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Learning from the up-scaling efforts

Large scale upscaling of SRI among small and marginal farmers requires collaborative efforts among various actors promoting SRI. Adopting this approach, SDTT which has played a major role in spreading SRI has been able to reach more than 1.5 lakh farmers in the last six years. This was made possible by working with NGO partners in field implementation, collaborative research with research institutions and influencing the state and national governments in integrating SRI in mainstream programmes.

Demonstrating SRI as a means to attain household food security

Demonstrating SRI as a means to attain household food security

Rice is the staple food of India. The country has the largest area under rice (44 million ha) accounting for 29% of the global rice area. India is the world’s second largest producer accounting for 20% of world rice production.Although introduction of advanced technologies during the green revolution has increased production, it has also increased input costs. A saturation point has reached and rice productivity has become almost stagnant. Further increase in inputs does not have significant impact on productivity.

At this juncture, there arises a need for a low cost and eco friendly practice which would increase productivity in a sustainable manner. System of Rice Intensification (SRI) is one of the answers to this impending situation. SRI methodology is a set of simple farming practices and was introduced in India a decade back. This innovation has been established as having potential to meet the food needs of poor, small and marginal farmers.

SDTT and SRI

Involvement of Sir Dorabji Tata Trust (SDTT) and allied Trusts, Mumbai, in SRI promotion dates back to 2006, when the Trust piloted the methodology with a couple of partners under its existing livelihood program. The number of partners increased to five during 2007 with a coverage of 11,000 farmers.

The appreciable success of the initial years and encouraging studies of the report presented by Dr V. P. Singh, an eminent rice scientist, prompted the Trust to start a full-fledged program on System of Rice Intensification (SRI) in 2008.

This program was launched as part of the Trust’s strategy to address the issue of food security at household level in rainfed areas for small and marginal farmers. The other salient features of the program includes demonstrating at the State level to establish SRI as a means to attain household level food security, mainstreaming SRI through effective policy advocacy, facilitating interaction amongst different players and promoting and encouraging innovations in the SRI methodology for wider replication.

Table 1: Programme coverage
Particulars 2006-07 2007-08 2008-09 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 (Kharif)
States Covered 2 7 8 10 11 11 6
Districts Covered 14 18 82 104 109 94 67
No of Partners 2 5 127 161 143 127 65
No of Farmers 11,000 14,000 37,000 65,043 90,436 150,082 128,229
Total Area in Acre 8,140 21,544 27,184 47,247 69,093
Avg area coverage (Acre) 0.22 0.33 0.30 0.31 0.54

Programme Spread

The first phase started with coverage of eight States during 2008 with a budget allocation of Rs. 10.94 crores spread over three years. Eighty two districts were covered in the states of Uttarakhand, Maharastra, West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. The number of NGO partners then was 127 reaching around 37,000 farmers.

The first phase started with coverage of eight States during 2008 with a budget allocation of Rs. 10.94 crores spread over three years. Eighty two districts were covered in the states of Uttarakhand, Maharastra, West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. The number of NGO partners then was 127 reaching around 37,000 farmers.

Based on the positive results of an evaluation study of the SRI Program during the year 2009-10, the Trust decided to extend the SRI program to the second phase of implementation during 2010-13.

Moving on to the second phase

The second phase of the program started during 2010 with a budget allocation of Rs. 23.91 crores spread over 3 years. The number of states covered during this phase increased to 11 with the inclusion of Uttar Pradesh. The second phase was launched with an objective of scaling up to reach a critical mass, advocacy at state level for mainstreaming the program and promoting SRI principles on other crops.

During the initial year of this phase i.e. 2010, the program could reach to 90,436 farmers across 109 districts through 143 partner organizations. Subsequently during 2011, the farmers increased to 150,082 covering 47,247 acres. During kharif 2012, the program could reach to 128,229 farmers with 69,093 acres through 65 partners spread over 6 states. The year wise detail of the program coverage is given in Table 1.

The partner organizations and farmers undoubtedly have come up with innovations in development of low cost weeders and markers that diversified the spread and adoption of SRI. All the SRI principles or a part there-of being applied in other crops such as wheat, finger millet, mustard, sugarcane, pulses and vegetables has been found useful in enhancing the productivity of the crops. Farmers practices have been consolidated into a booklet “Growing crops with SRI principles”.

A study conducted in Kharif 2010 revealed that the average grain productivity in SRI method (4.68t/ha) is 38.87% more as compared to that of conventional method (3.37 t/ha) and 44.89% more than the National average (3.23t/ha). Similarly, the straw productivity in SRI method (5.10t/ha) is 38.21% more than that in the conventional method (3.69t/ha).

The study was done by taking a sample of 5,000 farmers data from 8 states covering 7 major agroclimatic zones of India. Considering the above incremental yield in SRI over conventional practices, it can be calculated that a six member farm family having daily rice consumption of 2.5kg and practicing SRI in 0.5 acre have got 69 additional days of food security. Another study during Kharif 2009 done with sample data collected from 482 fields across 7 states, revealed the superior performance of SRI over conventional methods, even in water stress conditions.

On farm Research

Demonstrating SRI principles in wheat
Demonstrating SRI principles in wheat

In addition to SRI extension, the program has concentrated on onfarm research directly through the partner organizations and collaborative research along with the State Agricultural Universities. Accordingly, during 2009, we came up with a compact research plan involving various research scientists and practitioners.The research plan with 10 research aspects was implemented in the field of six selected partner organization in different agro climatic zones. The research plots in the farmers’ fields have been monitored by the professionals from SRI secretariat, partner organization and by local agriculture scientists.

Apart from on-farm research, from 2011 the Trust also initiated on-station trials on SRI involving Bidhan Chandra Krishi Viswavidyalaya (BCKV), West-Bengal. Also, research on impact of System of Rice Intensification (SRI) on soil nutrient status in Rice-Wheat cropping system of plains (Gaya, Bihar) and mountain region (Uttarakhand) is being undertaken.

Mainstreaming initiatives

The major objective of the Trust is oriented towards mainstreaming SRI in government programs. The initiative taken up by the partner organizations has got diverse response from various state governments. The initiative of the governments of Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha in promoting SRI through various state government programs is encouraging. The state governments of Manipur and Chhattisgarh have also taken initiatives to popularize the farmer friendly concept of rice cultivation.

The success of SDTT in SRI promotion has also motivated NABARD to take up a full-fledged parallel program on SRI. NABARD has been replicating SDTT SRI Model through NGO partners from Kharif 2010 with a budgeted allocation of Rs.16 crore across three years. System of Rice Intensification is thus gradually evolving, as more and more actors are showing interest and making earnest efforts to promote SRI for the benefit of the farming community of the country.

To enable knowledge exchange, SDTT launched a SRI India Egroup during 2009 encompassing all prospective SDTT partners on SRI and also roping in noted SRI practitioners, eminent academicians and distinguished researchers to participate in this cyber forum (see page 8 for details). The E-group currently boasts of almost 500 members and is a noteworthy arena for exchange of ideas and experiences of the SRI movement in our country. A bimonthly update is regularly published which summarizes the discussions and sharing in the group.

Learning from our attempts at up-scaling SRI

1. The SRI program could spread to reasonable scales due to presence of state level nodal agencies. Organisations like Peoples’ Science Institute (PSI), Professional Assistance for Development Action (PRADAN), Society for Promotion of Wastelands Development (SPWD), Rongmei Naga Baptist Association (RNBA), Rajarhat Prasari and Centre for World Solidarity (CWS) have taken important role to reach out to smaller agencies and creating an alliance of CSOs for spreading SRI.

2. Working in the policy front both at the central government and state government levels, has been very crucial for making SRI acceptable beyond the CSO boundary. The civil society organizations partnering with the Trust have taken lots of initiatives in streamlining and broadbasing the scope of SRI with mainstream government programs like Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY), Farmers Technology Transfer Fund (FTTF) etc.

3. As SRI is more a knowledge based system, rather than pure technology perfection, the knowledge dissemination to the enduser level is very crucial. During the SRI journey, after much experimentation, an emerging pattern which has been successful in the extension work has been as follows:- one Village Resource Person (VRP) is engaged with SRI 50-60 farmers directly. There is a local Skilled Extension Worker (SEW) who works with 15-20 VRPs (thus working with 750- 1200 farmers depending on the topography and population density, etc). In addition, there is a Subject Matter Specialist (SMS) who oversees 3 SEWs for quality control and skills upgradation. Though modelled on the SRI Program, this can be replicated for any agricultural extension. The Bihar government has already taken this up for its National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) program.

4. In the areas inhabited by small and marginal farmers with limited resources and under rainfed conditions, the challenge of popularizing SRI is enormous. Unless a significant incremental return from the SRI endeavour is assured for a poor farmer, continuing with SRI will remain a big challenge. This is particularly true while dealing with marginalized farmers. Thus, a tipping point has to be found whereby a farmer gets convinced about viability of SRI in a sustained manner.

5. Technology innovation in the form of making appropriate weeders and markers available locally at an affordable price is very crucial for up-scaling SRI. Collaboration with innovators like Krishi Gram Vikas Kendra (Jharkhand) and International Development Enterprises, India (IDEI) has been very useful.

Way forward

Keeping in view the positive feedback and suggestions from the review team comprising of experts from agriculture and management encouraged the Trust to continue the SRI program for another 5 years with a budgeted allocation of Rs. 43.18 crores. This phase will focus on collaborative research involving various state agriculture universities and mainstreaming SRI. During this phase, importance will be given on SRI promotion through institutional development. The third phase will focus only on six intensive states namely, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Assam and Manipur.

Conclusions

SRI is gaining popularity among farming communities because the practice involves little capital investment during the initial adoption stage. We observed a wide variation in the way farmers practiced SRI, with the majority of the adopters using the system in only a portion of their farms. The main advantages of SRI include yield increment, increase in water productivity, reduced demand for cash inputs and improved seed quality. In addition to these private benefits, SRI embodies added societal or environmental benefits due to reduction in the use of chemical inputs such as herbicides and fertilizers.

Up-scaling SRI across the country would require a change in the mindset of farmers, and initiatives by the government in popularizing this farmer-friendly paddy cultivation practice. Collaboration of Government and Civil Society Organizations could be more successful in enhancing the adoption of the methodology among the small and marginal farmers. Delineating the areas suitable for SRI cultivation should be done to avoid failure.

Training of farmers and agricultural professionals is the need of the hour and special drive is necessary from the planners to prepare a SRI map of India giving location specific recommendations to make SRI a culture in paddy cultivation.

Biswanath Sinha and Tushar Dash

Biswanath Sinha
Senior Program Officer, Sir Dorbaji Tata Trust and the Allied Trusts, Mumbai.
E-mail: bsinha@sdtatatrust.co.in

Tushar Dash
Executive Director, Livolink Foundation, Bhubaneswar.
E-mail: tushar.ht@rediffmail.com

Knowledge Networking

The SRI-India Google Group

System of Rice Intensification being a knowledge-intensive approach requires several knowledge exchange mechanisms for extending the elements and dynamics towards wider adoption of the methodology. Some of the prominent efforts in dissemination of the SRI method in India have been organizing symposiums, workshops, establishing websites and publishing documents and newsletters towards supporting and developing policy framework. The LEISA-India magazine itself played a crucial role in highlighting this sustainable innovation since the early days of its spread in the country.

Over the decades, the importance of information sharing networks has gained importance for researchers and practitioners in many disciplines, including agriculture. Information sharing networks help create an indispensible dynamic system that enables researchers investigate patterns of data and information towards enabling an entire online social environment. Quite notable in this context has been the emergence of electronic networking forums like the SRI-India Google Group.

The SRI-India Google Group is an online network promoted during October 2007 under aegis of the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust and allied Trusts, Mumbai – a leading philanthropic organization that has been playing a key role in promoting SRI in India. The aim was to create a discussion forum on SRI where farmers, civil society practitioners, researchers, scientists, agricultural experts and others interested could collectively participate in a valuable information service system on SRI in India.

The SRI-India group has been playing a key role in disseminating SRI knowledge and stimulating practice at the national level. It actively engages in understanding the ecological processes involved and towards developing variety of best practices. It has engaged itself in matters concerning local and traditional knowhow of agricultural systems as well as on organic farming and other forms of sustainable agriculture.

The group has based discussions substantiated from members’ experiences, who have been extrapolating SRI principles to important crops like wheat, sugarcane, rapeseed, finger-millets, vegetables and to several other crops. The group persistently embraced emerging ideas towards harnessing the same from a larger socio-economic perspective. It is worth mentioning that the frontiers of knowledge-sharing have not just been limited to SRI but has encompassed broader issues on food security and in the context of climate change. Several fascinating cases on SRI propping-up from regional level studies and experiences have found place for wider debates. The group regularly publishes a bi-monthly update that summarizes discussions and other happenings at this network. These updates are readily accessible at http://sdtt-sri.org/discussion-groups

By enabling discussions and mail exchanges on various aspects of SRI, the group facilitated establishing collaborative synergies among key stakeholders. The electronic group has provided a remarkable opportunity for the hundreds of NGO practitioners under the SDTT supported SRI programme to remain abreast on SRI developments and simultaneously share experiences from grassroots.

While critics would argue that most of the communication and discussions in an electronic group concerning a phenomenon like SRI would actually be among persons who may not always be the end users of the information, however, experiences from the SRI-India Google Group suggests otherwise. There are countless instances where farmers have derived benefits from grassroot level issues stemming from SRI practice and challenges, which were inclusively debated and discussed in the forum.

Cognitive dimensions like knowledge are critical for comprehending an innovation like SRI to make use of relevant factors affecting its application, use and adoption in more sustainable ways. Unfolding the spread of information exchange serves as an important means to propagate a knowledge-based innovation like SRI. Today, the SRI-India network symbolizes a landmark configuration that functions with an assorted set of actors representing diverse backgrounds who have come together to share experiences and learn from each other with the prime mandate to advance this sustainable innovation.

For membership in SRI-India please write to: E-mail: sriindia+owner@googlegroups.com.

Anibrata Biswas

Livolink Foundation A-39, Nilakantha Nagar, Near Debroy College, Nayapalli, Bhubaneswar -751012, Odisha
E-mail: livolink@gmail.com