities for farmers through targeted activities such as video conferencing, field days, posters, fliers, cross-learning with SRI experts, exchange visits, workshops and in the mass media.
In the first six months, August-December 2009, there were just two pioneer farmer-adopters, Moses Kareithi (at left) and Mathew Kamanu. These early adopters remember a time they were laughed at by fellow farmers, especially after transplanting. Scientific research began in 2009, and soon evolved into a three-year initiative. Within the same period, an aggressive awareness creation targeted non-adopter farmers through classroom training, video conferences, field visits to the two adopter farms, and even a women-only training session on SRI.
By May of 2010, over 30 farmers had planted part of their paddies using SRI practice. However, rice blast struck, destroying the precious yields expected. Mr. Johnson Muthii, the third farmer to adopt SRI in Mwea at the time (and also the Secretary of the Mwea Water Users Association), remembers harvesting only 10 bags (as opposed to the usual 25) of paddy per acre. But the 10 bags were still better than the 4 or even no bags obtained from plots managed under conventional practices. SRI farmers did not give up, and some, like Mr. Njoroge - Kahunduma, increased the area under SRI even after losing all their harvest to blast. And, importantly, not a single farmer who has adopted SRI has gone back to the old ways. Even with these problems, SRI gave higher yields.
Scientific Research on SRI
Scientific research has been carried out on SRI at Mwea, and other trials are on-going in Ahero, West Kano and Bunnyala Irrigation Schemes. The first SRI research project in 2009, a thesis in the Mwea Irrigation Scheme, determined that SRI increases yields, and that high-yielding varieties responded best. In 2010, the JKUAT Innovation fund provided seed funding for three years for research and outreach activities in Mwea, working in collaboration with the National Irrigation Board and AICAD. Several graduate theses have shown proven the benefits of SRI and additional research is underway by graduate students and staff of JKUAT, Mwea Irrigation Development Centre (MIAD), and recently Moi University. Related MSc. research has assessed the effects on mosquito survival rates in both SRI and conventional paddies and found that show that SRI water management breaks the mosquito breeding cycle and showing good prospects for malaria control. An emerging area of interest for further research is the connection between SRI and climate adaptation/mitigation. (See Mati's update for details.)
SRI goes national
The training and awareness creation campaigns through radio broadcasts, field days, press outings and SRI open days led to the National Irrigation Board's (NIB) provision of seed funding for a six-month capacity building on SRI to four irrigation schemes, i.e., Ahero, Bunyala, West Kano, and Mwea itself. An SRI Resource Centre was opened at MIAD within the Mwea scheme. Open every day, farmers and researchers find the databases and other information useful as well as the opportunity to interact with one another.
By the 2011-2012 cropping season, the approximately 2,000 SRI adopters in the four irrigation schemes showed improved yields-- up to 9 t/ha for the lower-yielding Basmati variety compared to 5 t/ha with conventional management, and over 17 t/ha for a high-yielding IR variety compared to 9 t/ha without SRI practices. Water savings as determined through research have ranged from 25% in dry weather to 33% in wet weather.
The Kenyan farmers and rice stakeholders are excited with SRI. A bag of SRI paddy weighs 10-20 kg more than that of conventional rice, mostly because of greater grain filling (fewer unfilled grains). When milled, the SRI rice has more whole grains (less breakage) so it sells faster, and earns more than conventional rice. It is interesting to see farmers who have not openly adopted SRI changing their behavior too. Some have reduced flooding of their paddies with water, while others are planting in lines and at wider spacing.
Weather event helps convince farmers
One event in November 2011 convinced many farmers that SRI is superior to conventional practice. There was heavy rain accompanied by a lot of wind. This was at the panicle initiation/grain-filling stages of the rice in the main crop season. All the conventional rice was badly affected, with plants falling to the ground (lodging). However, the SRI rice plants were resilient, remaining standing up while conventional plants fell down in the paddies and remained down for weeks, losing much of their crop. It was possible to tell which crop had been planted with SRI methods and which was not (see photos at right and left; click on photo to enlarge). As a result, SRI practice is set to become the way to grow more rice for greater food security.
Capacity building for farmers
Of the many training and outreach activities have been undertaken, the most effective has been rotating field days implemented at farmers' fields. Training of trainers (ToT) and farmer exchange visits in the four schemes have also been very useful.
The World Bank Institute funded two video conferences and two international SRI trainers, one from India and the other from Japan, who trained staff and farmers at several irrigation schemes. Other capacity-building initiatives supported by JKUAT and NIB Â include open days and various media events, particularly radio broadcasts in Kiswahili on national radio and paid local adverts in local languages (Kikuyu, Luhya and Dholuo) on local vernacular radio. SRI was also exhibited at provincial and the Nairobi International Shows.
While at least 3,000 farmers have been trained at various SRI training and awareness creation activities, tens of thousands of people have been reached in some way via the various mass media outlets such as radio broadcasts, newspaper articles, exhibitions at agricultural shows and JKUAT open days.
Farmers are becoming the SRI Trainers
One hundred fifteen farmers in the four irrigation schemes have been trained as Trainers of Trainers (ToT), the majority coming from Mwea. On January 30, 2012, an SRI field day was held in Mwea, as part of our regular training to reach the unreached. This particular SRI Field Day training was held at Wamumu, a block with quite a number of non-adopters, but even here, over 100 farmers attended. This time, the ToT farmers taught the seven components of SRI in the local language, answered all the questions, and conducted a truly interactive training session.
Since a majority of the farmers who have undergone SRI ToT are themselves educated, it is fair to say that the next generation of SRI trainers has been born, prepared and tested through their own SRI experiences. They are inspired speakers. Those who doubt this are invited visit Mwea. Anyone out there need an SRI trainer? We are ready! Welcome.
This feature was abstracted from a five page document by:
Prof. Bancy M. Mati
Professor of Soil & Water Engineering, & Director, WARREC
Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT)
P.O. BOX 62000, 00200 Nairobi, Kenya
For more information, including the history of SRI in Kenya, project documents, photos, etc., see the SRI-Rice Kenya page