A major advantage of SRI is that it gives low-income farm families a basket of benefits that enables them to improve their quality of life and economic status. SRI helps improve food security and requires less water and fewer seeds. It favours organic fertilisation, results in plants that are stronger, more resilient to extreme weather and more resistant to pests and disease. As a knowledge-based system, it also costs nothing to adopt.
In addition, and key factors in the work of SRI4Women, the impacts of SRI include improved health and nutrition, especially for women, diversified farms, improved incomes, a lighter workload for women and the preservation of rice biodiversity. The methodology also has important implications for adapting to and even mitigating climate change.
Improved Food Security
SRI produces higher yields, at least between 20% and 50%, and often yields of 100% or more. As this works with all kind of rice varieties, old and new, it allows farmers more options and profitable opportunities for the use of heirloom varieties, thereby preserving them and making greater biodiversity profitable. With higher yields from rice, farmers not only improve their food supply and income but they are often able to take some land out of rice and use it to grow higher value cash crops or diversify their production with fruits and vegetables, which improve nutrition. With more income from reduced production costs and/or income from selling rice, families can also enhance their diets with higher quality foods, especially proteins.
SRI plants can thrive with 30-50% less water than is recommended and applied with conventional production methods which keep rice plants constantly flooded. Water savings with SRI of as much as 84% have been recorded (2). The conventional pumping of water onto fields from streams and wells also necessitates the additional cost of fuel.
With SRI management farmers use 70-90% fewer seeds. This can result in a major cost savings if they are purchasing seed in the market, and a major reduction in labor, as it takes less time to manage the fewer seeds, from sowing to transplanting. Also, since so many fewer seeds are required, this leaves more rice for the family to consume. These are significant benefits that have real impact on the lives of people who sometimes cannot grow enough food for the entire year and who struggle to earn enough to achieve even a basic standard of living.
Organic vs Chemical Fertilisation
While organic fertilisation gives better agronomic and economic results with the practice of SRI, it is not an essential requirement. Nonetheless, it is highly recommended to enrich the soil biota and produce the nutrients and soil conditions that plants need to thrive. Healthy soils are also more effective at retaining water. Over-use of synthetic fertilizers in agriculture is leading to degradation of soils and water quality worldwide, and runoff from fields can create dead zones in water bodies and devastate fish and aquatic life.
SRI plants have stronger root systems. The reduced competition among plants, together with the aerated and organic matter-enriched soils creates stronger plants above and below ground with larger, deeper root systems that can resist drought and extreme temperatures better. Also, increases in beneficial microbial activity and processes have been recorded in the SRI plant-soil environment, which are key for improved plant performance and productivity. Due to the deeper and larger root systems, SRI plants have greater resistance to damage from storms, being less likely to lodge (fall over) than conventionally grown rice. Lodging and storm damage can devastate a family’s food supply and income source.
Pest & Disease Resistant
Stronger and healthier rice plants are less susceptible to pest and disease attacks. Given the much lower plant density with SRI, less humidity builds up within the plant canopy as air can circulate more easily among the plants. This provides pest and diseases with a less favourable environment compared to densely-planted and continually-flooded conventional rice paddies (Karthikeyan et al. 2010; Kumar et al. 2007; Visalakshmi et al. 2014). This eliminates the need for costly pesticides, which can be hazardous to people and the environment. Many farmers implementing SRI have seen fish and frogs return to streams and canals after they stop using synthetic pesticides.
SRI practices require no purchased inputs or resources not readily available in communities. The knowledge is open source. Thus the method is easily shared, farmer to farmer. Once farmers understand the principles behind SRI they can and have adapted it to many other crops, such as wheat, tef, sugarcane, mustard, potatoes, and millet.