The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) is a set of agroecological practices for growing rice and addresses some of the most urgent social and environmental issues confronting us this century, such as food security, water scarcity, climate change and gender equality.
SRI was initially developed in the early 1908s, to raise yields in Madagascar where rice was cultivated on marginal lands and where farmers could not afford fertiliser, good quality seeds, or pest control. Since then, an estimated 18-20 million farmers across 60 countries have adopted some or all of the SRI practices. Its spread has been very much grassroots-driven, through farmer-to-farmer knowledge sharing, supported by the global NGO community. It has spread because SRI has proven to be such an effective tool for improving food security and incomes and redressing some of the negative consequences of the Green Revolution.
There are still some sceptics among scientists, researchers, and farmers themselves. Many still adhere to the principle that “the more you put in, the more you get out”; they find it hard to believe that it is possible to get more from less. But there is a growing body of data and experience showing that with SRI management, cultivating rice (and other crops) yields more by using less seed (wider spacing), less water (no continuous flooding), and fewer or no agrochemical inputs (chemical fertiliser and pesticides). SRI methods cost farmers less, and SRI crops are more resilient to the stresses of changing weather patterns and extreme weather events. There is even evidence accumulating that SRI methods of crop management enhance the concentrations of micronutrients in the grain.
SRI therefore does not require expenditure on inputs, but relies on better use of available resources. Farmers need not buy agrochemicals, contract debt, or generate income away from their communities. And in addition to improved food security, SRI brings with it time and land savings that permit the establishment of vegetable crops and other nutritious food sources. This approach helps to preserve local ecosystems, biodiversity and economic autonomy as groups can maintain independence. Women, who play a central role in family farming and global rice production, are especially advantaged by the implementation and benefits of SRI.