Working miracles in Nepal's non-GM rice fields (28/9/2005)

1.Less is more: working miracles in Nepal's rice fields


One of the interesting aspects of this article from Scidev.Net (item 1) is the nature of the surprise about the high yields obtained:

"It sounds too good to be true. After all, this is not a high-yielding variety of genetically modified rice but the normal local variety, mansuli."

The joke is that there have been no GM crops successfully engineered for increased yield - just questionable claims of indirect yield gains plus consistent reports of yield losses.

By contrast there is good evidence of truly remarkable yield gains being achieved through new sustainable approaches to cultivation in the developing world.

As a New Scientist editorial pointed out more than 4 years ago:

"Low-tech 'sustainable agriculture,' shunning chemicals in favour of natural pest control and fertiliser, is pushing up crop yields on poor farms across the world, often by 70 per cent or more... The findings will make sobering reading for people convinced that only genetically modified crops can feed the planet's hungry in the 21st century... A new science-based revolution is gaining strength built on real research into what works best on the small farms where a billion or more of the world's hungry live and work... It is time for the major agricultural research centres and their funding agencies to join the revolution." - New Scientist editorial, February 3 2001

Four years on, those research centres - with their corporate and misdirected public funding - continue their hostility to low-tech solutions and continue their steadffast promotion of a corporate agenda.

Of nowhere is that more true than the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), mentioned below (item 1). For more on the IRRI: http://www.lobbywatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=296

1.Less is more: working miracles in Nepal's rice fields
Kunda Dixit
SciDev.Net, 15 September 2005

[image caption: "Why didn't my ancestors think of it?" asks Ananta Ram Majhi]

Dan Bahadur Rajbansi is planting rice seedlings on his farm near Nepal's border with India, 300 kilometres southeast of Kathmandu.

The monsoon rains came late to Nepal this year and many farmers delayed transplanting their rice seedlings from nursery beds to paddy fields.

But Rajbansi was ready. He is one of a dozen farmers in Morang district testing a new method of planting rice. It is reported to boost harvests without requiring farmers to flood their fields or use chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

It sounds too good to be true. After all, this is not a high-yielding variety of genetically modified rice but the normal local variety, mansuli.

Bumper harvests

The secret lies in the cultivation method: the seedlings are transplanted when they are only two weeks old instead of at six weeks. Instead of being flooded, the field is drained. And the seedlings are planted farther apart - while a normal paddy field needs 50 kilograms of seed per hectare, the new method uses less than ten kilograms.

Yet because each seedling produces many more shoots than when planted conventionally, the harvest can more than double.

"I thought, how can this be?" says local agriculture officer Rajendra Uprety, recalling first reading about the technique on the Internet. He decided to test it out. "Since 2002, we've achieved double and triple harvests on test plots. It's just amazing."

Ananta Ram Majhi, another of Morang district's rice farmers, admits he was sceptical. "Initially, I thought to myself, if this is such a great idea why didn't my ancestors think of it?" he says, wading ankle-deep in mud to prepare his next field. "But I decided to take the chance and this is my third year using the new method."

Majhi used to harvest five tonnes per hectare, but is now getting at least twice as much. He has achieved those yields with only one-third of the seeds he used before and with less water.

News of the amazing harvests spread quickly from Morang district, where about 100 farmers have adopted the new method. Uprety brings farmers from other districts there on inspection visits. "Actually, it has been more difficult convincing the agronomists and officials than the farmers," he laughs.

Sceptical scientists

It hasn't been easy to convince international scientists either. Agriculture research institutes have been doubtful ever since Henri de Laulanie, a French Jesuit priest in Madagascar, devised the new method in 1983.

It was only after the International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development at Cornell University in the United States started pushing the idea that it was taken seriously.

The System of Rice Intensification (SRI), as it is now called, has been tried and tested in about 20 countries, from Cuba to China.

Tens of thousands of farmers have adopted the method in the few years since researchers introduce it in Cambodia. There, as in India, Laos, and Sri Lanka, farmers report that SRI means bigger harvests and better incomes, for fewer seeds and less water.

But critics say that scientific evidence for such claims is lacking. Most field trial results have, for instance, not been recorded in detail and published in peer-reviewed journals

Can 'rice intensification' feed the world?

When researchers

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