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Cultivating paddy - the SRI way


Nation Building Minister Salinda Disanayake

Sri Lanka was known to be a country self-sufficient in food as we had a good agricultural background. Fortunately everyone has realized about the value of agriculture for the development of the country. More than 70 percent of Sri Lankans earn their living from farming.

Of them, 56 percent of people are engaged in paddy cultivation. Most of them have to face lot of difficulties when growing paddy.

They have problems of land, seeds, water, fertilizer, production cost, sales and profit. Many farmers all over Asia have already identified low-input, sustainable solutions to the problem. One simple method that boosts the rice yield at a lower cost is originated outside Asia.

The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) developed in the late 1980s in Madagascar, has been spreading to other parts in Africa and Asia. Nation Building Minister Salinda Disanayake who introduced the SRI system to Sri Lanka spoke to The Daily News on the benefits of the new system.

“As a farmer I am interested in using organic fertilizer. Today, many people are suffering from varies diseases like diabetes and kidney diseases. The main reason for this is use of chemical fertilizer.

Sri Lankans earn only subsistence in farming. As the production cost is very high they couldn’t earn much profit. When I was searching for methods of using organic fertilizer for paddy cultivation, I heard that Madagascar farmers were using a new method of paddy cultivation without using chemical fertilizer. SRI was developed nearly 20 years ago by Father Henri de Laulanie, a Jesuit priest who worked with farmer communities in Madagascar from 1961 until his death in 1995.


SRI paddy field


Ploughing. Pictures google.com

He promoted the use of organic compost over chemical fertilizer, so that poor and rich farmers alike could practise SRI. Despite its early start in Madagascar, SRI had its roots in other countries since 2000. In 1997, Norman Uphoff, a political scientist and director of the International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York introduced this system to Asian countries,” he said.

He explained the method of applying SRI. Firstly, seedlings are transplanted in 10 days after germination, singly as opposed to two to three seedlings, and spaced up to six times apart compared to traditional practice.

This represents a substantial saving on seeds, up to ten-fold or more in some cases. The increased spacing has the effect of encouraging tillers or side shoots to develop quickly, giving more rice-forming shoots per plant.

Secondly, the fields are kept moist during the most of the growing season instead of being flooded continuously.

This saving on water is particularly important to areas experiencing water scarcity and prevents from being damaged due to salination that accompanies over-irrigation. It also encourages vigourous root development, which in turn promotes more vigourous growth of the rice plants.

Thirdly, no herbicides are used. Weeding is done with a simple rotary hoe, which returns the weeds to the soil as green manure. This financial saving is offset by increased labour, but labour shortage is seldom a problem for farmers in the Third World, and weeding becomes less arduous in successive years. Giving up herbicides is a health bonus for all concerned: the farm worker most of all, and the consumer; and there is no pollution of the environment and ground water.

Fourthly, no mineral fertilizers are used, only liberal application of organic compost.


Difference between SRI and non SRI plants. Right - SRI

This financial saving is accompanied by an improvement to the quality and fertility of soil, reducing runoff and improving its water-retaining properties.

He said: “I personally tested SRI in my own paddy field of a little more than two acres for four seasons, using seeds of various varieties.

I got the highest yield of 17 tons per hectare with BG358, a variety developed by the Sri Lankan paddy researchers.

Even with local varieties such as Rathhel and Pachchaperumal, which usually yield much lower harvest as two tons per hectare, an impressive yield of eight tons per hectare and 13 tons per hectare was obtained.

I became the third person who reaped the highest harvest in the world. We can apply this method to cultivate sugar cane and kurakkan too.”

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