The origins of SRI
Among the many ideas of Sustainable Agriculture floating around, System of Rice Intensification (SRI) is one method that stands out for successfully dealing with not just environmental and water management concerns in rice cultivation, but also provides farmers a cost effective method of increasing their yields and producing crops which are more resistant to unpredictable weather patterns.
In 1961, Henri de Laulanie, a French Jesuit priest with a passion for agriculture, moved to Madagascar to help the local farmers improve their existing agricultural practices, particularly with rice cultivation, as rice was the staple food on the island. There, he built an agricultural school, providing vocational training to the young farmers in the area. Over the next 34 years Laulanie gathered invaluable experience in the field, making observations and gathering information that would later come in great use during the synthesis of SRI.
In 1983, the Malagasay farmers were struggling with drought conditions. Henri de Laulanie and a few young farmers studying at his school began what turned out to be a 20 year long process of perfecting a new method of growing rice which saved water, enriched the soil biota, strengthened the crop against the ravages of unpredictable climate change, and increased yield. Developed outside of the established institutions of academia and research, SRI is still struggling to receive acceptance within the academic and research society, who dispute its extraordinary results as they are often not published in peer reviewed publications. However, despite some scepticism from academia, word of SRI spread beyond the shores of Madagascar, and since 1997 over 100,000 farmers, mostly in South East Asia have adopted SRI.
SRI came to India only in 2000, rather late compared to other rice producing nations like Thailand and Cambodia who had got onto the SRI train a few years earlier. Beginning in Tamil Nadu, and spreading with greater success in Andhra Pradesh, government agencies, well-informed individual farmers and NGOs began experimenting with SRI from 2002. However, as there is no centralized institution or organization working specifically to experiment, educate and inform farmers across the country about SRI, each state has charted their own individual paths, experimenting with SRI to adapt it to the specific requirements of each locality. The lack of a central institution to promote SRI means that in most places across rural India, civil society organizations have taken the responsibility of educating marginal and poor farmers, who will most benefit from SRI, about it.