In the small North East Indian state of Tripura, System of Rice Intensification (SRI) has grown to develop into an innovation system where various stakeholders have come together to make the state self-sufficient in rice production. The lessons learnt from the SRI innovation systems in Tripura, if applied to similar crops and contexts, would definitely prove to be a model for development and prosperity.
Extension, which was originally thought of as a part of the “knowledge triangle” of research, education and extension has broken free of the stereotyping to help farmers to organize themselves, linking farmers to markets and some complementary parts such as environmental and health information services. The innovation systems perspective relies on all the factors responsible for development, dissemination and use of knowledge while putting emphasis on the relationship of stakeholders who do so. Agricultural Innovation Systems is the “new generation” of development model which emerged through policy debates in developed countries in the 1970s and 1980s. It is a network of diverse group of actors that voluntarily contribute knowledge and other resources to jointly develop or improve a social or economic process or product.
The concept of innovation has changed in recent times from a research driven process to an interactive process with much broader range of activities among the stakeholders. The term stakeholder is believed to be invented in the early 1960’s as a deliberate play on the word “stockholder” of publicly-held corporations or one with a “stake” in the game is one who plays and puts some economic value at risk. Stakeholders are individuals and institutions that are concerned with or have interest in what they have stake in. Being affected by the project, they have a power to be a threat or benefit to it and may have a moral and in cases, non-negotiable right to influence the outcomes or simply may have a democratic right to be involved in the project.
System of Rice Intensification: A socially driven innovation
Innovation in Agricultural Innovation Systems (AIS) is viewed in a social and economic sense and not purely as discovery or invention and System of Rice Intensification (SRI) is a good example. It has been a unique paradigm in AIS in more than one sense. Developed by a Jesuit priest, disseminated by individual and organizations of both agricultural and non-agricultural background, the research on SRI was conducted much after the practice was developed and all this has been a fully interactive process among all the agricultural practitioners, extension professionals, research scientists and diverse other functionaries directly and indirectly related to SRI. In all, the stakeholders have played an important role in the whole process and it’s mostly their interactiveness and participation at various levels and degrees that have made SRI a success worldwide.
In India, SRI was first introduced in a civil society organization, Annapoorna Farms of Auroville in Pondicherry in southern part of the country in 1999. In 2000, it was carried to Tamil Nadu state of India though articles published in magazine LEISA (Low External Input Sustainable Agriculture) where its spread was mostly led by the Government agencies. In Karnataka state of India, SRI dissemination was led by a network of organic farmers’ community and civil societies and in Andhra Pradesh, one farmer has played a prominent role. In West Bengal and Jharkhand, civil society has played key roles in popularising SRI. The exception has been Tripura where the state extension system has taken SRI to both the doorstep of rural households and to the policy makers’ desk.
Agricultural Innovation Systems in SRI in Tripura
In a small state of 10,492 sq. km. area, only 27% of the total area of the state is cultivated of which a mere 4% is irrigated. Rice is the principal crop of the state – both in terms of production and consumption and the livelihood security of a majority of the farmers depends on it. Since SRI has taken the form of a mass movement in Tripura state, the present study was taken up to understand the involvement and contribution of different stakeholders in the state that has made SRI a people’s movement. The study also tries to understand the support structures existing in the state that helped the dissemination of SRI in the state and helped increase the innovativeness of the stakeholders.
For the study, two out of four districts of the state were selected- West Tripura and Dhalai Tripura. West Tripura district, with all the agricultural research and extension organization headquarters and the state capital Agartala, has the highest area under rice and SRI (42% of the total SRI area). Dhalai Tripura identified as one of the country’s 250 most backward districts has the lowest area under rice and SRI (7% of the total SRI area) in the state. Rice being the principal crop of the state, is cultivated in three seasons – Aush (April – June), Aman (July – November) and Boro (December – March). While in West Tripura rice is preferably cultivated in Aman and Boro, in Dhalai Tripura Aush and Aman are preferred due to scarcity of water in Boro.
Six stakeholder organizations were studied from each district along with sixty six farmers.
Working with various stakeholders
The public organizations, farmers and media have been the main stakeholders of SRI innovation systems in the state. Department of Agriculture, Government of Tripura (DoA, GoT) has been the lead actor in the system with technical support from Indian Institute of Rice Research (ICAR-IIRR), Telengana, India and financial and policy support from Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India. After introducing SRI as a tool to gain self sufficiency in rice in the state, the department has taken much interest in the method and has diverted a lot of available resources for promotion of SRI in the state.
The Department of Agriculture, the major promoter of SRI in the State has a very efficient intra-organizational linkage. It also shares a good relationship with the research wing (SARS). State Agricultural Research Station (SARS), Government of Tripura, which initiated SRI in the state by conducting field trials and conducting demonstrations with the extension system has mostly been involved in research and providing technical support to the extension personnel since then. SARS looks after the R&D aspect of SRI and the extension functionaries receive regular updates from SARS to make their working more efficient. SARS has moved beyond its R&D activities, to become a key advocate of policy changes required to support and sustain SRI innovation systems.
The department involves PRIs, when needed, for implementation of any policy or programme, as they are closest to the rural people. The decentralized democratic administrative units, the Panchayati Raj Institutions have taken special interest in SRI. PRIs share good relationship with the DoA as it selects the beneficiaries for different project implementation. Farmers and SHGs, being part of the rural infrastructure, are closely related to the PRIs for any assistance. The SRI beneficiaries in the villages are selected by the village panchayat rather than DoA, selection of community extension workers (Farmers Friend) is done by the Panchayats, disbursement of funds for subsidised machineries, making provision for irrigation, etc. is done through the PRIs. Being village level units they have better understanding of the situation and needs of the farmers and hence are in a better position to take decisions. The suggestions of the PRIs are taken up by the Planning Section of DoA to implement them at the village level.
The DoA has been maintaining a very good relationship with the SRI farmers through the extension functionaries and has been taking care of their information and resource needs. The department has a good relationship with the SHGs in the West, while it is fair in Dhalai. This is so because the numbers of SHGs in West were much higher than in Dhalai.
Krishi Vigyan Kendra or Farm Science Centre, Dhalai Tripura, under the host organization Directorate of Agriculture, Government of Tripura also played an important role in Dhalai district to disseminate the technology. Though recently introduced in SRI innovation systems, its high interest has already made it an important stakeholder in the state. The resources allocated to the Farm Science Centre are distributed according to the requirement of the institution and it has full control over the decisions made and this made it an important stakeholder in the SRI innovation systems in Dhalai district.
Media is working on their own for public interest, through extensive publications and broadcasts. Media (newspapers, TV channels, Akashvani Agartala radio station), as one of the stakeholders in SRI innovation systems, undertook extensive coverage of SRI (2-3 articles on SRI each month; publication and broadcast of interviews of successful farmers and extension personnel; success stories of farmers of the state and programs and articles about technology and economic and sustainable aspects of SRI). This created awareness among agriculture and rural development administrators (the ministers and officials of Government of Tripura), policy makers (at all the administrative levels in the state), political leaders, extension personnel and farmers.
The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) Research Centre for NEH Region, Tripura Centre was also initially involved in research and dissemination of SRI in the state, which has now shifted to other research as the adoption has gained a self-sustaining momentum among the farmers.
Farmers, their relationship with other stakeholders
Farmers have been the most important stakeholders of SRI in the state. Even though they have been basically receivers of the technology, but their high stake in the whole innovation system, and enthusiasm and ready acceptance has made SRI a big success in the state. Also, farmer to farmer extension has been the major driving force in the SRI movement in Tripura that has helped the social innovation get traction in the state.
The farmers received strong information support from the department, other farmers and the PRIs and medium support from the SHGs. The farmers had poor relationship with ICAR-RC for NEH Region, Tripura Centre and SARS. In the village, the VLWs are considered as the most credible source of information on SRI and the farmers depended on them for all their information needs. Other than that, they also receive assistance from the Agricultural Extension Officers and the Krishak Bandhu. Since the Panchayat selects beneficiaries for SRI, the farmers stay in close contact with the Panchayat for any assistance and also for other necessities like subsidised machineries for intercultural operations, pump sets for irrigation, etc. Other than that, every 3-4 days in a week, the farmers sit together in informal gatherings in the villages and exchange information among them. Farmers of Dhalai shared a good relation with the KVK as the KVK personnel visited the farmers’ field once or twice a week to keep in touch with them. But farmers of West Tripura district did not have any direct link with the SARS which was more closely involved with the extension personnel.
The better educated farmers were found to visit the VLW office and Panchayat Office at least once a week to collect information regarding SRI and other aspects of farming. Almost every day they have been found to meet up with other farmers in the evening and discuss farming related queries. Farmers with a regular water source were more inclined to SRI, thus depending on other farmers, extension personnel and media for information. Farmers had more inclination towards staying informed through connections with different sources regarding new technologies and government schemes and subsidies aimed towards farmers. Most of the respondents were solely dependent on agriculture and hence were more eager to get information regarding SRI by maintaining a good relation with extension personnel and fellow SRI farmers.
Policy and support structure
Policies and support structures that have been existing in the state since the introduction of SRI gave farmers the courage to take up SRI. Earlier they thought it was a huge risk to take up SRI. Also with increasing support from the government to SRI, which made rice cultivation more remunerative, farmers were keen to switch over to SRI paddy. Major support came from various programmes like Perspective Plan of Government of Tripura, Macro Management in Agriculture (MMA), Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) and recently introduced National Food Security Mission (NFSM). During the initial stages of SRI in the state, the fund for research and promotion was received from MMA till RKVY funds were allocated for the purpose in the year 2008-2009. The NFSM fund is being utilized for SRI since 2011-12.
SRI has spread among the farmers of the state at a very fast rate. Large scale adoption which started in 2006 with 1000 farmers, increased to 70,000 in a mere two years (Uphoff, 2008). As of 2014-15, 92,341 ha area is under SRI and the target is to reach 100,000 ha by 2020. SRI has transformed the way rice was cultivated in the state and the whole process involved efforts from several quarters of extension, research, and decentralized grassroots level governance bodies.
The stakeholders are central to any innovation systems and their actions ultimately decide its success or failure. In the case of SRI in Tripura, the extension mechanism, decentralized grassroots level administrative units, and media became the driving force in making SRI a successful innovation in the state and a major aide in achieving self-sufficiency in rice grains.
MANAGE Fellow at Centre for Agricultural Extension
Innovations and Reforms,
National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management
Director (Agricultural Extension),
National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management