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  A hat tip to Sam Knight over at Washington Monthly for picking up on a story in The Guardian by John Vidal.

Sumant Kumar was overjoyed when he harvested his rice last year. There had been good rains in his village of Darveshpura in north-east India and he knew he could improve on the four or five tonnes per hectare that he usually managed. But every stalk he cut on his paddy field near the bank of the Sakri river seemed to weigh heavier than usual, every grain of rice was bigger and when his crop was weighed on the old village scales, even Kumar was shocked.

This was not six or even 10 or 20 tonnes. Kumar, a shy young farmer in Nalanda district of India's poorest state Bihar, had – using only farmyard manure and without any herbicides – grown an astonishing 22.4 tonnes of rice on one hectare of land. This was a world record and with rice the staple food of more than half the world's population of seven billion, big news.

More below the Orange Omnilepticon

    Vidal's article in The Guardian does a good job of spelling out why this is worthy of interest.

What happened in Darveshpura has divided scientists and is exciting governments and development experts. Tests on the soil show it is particularly rich in silicon but the reason for the "super yields" is entirely down to a method of growing crops called System of Rice (or root) Intensification (SRI). It has dramatically increased yields with wheat, potatoes, sugar cane, yams, tomatoes, garlic, aubergine and many other crops and is being hailed as one of the most significant developments of the past 50 years for the world's 500 million small-scale farmers and the two billion people who depend on them.
        The things that make this of potentially global importance is that SRI does not rely on genetically modified plants, intensive chemical fertilizer use, pesticides or intensive mechanical cultivation to increase yields. From a climate change perspective alone, that's important because the last three items in that list all consume energy and produce green house gasses. It's a sustainable approach that grows more with less, including less water. Vidal links to the original observations that were followed up by researchers at Cornell. Wikipedia has a summary of SRI.

       SRI is being used around the world in over 45 countries. (pdf) There has been some controversy about how effective it is; Vidal suggests "turf wars" are a factor as SRI can be seen as a challenge to the energy and chemical intensive techniques of the Green Revolution and the philosophical approach behind it. There have been challenges to how well documented the reports of SRI gains really are, but there appears to be a growing body of evidence supporting it.

       There is also the fact that an approach rooted in changes to basic agricultural methods that appear to foster improved plant growth is not one likely to be favored by giant agribusiness corporations with no easy way to profit from it. That too may account for some of the resistance to SRI. Whether it can be adapted to the industrial farming methods prevalent in the United States is an interesting question.

    At the Cornell SRI website, here are the basic principles at work:

SRI methodology is based on four main principles that interact with each other:

• Early, quick and healthy plant establishment
• Reduced plant density
• Improved soil conditions through enrichment with organic matter
• Reduced and controlled water application

Based on these principles, farmers can adapt recommended SRI practices to respond to their agroecological and socioeconomic conditions. Adaptations are often undertaken to accommodate changing weather patterns, soil conditions, labor availability, water control, access to organic inputs, and the decision whether to practice fully organic agriculture or not. The most common SRI practices for irrigated rice production are summarized in the following section.

In addition to irrigated rice, the SRI principles have been applied to rainfed rice and to other crops, such as wheat, sugarcane, teff, finger millet, pulses, showing increased productivity over current conventional planting practices. When SRI principles are applied to other crops, we refer to it as the System of Crop Intensification or SCI (see SCI section of the website for details).

    The caveat appended to SRI as noted above is that it is not a "one size fits all" method, but one that has to be adjusted for the crops involved and the local conditions. Nonetheless, it's an approach that has the benefit of not requiring anything except instruction in how to carry it out, time to become proficient at using it, and willingness to make changes away from customary practices. The farmers in the Guardian article are working at subsistence levels or little better; it's making a huge difference for them.

        In the United States, application to the growing number of farms taking an organic, sustainable approach to farming, especially those tapping into the locovore movement might see some real gains from this. Those cultivating their own gardens or working in community plots might want to see how they can make use of SRI - SCI techniques as well. The Cornell website has a number of resources. They have contact information here.

   Spring is coming to the Northern Hemisphere. Time to be thinking about planting.

Originally posted to xaxnar on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 10:23 AM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.



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  •  Tip Jar (188+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    marina, jbob, FishOutofWater, Just Bob, Egalitare, hannah, Catte Nappe, Eddie L, PatriciaVa, LamontCranston, David54, blackjackal, justintime, 1BQ, etbnc, kevinpdx, wblynch, side pocket, the fan man, enhydra lutris, Anthony Page aka SecondComing, exNYinTX, flowerfarmer, RiveroftheWest, OldSoldier99, Habitat Vic, qofdisks, greycat, congenitalefty, cynndara, tobendaro, Lily O Lady, nio, subtropolis, flavor411, leeleedee, RJP9999, marleycat, AoT, Grandson named me Papa, Miss Jones, stormicats, Nebraskablue, liz, antooo, tonyahky, wdrath, FarWestGirl, helpImdrowning, old wobbly, DeminNewJ, nolagrl, Lorikeet, miss SPED, Larsstephens, happymisanthropy, Orinoco, One Pissed Off Liberal, cv lurking gf, jguzman17, OtherDoug, splashy, HeyMikey, gustynpip, Cassandra Waites, Aureas2, DontTaseMeBro, worldlotus, oldpotsmuggler, doingbusinessas, bloomer 101, nomandates, uciguy30, kerflooey, Brian82, freesia, AZ Sphinx Moth, Chaddiwicker, mamamedusa, ichibon, Ohiodem1, Best in Show, awhitestl, Gemina13, Liberal Thinking, Shockwave, just another vortex, pimutant, chantedor, Bob Duck, DanC, Aaa T Tudeattack, Bluesee, Regina in a Sears Kit House, Trendar, Nulwee, bluesheep, fumie, Lonely Texan, wasatch, WiseFerret, riverlover, Chi, nirbama, Steve Masover, DWG, Miniaussiefan, rapala, BoiseBlue, sunny skies, cordgrass, Kevskos, Yasuragi, Sychotic1, HamdenRice, Patrick Costighan, AreDeutz, GeorgeXVIII, petulans, PhilJD, sodalis, oortdust, Ice Blue, david78209, MKinTN, jfromga, Sun Tzu, PHScott, Pescadero Bill, cantelow, zerelda, Byron from Denver, figbash, cskendrick, Mrs M, thankgodforairamerica, DEMonrat ankle biter, codairem, catfishbob, bigjacbigjacbigjac, camlbacker, importer, Laughing Vergil, DBunn, tapestry, Robobagpiper, Radiowalla, semiot, chloris creator, Beetwasher, enufisenuf, Oldowan, DawnN, NYWheeler, No one gets out alive, FG, USHomeopath, certainot, OhioNatureMom, homo neurotic, Emerson, tacet, political mutt, ColoTim, onionjim, Matilda, ontheleftcoast, philipmerrill, Crider, GreyHawk, NoMoreLies, Rogneid, Aquarius40, Horsefeathers, greengemini, America Jones, livingthedream, Wino, 207wickedgood, zozie, nzanne, Batya the Toon, joynow, tofumagoo, trumpeter, bunsk, Another Grizzle, kurt

    Here's to green and growing things - and a better world for them and us.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 10:22:57 AM PST

  •  Interesting and with great resources. These (20+ / 0-)

    methods are carried out by farmers who love the land and who treat farming as both art and science.  The corporate farms won't move in that direction though because too much labor is involved.

    Building a better America with activism, cooperation, ingenuity and snacks.

    by judyms9 on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 10:36:26 AM PST

    •  Not just too much labor, but way too much for (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      OhioNatureMom, xaxnar, NoMoreLies

      corporate farming.  At least, it sounds that way.  For now.

      But we already have robot vacuum cleaners for our homes.  Maybe we'll invent robot weeding machines that run on solar power.  If some sort of marker that the robot could recognize were put next to each seedling, the robots would kill mostly weeds and spare the rice plants.

      We're all pretty strange one way or another; some of us just hide it better. "Normal" is a dryer setting.

      by david78209 on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 06:45:39 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  It would be trivial to build a robot that could (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Batya the Toon, david78209

        recognize rice plants. I've had this idea in mind for years.

        You don't even have to go pesticide free -- you could surgically spray (or even inject) small amounts of pesticide directly on the specific plants you want to kill. It would use a small fraction of the volume of pesticides currently used, and it would moot the debate over GMOs like Roundup-Ready this 'n that.

        To put the torture behind us is, inevitably, to put it in front of us.

        by UntimelyRippd on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 10:23:16 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  small-scale subsistence farming changes everything (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mmacdDE, greengemini, Another Grizzle

      Labor-intensive practices that are simple unfeasible (never mind profitable) for giant commercial farms become perfectly manageable when you're growing on small plots of land and plan on actually eating the food you grow.

      Something's wrong when the bad guys are the utopian ones.

      by Visceral on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 10:22:50 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  And it's very possible to have (5+ / 0-)

        Multiple ways of farming, depending on the size of the farm and the amount of labor available to work it.

        In developing countries, there are often more people to work the farm, or willing to do so, and the farms are often smaller, so a more labor intensive method wouldn't be out of place. As long as the harvest was good and the investment small, it would be a good fit.

        On a larger farm, where there are fewer hands to do the work, other methods might be more appropriate.

        Farming certainly isn't a one size fits all endeavor.

  •  It's consistent w organic farming principles (41+ / 0-)

    This is what many advocates of organic farming have been saying for years. Increasing the organic matter content of the soil improves yields and reduces water demands because it reduces water loss.

    It sounds like there may be some increase in labor to provide mulch and remove weeds. U.S. crops are often planted closely for weed control, but that can cause a loss of plant vigor.

    look for my eSci diary series Thursday evening.

    by FishOutofWater on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 10:40:46 AM PST

  •  Symphony of the Soil is a great film (21+ / 0-)

    about this and shows some of these farms. I just saw it Saturday night and was much impressed with large scale compost-making in India. Link.

    The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right. -- Judge Learned Hand, May 21, 1944

    by ybruti on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 10:46:06 AM PST

  •  Interesting (22+ / 0-)

    And while it differs from the Green Revolution approach, I'm pretty sure the late Dr. Borlaug would applaud it. He was more about ending hunger than about enriching the chemical companies. If the first can be done without the latter I think he'd be fine with it.

    "No one life is more important than another. No one voice is more valid than another. Each life is a treasure. Each voice deserves to be heard." Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse & Onomastic

    by Catte Nappe on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 11:12:52 AM PST

  •  What's really interesting is SRI - SCI (21+ / 0-)

    keeps becoming news. (This has been going on for a decade.) There is a turf war between scientists who see "nothing there" and others who claim the second coming. Perhaps, like organic farming, there is something there, but most agronomists don't want to see it (or dismiss it because not all growers can take advantage of it), or the claims are not what proponents make them out to be. What proponents don't talk about is why farmers fail using this method and go back to conventional methods, critics don't discuss why farmers adopt and stay with the system citing good yields.
    Anything that gives farmers resilience in the face of climate change and chemical input costs should be researched and offered as an alternative.

    Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree. -Martin Luther

    by the fan man on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 01:09:13 PM PST

    •  True Enough (15+ / 0-)

      But then the original green revolution unfolded over decades too. There is seldom an overnight success in this kind of effort. In the case of SRI it's not like they have a Monsanto publicizing the hell out of it or running ads on the Sunday talking head shows.

      "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

      by xaxnar on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 02:36:27 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I agree re publicity, but researchers at IRRI (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        miss SPED, wasatch, OhioNatureMom

        are not skeptical, they are downright dismissive, and this pissing match has gone on for like I said, a decade at least. IRRI isn't a Monsanto think tank.

        Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree. -Martin Luther

        by the fan man on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 03:19:57 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I suspect (17+ / 0-)

          that the pertinent problem is socialization.  The funders of IRI are Big Government and Big Education, established centers of "first world" convention, down to links with the World Bank and IMF.  They might not work for Monsanto, but they've been educated for lifetimes on established principles that emphasize large-scale planning and industrial production.  Their entire attitudes are going to be about how to bring small independent farmers "up" to the best practices defined by large-scale mass-production.  

          Mass-production has relied since the 19th century on reducing the use of labor by the substitution of capital and technology.  Its tradition derives from the conditions of the American Plains in the 1840's, where vast sweeps of unclaimed but marginal land were being claimed and worked by single families with limited manpower.  These ideas have always translated poorly to the Old World, where agricultural holdings tend to be divided into small plots worked by large families, with land tenure and water rights issues intricately assigned by rules that have been worked out over centuries.  But that doesn't keep western "experts" from continuing to impose their mental formula inappropriately onto those conditions, which results often in their insistence that traditional land-use patterns are the Problem, along with lack of capital (credit).  The result is often small farmers urged to go deeply into debt in order to "compete" by purchasing the latest in agricultural technology and inputs appropriate to conditions vastly different than their own.

          The SRI system seems to be very well-adapted to small-scale farming with intense knowledge and commitment from the owner-operator.  It would be a nightmare to apply to professionally-managed corporate farms worked by low-wage, exploited immigrant labor.  It substitutes hard work and proprietary attention to the welfare of crops and land for scarce capital, large acreage, and high technology.  This is in every way the opposite of modern agrobusiness adaptations.  Attempts to employ or test it in the absence of dedicated farmer/owners would be doomed to failure.  Even grad students would balk at the intensity of work and attention that would be necessary to implement these methods.  This kind of farming is not for amateurs.

          •  IRRI is adapted to small landholders. (7+ / 0-)

            In fact, that's their main clients. What we call small landholders and what is in the developing world is a completely different thing. Do any of us know that farmers can't legally own more than 2 hectares in India?

            Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree. -Martin Luther

            by the fan man on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 05:03:52 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Didn't know the legal limit, (10+ / 0-)

              no.  But I was aware that these farms are too small to be considered "farms" in America.  IRRI may consider itself to be serving small landholders, but according to their webpage their main funding comes from an organization called CGIAR.  Checking the CGIAR website, I find that the members of their board include a former economist with the World Bank, first-world government officials, prestigious university advisors, etc. -- all the kind of people who would have backgrounds in "accepted practices" and be likely to apply first-world assumptions to their evaluations of traditional methods.  Where SRI seems to have been intensively developed "on the ground" by local farmers in Madagascar with the outside help acting primarily as facilitators, your IRRI and CGIAR would be more likely to see themselves as "teachers" educating the locals on best practices.

              Again, paging through to the link on rotary hoes, I cannot imagine any of the people on the CGIAR Board actually taking off their shoes and pushing one of these innovative devices through a muddy rice paddy.  OTOH the notes on pros and cons of the equipment and the fact that they include CAD printouts for fabrication of the hoes demonstrates familiarity with actual conditions of use.  Again, I think this is not so much a matter of competition as comprehension.  Attitudes backed by social reinforcement evolve very slowly, especially among those who are accustomed to thinking of themselves as social superiors.

              •  You're overthinking this. SRI is a technique (5+ / 0-)

                oriented. IRRI is seed/genetics oriented.

                (SRI was created by a first world missionary based on observation of "unusual farmer practices" and has support from a prof at Cornell, which takes money from god knows where, doesn't make it bad.
                CGIAR and IRRI were created by Bourlag with financial support from Rockefeller, Bourlag certainly a guy who was up to his knees in dirt, as are IRRI scientists. By the way, GGIAR is very much opposed to the commercialization of genetic resources and has rebuffed Monsanto and other seed conglomerates repeatedly.)

                I'll say it again, if SRI offers farmers a way to get decent yields (the "highest" yield isn't necessary) with minimal inputs, great. Here's how you can tell if there is real conflict: if farmers cannot get loans or equip when utilizing SRI vs those who use IRRI's resources. THAT'S institutional bias and serious turf war.

                Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree. -Martin Luther

                by the fan man on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 04:52:44 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

            •  2 hectares is equal to 4.94 acres (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              JeffW, the fan man

              Who can own more than two hectares in India?  

              Renewable energy brings national global security.     

              by Calamity Jean on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 04:08:26 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Good question, but keeping farms that (0+ / 0-)

                small can limit potential. Right?

                Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree. -Martin Luther

                by the fan man on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 04:51:52 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  It makes it much less economic to use (0+ / 0-)

                  engine-driven equipment.  Hand work or an ox or water buffalo makes more sense on such a small farm.  In a densely populated country small farms are better.  

                  Renewable energy brings national global security.     

                  by Calamity Jean on Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 02:55:12 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  How small? How much money to make a living? (0+ / 0-)

                    Are these subsistence farms or surplus farms? Do they count on money derived from farming to make ends meet? What happens if more than one child's family wants to stay on the land?
                    I'm a small farm advocate, but there are limits to that advocacy. I understand why India created such a law, and I imagine there are many ways around it.

                    Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree. -Martin Luther

                    by the fan man on Thu Feb 21, 2013 at 04:38:57 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  The quote that started the diary says (0+ / 0-)

                      a farmer grew "22.4 tonnes of rice on one hectare of land", so the farm clearly feeds more than the farmer's family.  Obviously the farmer intends to sell most of that rice and use the money to buy other things.  

                      What happens if more than one child's family wants to stay on the land?    
                      That's a tough one.  I don't know.  

                      Renewable energy brings national global security.     

                      by Calamity Jean on Fri Feb 22, 2013 at 09:00:23 PM PST

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  Sorry CJ, I was thinking more universally, not (1+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:

                        re this method of rice production. The sibling issue is important, cities or rural industries have to be able to provide work. When two families divide the pot, it's not good.

                        Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree. -Martin Luther

                        by the fan man on Sat Feb 23, 2013 at 07:44:24 AM PST

                        [ Parent ]

  •  Proof we need the GOP (5+ / 0-)

    to produce fertilizer.

    You can't make this stuff up.

    by David54 on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 01:42:17 PM PST

  •  Bring on the green revolution. (12+ / 0-)

    We've had enough Farmageddon.

  •  Everything old is new again. nt (14+ / 0-)

    "The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?" ~Orwell, "1984"

    by Lily O Lady on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 04:25:57 PM PST

  •  Count on Monsanto to.... (16+ / 0-)

    ...sue them for infringing on their patent for having an original thought.

    Brilliant. Just brilliant. With water becoming the new 'Big Oil' and the center of our country quickly becoming a wasteland of drained aquifers and dead crops, this might  mitigate many of the water problems we will have very shortly.

    Water is the only issue that matters. Without water, there is NOTHING else.

    "Wealthy the Spirit which knows its own flight. Stealthy the Hunter who slays his own fright. Blessed is the Traveler who journeys the length of the Light."

    by CanisMaximus on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 05:45:06 PM PST

  •  Watch, Congress will outlaw it, because FREEDOM... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Shockwave, Sychotic1, OhioNatureMom

    as soon as agribusiness gets a whiff and finds it dangerous.... to their bottom lines... suddenly it will be dangerous to us all.

  •  I had no knowledge (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dicentra, OhioNatureMom

    It gives me hope.

    Daily Kos an oasis of truth. Truth that leads to action.

    by Shockwave on Mon Feb 18, 2013 at 10:07:19 PM PST

  •  Voted See my comment: Its good, it works, but... (14+ / 0-)

    By itself it isn't a revolution.

    The revolution in agriculture is coming from a change in perspective: a shift from chemistry trumps all to recognizing the sheer enormity of the biological tapestry that plants require to survive and thrive.

    SRI is a wonderful method, but even better is the adoption of new decision making frameworks. SRI can and should be a tool, but it shouldn't be separated from the years of research being done on the agroecological system.

    Applied by itself, SRI is just one step towards understanding plant needs. SRI is still planting in monocultures- which deprive the soil life of diverse root exudates. Also, depending on the size of the fields, the monocultures will always reduce the number of beneficial predators and thus still remain vulnerable targets for pests whose niche requirements are being met by the SRI plot.

    The revolution in agriculture is recognizing the drawbacks of any one method and applying multiple techniques with the help of an agroecological design framework to treat the land under one's care as a whole system set within the larger ecological context.

  •  I don't know, but my husband (not American) and (9+ / 0-)

    his father before him have been gardening on the basis of soil construction as the key to plant growth and productivity for decades already.  Sounds like something people have known all along, just scaled up.    

    The elevation of appearance over substance, of celebrity over character, of short term gains over lasting achievement displays a poverty of ambition. It distracts you from what's truly important. - Barack Obama

    by helfenburg on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 03:36:54 AM PST

    •  organic (4+ / 0-)

      Yes, it's called organic or biodynamic farming/gardening.  What's new is that this system is being applied, and is greatly successful, in a region that needs to increase yields to feed the poorest of the poor.  The alternative is to have a poor farming region dependent on agriculture giants that will pull the rug out from under their feet with dependency on patented seeds and costly chemical inputs.

      It's ironic that the Bill and Melinda Gates is shown as a sponsor on the Guardian section where the article is found.  They have been one of the biggest promoters, along with Monsanto, of forcing GMOs on the world.

      •  This is not why they want to increase yields (7+ / 0-)

        You wrote:

        in a region that needs to increase yields to feed the poorest of the poor.  
        This is a common misunderstanding about the economics of food and farming in places like India.

        The people in the position to increase yields, like the farmer described in the diary, are not the poorest of the poor. In fact, as the diary explains, his harvest was over 20 tons -- way more than his family could use. He, like many Indian farmers who could use this technique, is a commercial farmer. He wants to increase his yield so he can sell more rice and make more income.

        The poorest of the poor tend to be landless, and often are agricultural workers. They will not experience increased yield or increased income because they are not farmers and don't share in the increase in yields -- unless perhaps their wages increase.

        India already exports rice most years. Increasing yield will likely mean more exports, higher income for better off farmers, or more nutritious diet for those who can afford to buy more rice, or a more meat based diet as excess rice is fed to animals for slaughter.

        The danger of higher yields, however, is that higher yields mean more rice, which means greater supply, which means a fall in the price of rice, which means lower incomes.

        That's why in Europe and North America, farm support programs have often involved paying farmers NOT to grow more crops.

        It's impossible to tell what increased yields means for any rural person, but a good outcome would be that falling prices would allow the poorest of the poor to afford to purchase more rice, and because this technique is more labor intensive, might cause a rise in the demand for landless agricultural workers and a rise in their wages. But it is difficult to predict and it's never as simple as more food=more food eaten by the poor.

        To understand the problems of third world farmers, one needs to look beyond simple Malthusian explanations of scarcity and look at most of these farmers as small commercial enterprises which, for better or worse, is what they are.

        •  commercial enterprise (0+ / 0-)

          So as a small commercial enterprise owned by a poor farmer, increasing his yield by organic methods rather than by chemical inputs and patented seed would seem a good thing to me.

          Does he have a support program paying him not to grow rice?  How else will he support his family?  As you say, it's difficult to predict the future but for this farmer, right now, he is improving life for himself and his family.  While in other parts of India, farmers are committing suicide over the failures of GM crops.

          •  Your are correct on a micro level (0+ / 0-)

            Of course, if he can grow more rice without buying expensive chemical inputs, he will be better off.

            But if you read studies based on rural third world household "budgets" their biggest constraint tends to be labor ("there aren't enough hours in the day"). I'm just pointing out that people who already work 80-100 hours a week might not trade yet more hours weeding (because they aren't flooding the paddy fields) for increased yield. This new technique probably requires the hiring of agricultural workers. That's actually a very, very good thing given that the poorest of the poor are landless agricultural workers. But it isn't clear that they would make that choice.

            The other problem is that although an increase in yield is great for the farmer the first year he alone introduces it, new techniques tend to increase collective yield, which means more output and lower prices.

            I read a study about the green revolution in the Philippines a long time ago. Most farmers felt they were better off and upgraded their houses, but their complaints were (1) they had to work a lot harder and put in more hours and (2) after others adopted their new techniques there was a glut of rice and prices fell and they were back where they started in terms of individual income. They were growing much more rice with much more work and earning the same "salary".

            The study's conclusion was that the green revolution was great for the Philippines as a collective society because there was more and cheaper food. But for the farmers all it meant was growing more rice with more work for the same income. The study concluded that the farmers were the "heroes and victims" of the green revolution.

        •  small commercial enterprises vs. international (0+ / 0-)

          corporations, both want to make maximum profit out of their land ... if it is "their" land. The larger the corporations the less interested they are to think about those whose land they bought off or leased from.

          If a small commercial enterprise can't pay the lease for any additional land he wants to have to increase his output and profit, or if small farming enterprises can't be created anymore, because the land is gone and owned by "big boys", there is not even a discussion about what  farming methods to use, but how much the lease or the land costs.

          Organic farming too is mostly done because it's more profitable to the small farming enterprise.... and consumer can't afford to buy potatos at $ 6.00 per 5 pounds ... etc.

  •  I heard about this from an overseas (5+ / 0-)

    Kossack a few months back and was very impressed.

    Am even more impressed now.

    Great piece, xaxnar.  Thank you.

    "Throwing a knuckleball for a strike is like throwing a butterfly with hiccups across the street into your neighbor's mailbox." -- Willie Stargell

    by Yasuragi on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 04:45:37 AM PST

  •  Interesting point about paddy rice flooding (7+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xaxnar, MKinTN, Ice Blue, Mrs M, zett, mmacdDE, docstymie

    We've all seen countless images of Asian rice farmers standing in water halfway up to their knees transplanting or tending rice.

    This tends to make us think that rice has to be grown in swamp like conditions.

    In West Africa, where rice is a staple crop, it is almost always grown on dry land, and is sometimes called upland rice or dryland rice.

    Asians do not flood their fields because rice has to be grown in water. They flood their fields because rice is one of the few plants in their ecosystem that can grow in those conditions. In other words, flooding is used to control weeds and avoid laborious weeding, not because rice has to be grown in water.

    So this method is showing that there is a cost in productivity of growing rice in water. It actually does better with much less water.

    What this technique may not take into account is that rice farmers are not concerned only with maximizing the absolute amount of rice they grow. They want to maximize the amount of rice given their inputs -- including labor.

    It may be that rice farmers will look at the additional cost in labor of weeding that results from this method and say no thanks.

    Unfortunately, we in the West have been conditioned to think about farmers in third world developing countries solely in terms of Malthusian scarcity. That rarely is the problem. The problems are usually business problems, just like the problems faced by small enterprises in the West. As promising as this technique is, if the cost of weeding exceeds the yield, it isn't very useful to the farmers.

  •  I'm interested. I'd like to see some controlled (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    OhioNatureMom, docstymie

    tests with the same plants in the same soils, the same watering and light, done simply with differing distances between plants to see if there's some simple, repeatable correlation between at least a certain minimum distance between plants.  This seems to suggest that 'square foot gardening' would give worse returns than more widely spaced plants, since the only really different thing here is altering spacing between individual plants.  Everything else there is pretty standard for regular gardeners, if not the larger scale farmers.

  •  Maybe 9 billion of us will have enough to eat? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    HamdenRice, OhioNatureMom

    I think the latest UN estimate is that world population will top out a bit above nine billion in about 2040 -- and with every revision, the predicted top is lower and sooner.  

    About ten years ago I read that the world started growing enough food for everyone to get all the calories they need some time in the 1960's; and we started growing enough protein in the 1990's.  (Not that everyone got enough; that would have required perfect distribution.)

    If the UN estimates are correct, we needed one more 'green revolution' to grow enough for everyone.
    This may be a big part of that repeat green revolution.  

    Dayenu, dayenu.

    We're all pretty strange one way or another; some of us just hide it better. "Normal" is a dryer setting.

    by david78209 on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 06:37:17 AM PST

    •  Thanks for mentioning this (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      OhioNatureMom, david78209, mimi

      You are correct that we already grow enough food to feed everyone. India grows enough food to feed all Indians and exports food.

      As the Nobel Prize winning Anglo-Indian economist Amartya Sen (the first progressive after a long string of conservatives) famously wrote famine is not a problem of there not being enough food; famine is a problem of some people not having enough income to purchase the food that is available.

      Contrary to what the Malthusians continue to predict, we are on target for global population to top out somewhere between 9 billion and 12 billion. Given current technology, there is no doubt that we can grow enough food for everyone (the main threat being global warming, not land scarcity). The big question is whether the economic system will allow everyone, no matter how poor, to have enough income or entitlements to purchase the food that will be available.

      The main benefit of increased yields at this point isn't that it helps us grow "enough" food; it's that it helps us grow ever cheaper food, and higher quality food, so poorer and poorer people can afford to buy better and better food.

      •  "Land Grabbing" - Foreign Investors (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        HamdenRice, xaxnar

        buy or lease vast amounts of farmland in the Third World (and not only there, but increasingly in Germany as well - mostly for biogas production out of corn). There is no real concern about providing enough "healthy food" to the local population, but to increase profits alone.

        This graphic appeared in an article of "Der Spiegel" today:


        Isn't it "interesting" that 74% Gabon's farmland is owned by Singapore and the Ukraine for 66% by the US?

        I can't imagine that international corporations like to use SRI methods which are certainly difficult to mechanize on a large scale. In addition it's not only the international corporations in agri-business that have no incentives to engage in such farming methods, but biogas producers as well. They want their corn not to feed people's stomaches, but car's tanks. They want the land to themselves and get the highest profits out of their corn fields in the fastest manner.

        No way they would deal with "horse shit" to fertilize the soil....

  •  We can rest assured that the Monsantos of the (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    OhioNatureMom, cantelow, mimi

    ... world will look to crush this with sponsored "scientific studies" proving that this crop method leads to devastation.

    The scientists who work for huge multinationals in the genetically-modified seed/plant business are akin to the anti-climate change scientists funded by the Koch brothers, et. al.

  •  Regarding the locale-specific criticism (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    saluda, OhioNatureMom, cantelow

    They used to say SRI wouldn't work outside of Madagascar when it first came on the scene.

    I'm taking the wild guess that soil conditions in India and Madagascar haven't been approximate since the two land masses were much, much closer to one another back in the Jurrasic. :)

  •  Who own your seed (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    saluda, cantelow

    Lots of farmer are prohibited from replanting the seed ,that are left over from the harvest, it a guy is taking Monsanto too court ,because he used seed from someone eles harvest and planted them, Monsnato say it violate their patent on the seed ,even if they are from another harvest , i sometime get seed from  vegetable ,i buy at the supermarket and plant them,you could  get vegetable  that you would not ordinary plants ,because the unavailable  of the seed stock,You start a garden and reap  what you sowed and hopefully have a nice garden ,before it get to hot  too plant

  •  Well--as it turns out (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Radiowalla, saluda, zett, Visceral, docstymie, mimi

    John Vidal left out a lot of information.

    The seeds are from Bayer and Syngenta. And they are hybrids, so they are not open pollinated seed you can save and re-use.

    They used chemical fungicide.

    They used inorganic fertilizer.

    None of these things are wrong. It's just not "organic" or what it was represented to be.

    Topic: The Indian SRI record rice yields

    Just so you know you are celebrating Bayer/Syngenta, chemical pesticides, and fertilizers. I'm sure you'd want the truth.

    “I apologise ...for not making myself clear. I should have said that this new age drivel is undermining the very fabric of our civilisation --@ProfBrianCox

    by mem from somerville on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 08:01:30 AM PST

    •  Thanks. I'd gotten my hopes up (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mem from somerville

      that something more natural had worked, but it is better to know the whole truth even if it is disappointing.  I hope the diary gets an edit.

      •  Extraordinary claims.... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        zett, docstymie

        as they say.

        And I'm pleased farmers are getting high yields, and I fully support appropriate technology and inputs.  But it's unfair and potentially harmful to mislead them.

        “I apologise ...for not making myself clear. I should have said that this new age drivel is undermining the very fabric of our civilisation --@ProfBrianCox

        by mem from somerville on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 09:52:24 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Interesting, if true (0+ / 0-)

          So, 1) hybrid seeds 2) treated with a fungicide 3) and some application of fertilizer in addition to compost/manure.

          Does this mean you believe SRI is completely bogus, or do you see any value from it at all? You want an edit to the diary, you need to provide more info, and put it in context. Better yet, write one of your own.

          For example, did the farmers apply fungicide to the seeds, or was that how they were available from the supplier? Was the fungicide intended to promote better growth - or just to preserve seed stocks in storage?

          Hybrid strains of rice. So? Hybridization by itself is meaningless. Hybrids are grown all over the world for a variety of reasons, including disease resistance, taste, etc. etc. Is there something specific to the varieties grown here that invalidates what is being attempted with SRI?

          A single application of phosphate fertilizer, if I understand the comments at the link you provided, was made. How does the amount, application time, etc. compare to non-SRI rice cultivation? Did every farmer in the article use it, just a few? Your link isn't quite specific enough for that level of detail.

          Your sig line appears to indicate you have an antipathy to "New Age Drivel". Does this mean you consider the work being done through Cornell in that category?

          If the SRI story being told here isn't quite the accomplishment it appears to be, it still suggests farmers are getting higher yields from these techniques with little or no chemical applications, and less water use. They're spending less money to get them - or are they? Neither you nor the article address that. If nothing else, SRI looks like it has less energy-intensive fossil fuels costs associated with it, and that alone is a plus. What are the trade-offs in your view?

          "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

          by xaxnar on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 10:49:41 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  There is much controversy (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            over whether the yields are true or not with SRI systems. And how widely applicable it is. There is literature that can be explored, and you should feel free to do so.

            But it is very clear that this is not organic, period.

            Some people dislike hybrids because the seeds can't be saved. I think they are great--but you cannot grow the rice from the seeds these farmers used. They will need to go back to Bayer and Syngenta for them. Again, I have no problem with this--but don't pretend it's all kumbaya and not improved genetics.

            I would never withhold a technique or technology that farmers want to try. Only folks who want to withhold biotechnology are trying to do that.

            I am not clear what dispute you have with a sig file I've had for years. But I'm with Brian Cox on science and evidence. All the time.

            “I apologise ...for not making myself clear. I should have said that this new age drivel is undermining the very fabric of our civilisation --@ProfBrianCox

            by mem from somerville on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 10:58:53 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  I mentioned your sig line because (0+ / 0-)

              in this context it sounds as though you are completely dismissing everything connected with SRI as drivel. If you are, just say so. And telling me I am free to do more reading is pretty damn condescending.

              I note you don't have more than a perfunctory response to the questions I asked. You're not making a really good case for the  objections you have to the way SRI is being described in Vidal's article, or the concepts behind SRI. My impression is that A) you're not that impressed by SRI as you understand it, and B) you appear to think people are blindly falling all over themselves to see what they want to see about it. That's why I suggested you might want to write a diary spelling out your problems with SRI and the reaction to Vidal's article a bit more clearly.

              You do seem to be making a good case for being taken for an authoritarian who's just a little too impatient with lesser beings. If you're trying to win friends and influence people, you're doing it wrong.

              "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

              by xaxnar on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 03:01:43 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Do you not read much? (0+ / 0-)

                That would explain your uncritical take from the media sources on the topic too I guess.

                But ICYMI:

                And I'm pleased farmers are getting high yields, and I fully support appropriate technology and inputs.
                But you are free to misinterpret that to match your needs.

                The fact is you were lied to, I understand that and why it's hard to take. Vidal's piece was designed to make people think what they did. It's not entirely your fault.

                It is your fault if you spread that misinformation after you have further facts.

                And I couldn't be happier that you support quality seeds from BigAg, chemical fungicides, and inorganic fertilizer use to obtain high yields.

                Again, feel free to misinterpret that happiness to suit your needs.

                “I apologise ...for not making myself clear. I should have said that this new age drivel is undermining the very fabric of our civilisation --@ProfBrianCox

                by mem from somerville on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 03:57:28 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Finally you come right out and say it. (0+ / 0-)

                  If you thought Vidal's piece was full of lies, why didn't you just say so up front, instead of snark and insinuations?

                  You do seem to be making a good case for being taken for an authoritarian who's just a little too impatient with lesser beings. If you're trying to win friends and influence people, you're doing it wrong.

                  "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

                  by xaxnar on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 04:22:57 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Um, you do miss a lot. (0+ / 0-)
                    John Vidal left out a lot of information.
                    That was the first text in the body of my first comment.

                    But the lie I was referring to was the Washington Monthly one:

                    boosting yields to record levels through a completely organic technique
                    I have written to Sam with the information I've given you too. But he told me he only posts on weekends so can't fix it now.

                    I don't expect to influence you--I think you have made it clear are uninterested in the facts. I did it as a public service for other readers. Some people prefer facts.

                    “I apologise ...for not making myself clear. I should have said that this new age drivel is undermining the very fabric of our civilisation --@ProfBrianCox

                    by mem from somerville on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 04:28:52 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  You have some good points possibly... (0+ / 0-)

                      but you're doing a terrible job making them.

                      I'm not uninterested in facts - which is why I keep urging you to write all this up in a diary for one thing - but apparently you know so much more about this than I do (which is entirely possible) and there is so much in it that offends you, you're having a hard time dealing with it other than on a very emotional level.

                      If you have enough time and energy to keep responding to this, you certainly have enough time to take a deep breath, calm down, and start putting together your arguments in a coherent fashion that even a credulous person like myself could follow. If you believe Vidal's article was completely bogus, explain why you think so. If you have problems with SRI or Organic Farming, ditto, since they seem to be relevant to this. If you have an issue with the Washington Monthly report, spell it out.

                      Otherwise, I'd suggest you shorten that quote from Cox to just the first sentence.

                      "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

                      by xaxnar on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 05:16:18 PM PST

                      [ Parent ]

  •  Even if True it will not solve hunger (0+ / 0-)

    We already know what happens when you increase the food supply to third world countries because we have it done it multiple times with new farming techniques. You temporarily lower hunger issues and then you get a population explosion and you end up with even more hungry people.

    We will never solve world hunger with more food. We need to bring down population levels. But that isn't going to happen in third world rural areas as we have being trying to do that for years as well. The only solution is to raise education levels which lead to modernization which eventually leads to lower reproduction levels and less hunger.

    •  Well, one way to get there.... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      HamdenRice, Batya the Toon to increase food security for those populations. The less time and effort they have to put into feeding themselves, the more time they have for things like more education.

      "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

      by xaxnar on Tue Feb 19, 2013 at 10:51:52 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Absolutely false (0+ / 0-)

      There is no evidence that human populations behave like lemming populations in the post birth control world.

      Increasing food supply, maternal and child care, reducing infant mortality, etc., all DECREASE birth rates. When people feel secure that their one child or two children will survive, they almost invariably choose to have fewer children.

      Birth rates are plummeting to replacement rates all over the world even as food security increases all over the world.

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