#SRI #AgrarianCrisis #RiceRevolution
In a villager in India’s poorest state, Bihar, farmers are growing world record amounts of rice – with no GM, and no herbicide. Is this one solution to world food shortages?
Sumant Kumar was overjoyed when he harvested his rice last year. There had been good rains in his village of Darveshpura in north-eastIndia and he knew he could improve on the four or five tonnes per hectare that he usually managed. But every stalk he cut on his paddy field near the bank of the Sakri river seemed to weigh heavier than usual, every grain of rice was bigger and when his crop was weighed on the old village scales, even Kumar was shocked.
This was not six or even 10 or 20 tonnes. Kumar, a shy young farmer in Nalanda district of India’s poorest state Bihar, had – using only farmyard manure and without any herbicides – grown an astonishing 22.4 tonnes of rice on one hectare of land. This was a world record and with rice the staple food of more than half the world’s population of seven billion, big news.
It beat not just the 19.4 tonnes achieved by the “father of rice”, the Chinese agricultural scientist Yuan Longping, but the World Bank-funded scientists at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, and anything achieved by the biggest European and American seed and GM companies. And it was not just Sumant Kumar. Krishna, Nitish, Sanjay and Bijay, his friends and rivals in Darveshpura, all recorded over 17 tonnes, and many others in the villages around claimed to have more than doubled their usual yields.
The villagers, at the mercy of erratic weather and used to going without food in bad years, celebrated. But the Bihar state agricultural universities didn’t believe them at first, while India’s leading rice scientists muttered about freak results. The Nalanda farmers were accused of cheating. Only when the state’s head of agriculture, a rice farmer himself, came to the village with his own men and personally verified Sumant’s crop, was the record confirmed.
A tool used to harvest rice. Photograph: Chiara GoiaThe rhythm of Nalanda village life was shattered. Here bullocks still pull ploughs as they have always done, their dung is still dried on the walls of houses and used to cook food. Electricity has still not reached most people. Sumant became a local hero, mentioned in the Indian parliament and asked to attend conferences. The state’s chief minister came to Darveshpura to congratulate him, and the village was rewarded with electric power, a bank and a new concrete bridge.
That might have been the end of the story had Sumant’s friend Nitish not smashed the world record for growing potatoes six months later. Shortly after Ravindra Kumar, a small farmer from a nearby Bihari village, broke the Indian record for growing wheat. Darveshpura became known as India’s “miracle village”, Nalanda became famous and teams of scientists, development groups, farmers, civil servants and politicians all descended to discover its secret.
When I meet the young farmers, all in their early 30s, they still seem slightly dazed by their fame. They’ve become unlikely heroes in a state where nearly half the families live below the Indian poverty line and 93% of the 100 million population depend on growing rice and potatoes. Nitish Kumar speaks quietly of his success and says he is determined to improve on the record. “In previous years, farming has not been very profitable,” he says. “Now I realise that it can be. My whole life has changed. I can send my children to school and spend more on health. My income has increased a lot.”
What happened in Darveshpura has divided scientists and is exciting governments and development experts. Tests on the soil show it is particularly rich in silicon but the reason for the “super yields” is entirely down to a method of growing crops called System of Root Intensification (SRI). It has dramatically increased yields with wheat, potatoes, sugar cane, yams, tomatoes, garlic, aubergine and many other crops and is being hailed as one of the most significant developments of the past 50 years for the world’s 500 million small-scale farmers and the two billion people who depend on them.
People work on a rice field in Bihar. Photograph: Chiara GoiaInstead of planting three-week-old rice seedlings in clumps of three or four in waterlogged fields, as rice farmers around the world traditionally do, the Darveshpura farmers carefully nurture only half as many seeds, and then transplant the young plants into fields, one by one, when much younger. Additionally, they space them at 25cm intervals in a grid pattern, keep the soil much drier and carefully weed around the plants to allow air to their roots. The premise that “less is more” was taught by Rajiv Kumar, a young Bihar state government extension worker who had been trained in turn by Anil Verma of Professional Assistance for Development Action, an Indian NGO which has introduced the SRI method to hundreds of villages in the past three years.
While the “green revolution” that averted Indian famine in the 1970s relied on improved crop varieties, expensive pesticides and chemical fertilisers, SRI appears to offer a long-term, sustainable future for no extra cost. With more than one in seven of the global population going hungry and demand for rice expected to outstrip supply within 20 years, it appears to offer real hope. Even a 30% increase in the yields of the world’s small farmers would go a long way to alleviating poverty.
“Farmers use less seeds, less water and less chemicals but they get more without having to invest more. This is revolutionary,” said Dr Surendra Chaurassa from Bihar’s agriculture ministry. “I did not believe it to start with, but now I think it can potentially change the way everyone farms. I would want every state to promote it. If we get 30-40% increase in yields, that is more than enough to recommend it.”
The results in Bihar have exceeded Chaurassa’s hopes. Sudama Mahto, an agriculture officer in Nalanda, says a small investment in training a few hundred people to teach SRI methods has resulted in a 45% increase in the region’s yields. Veerapandi Arumugam, the former agriculture minister of Tamil Nadu state, hailed the system as “revolutionising” farming.
SRI’s origins go back to the 1980s in Madagascar where Henri de Laulanie, a French Jesuit priest and agronomist, observed how villagers grew rice in the uplands. He developed the method but it was an American, professor Norman Uphoff, director of the International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development at Cornell University, who was largely responsible for spreading the word about De Laulanie’s work.
Given $15m by an anonymous billionaire to research sustainable development, Uphoff went to Madagascar in 1983 and saw the success of SRI for himself: farmers whose previous yields averaged two tonnes per hectare were harvesting eight tonnes. In 1997 he started to actively promote SRI in Asia, where more than 600 million people are malnourished.
“It is a set of ideas, the absolute opposite to the first green revolution [of the 60s] which said that you had to change the genes and the soil nutrients to improve yields. That came at a tremendous ecological cost,” says Uphoff. “Agriculture in the 21st century must be practised differently. Land and water resources are becoming scarcer, of poorer quality, or less reliable. Climatic conditions are in many places more adverse. SRI offers millions of disadvantaged households far better opportunities. Nobody is benefiting from this except the farmers; there are no patents, royalties or licensing fees.”
Rice seeds. Photograph: Chiara GoiaFor 40 years now, says Uphoff, science has been obsessed with improving seeds and using artificial fertilisers: “It’s been genes, genes, genes. There has never been talk of managing crops. Corporations say ‘we will breed you a better plant’ and breeders work hard to get 5-10% increase in yields. We have tried to make agriculture an industrial enterprise and have forgotten its biological roots.”
Not everyone agrees. Some scientists complain there is not enough peer-reviewed evidence around SRI and that it is impossible to get such returns. “SRI is a set of management practices and nothing else, many of which have been known for a long time and are best recommended practice,” says Achim Dobermann, deputy director for research at the International Rice Research Institute. “Scientifically speaking I don’t believe there is any miracle. When people independently have evaluated SRI principles then the result has usually been quite different from what has been reported on farm evaluations conducted by NGOs and others who are promoting it. Most scientists have had difficulty replicating the observations.”
Dominic Glover, a British researcher working with Wageningen University in the Netherlands, has spent years analysing the introduction of GM crops in developing countries. He is now following how SRI is being adopted in India and believes there has been a “turf war”.
“There are experts in their fields defending their knowledge,” he says. “But in many areas, growers have tried SRI methods and abandoned them. People are unwilling to investigate this. SRI is good for small farmers who rely on their own families for labour, but not necessarily for larger operations. Rather than any magical theory, it is good husbandry, skill and attention which results in the super yields. Clearly in certain circumstances, it is an efficient resource for farmers. But it is labour intensive and nobody has come up with the technology to transplant single seedlings yet.”
But some larger farmers in Bihar say it is not labour intensive and can actually reduce time spent in fields. “When a farmer does SRI the first time, yes it is more labour intensive,” says Santosh Kumar, who grows 15 hectares of rice and vegetables in Nalanda. “Then it gets easier and new innovations are taking place now.”
In its early days, SRI was dismissed or vilified by donors and scientists but in the past few years it has gained credibility. Uphoff estimates there are now 4-5 million farmers using SRI worldwide, with governments in China, India, Indonesia, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam promoting it.
Sumant, Nitish and as many as 100,000 other SRI farmers in Bihar are now preparing their next rice crop. It’s back-breaking work transplanting the young rice shoots from the nursery beds to the paddy fields but buoyed by recognition and results, their confidence and optimism in the future is sky high.
Last month Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz visited Nalanda district and recognised the potential of this kind of organic farming, telling the villagers they were “better than scientists”. “It was amazing to see their success in organic farming,” said Stiglitz, who called for more research. “Agriculture scientists from across the world should visit and learn and be inspired by them.”
A man winnows rice in Satgharwa village. Photograph: Chiara GoiaBihar, from being India’s poorest state, is now at the centre of what is being called a “new green grassroots revolution” with farming villages, research groups and NGOs all beginning to experiment with different crops using SRI. The state will invest $50m in SRI next year but western governments and foundations are holding back, preferring to invest in hi-tech research. The agronomist Anil Verma does not understand why: “The farmers know SRI works, but help is needed to train them. We know it works differently in different soils but the principles are solid,” he says. “The biggest problem we have is that people want to do it but we do not have enough trainers.
“If any scientist or a company came up with a technology that almost guaranteed a 50% increase in yields at no extra cost they would get a Nobel prize. But when young Biharian farmers do that they get nothing. I only want to see the poor farmers have enough to eat.”
“Nalanda District (Bihar) – World Record SRI yields” (page Nos. 1 to 10)
Author(s) by M.C. Diwakar, Arvind Kumar, Anil Verma and Dr. Norman Uphoff
Experimenting with SRI cultivation, five farmers of Darveshpura village in Bihar attract considerable attention with their bumper yield; the results indicate a viable alternative to the conventional methods of growing rice and other crops.
See on page 1 to 10 (http://www.pradan.net/images/
NEW DELHI, MAR 20:
A gram panchayat in Nalanda district of Bihar has surpassed the Chinese record of paddy production, the Union Agriculture Minister Mr Sharad Pawar informed Parliament today.
“As per the reports received from the state government, the yield of wet paddy has been recorded at 22.4 tonnes per hectare and that of dry paddy at 20.16 tonnes a hectare in the district of Nalanda, Bihar…,” Mr Pawar said in a written reply to Lok Sabha.
The record yield was achieved under demonstration on System of Rice Intensification (SRI) which was organised at farmer’s field during kharif 2011, he added.
“It has surpassed the yield of 19 tonnes per hectare which was recorded earlier in China,” Mr Pawar said.
This rare feat has been achieved by Darbespura panchayat in Katri Sarai block of Nalanda, which is also native district of the Chief Minister Mr Nitish Kumar.
India is estimated to have produced a record 102.75 million tonnes of rice in the 2011-12 crop year (July-June).
On incentives provided to increase paddy output, Mr Pawar said the government has been providing financial assistance of Rs 3,000 for organising demonstration of 0.4 hectare each on SRI under National Food Security Mission-Rice (NFSM-Rice) in identified districts of 16 states.
The states included Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Gujarat, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and others.
Similarly, under the sub-scheme “Bringing Green Revolution in Eastern India” of Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojna (RKVY), rice crop promotion programmes including SRI are being extended to farmers in the seven states namely Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Eastern Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
Submitted on 01/05/2012 – 12:29:35 PM
Patna: The Bihar Agriculture cabinet has set up a Resource Management Group (RMG) to raise Rs 1.52 lakh crore to give a boost to the farming in the state in the next five years. The RMG headed by Chief Secretary Navin Kumar has been assigned to oversee the implementation of the agriculture road map for Bihar.
The RMG would be authorized to arrange the fund for the state plan, central and private sources besides financial institutions. A. K Sinha, state agriculture production commissioner said that the private sector would invest a whopping Rs 23,746 crore in agriculture.
After the fifth meeting of the agriculture cabinet, Sinha said that the department would start consultations with the farmers seeking their suggestions on various agriculture aspects from February one next.
The interaction programme with the farmers would be organised by the state government in Patna on February 1 in which more than 2000 farmers were expected to turn up.
Under the agriculture roadmap it was estimated that the state would spend Rs 26,000 crore during 2012-2013 and Rs 30,000 crore between 2013-2014, Rs 32,000 crore during 2014-2015, Rs 34,000 crore between 2015-2016 and Rs 31,000 crore during 2016-2017, Sinha added.
Sinha further said the state government has proposed to invest Rs 14,000 crore for boosting agriculture production, Rs 10,000 crore on electricity and Rs 36,000 crore for expansion of rural road network in next five year
Letters to PM on crop trials
|OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT|
Patna, Nov. 7: Three NDA MPs from Bihar — C.P. Thakur of the BJP, Jai Narayan Nishad and Anil Kumar Sahani of the JD(U)— have written separate letters to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressing concern over reports of Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) bill being introduced in the winter session of Parliament.
They have sought an intervention to stop the process in the interest of farmers. “I have strong objections to it being infringement on the authority of the state on matters related to agriculture and health,” said Thakur in his letter. He also objected to the fact that the proposed bill would be tabled by the ministry of science and technology when it should have been under the ministry of environment or health.
Jai Narayan Nishad, in his letter, has pointed out that seven states — Bihar, Bengal, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Kerala — have already objected to genetically modified crop trials. “You must also be aware that during the Bt Brinjal debate, 13 states had objected to the approval for its commercial cultivation,” Nishad said, adding that the bill and its provisions are going to leave behind a large impact because the livelihood of most of the people of the country depends on agriculture.
He has also expressed apprehensions about degradation of environment resources and serious changes in crop because of GM crops. “I believe you will agree that regulatory regime that does not pay attention to these issues, bio-safety-related as well as those beyond bio-safety, will only benefit the industry and fail our vast majority of poor,” Nishad said.
Sahani in his letter stressed that he has found the contents of the proposed bill “too centralised and thereby contradictory to the principle of decentralisation of governance”, he remarked recalling that the Bihar government had not only objected to the trial of genetic seeds within its state but also apprised the environment ministry of its strong objection to GM field trials. He urged the PM to take public opinion through debates and invite critical inputs before the bill is introduced in Parliament.
Chief minister Nitish Kumar has been in the forefront of objecting the proposed bill. A few months ago, he had written letters stressing that the proposed bill infringes on the rights of the state and that there was no provision for timely compensation to the farmers should the GM seeds fail.
He had been swift to oppose GM seed trial in Sabour and had expressed shock that the trials should have been done without the consent of the state government.
Posted: Fri Jul 01 2011, 01:40 hrs
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has termed the proposed seed bill as a “black” bill, saying it does not safeguard the farmers’ interests and will increase the domination of multi-national seed companies in the country.
In a letter to Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, Nitish cited his state’s “bitter experience of private hybrids” in maize in December 2009-10 on account of “non-formation of grains”. The private companies had disowned their responsibility, he said, and the state had to step in to provide assistance, taking on an extra burden of Rs 61 crore. “The problem of the non-setting of grains was not observed in public sector hybrids,” he stated further.
While Nitish has outrightly rejected the bill in its present form, farmers of the agro-based state aren’t so vehemently opposed to it. Reason: The hybrid seed varieties assure them of a good yield even as they cost them a pretty penny. In the event of crop failure, however, they all look at the government for compensation.
At the Lagma panchayat of Kosi region’s Saharsa — which is one of the biggest maize growing districts along with Khagaria, Madhepura and Supaul — the farmers use hybrid varieties called 900 M Gold, 9081 and Pinnacle.
A farmer at Sirrahi village in the panchayat, Mohammed Usman, who has cultivated maize using 900 M Gold, a hybrid variety seed by US Monsanto company, said: “Though the per bigha cost has gone up from Rs 2,500 to around Rs 8,000 with the new seed and technique, the per bigha yield, too, has gone up — from 1,000 kg to 2,400 kg”.
Nonetheless, Usman wondered as to why farmers have to buy fresh packs of costly seeds every year. “Once we grow a new variety, we should be able to use it as seeds next year, but that is not possible with the hybrid varieties,” said Usman.
He is, however, happy that he fetches Rs 950-Rs1,050 for every quintal of maize.
Mohammed Qayamuddin, another small farmer, said the issue was not the yield but “the increasing price of seed packets every year”. The companies, he said, call it the packaging cost. Other farmers in the district echoed a similar demand for seed price control.
According to the Directorate of Maize Research, Saharsa, which sowed maize on 31,669 hectares in year 2007-08, produced 1,32,385 tonnes with 4,180 kg per hectare (kg/ha). West Champaran, in that period, led the kg/ ha table at 4,252 kg/ha, followed by Kosi region’s Khagaria (4,007 kg/ha) and Madhepura (3,968 kg/ha).
In 2009-10, according to the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) figures, Bihar produced 14.8 lakh tonnes of maize. The country’s maize production during that period was 167.19 lakh tonnes. The per kg productivity in Bihar was 2,341 kg/ha as compared to the national average of 2,041 kg/ha.
Bihar’s maize production in 2008-09 was 17.1 lakh tonnes (kg per hectare being 2,676), compared to national production of 197.30 lakh tonne (kg per hectare being 2,414).
Maize is grown during February-June with farmers unable to sow paddy due to the infamous floods submerging the Kosi region almost every year. The state cultivates maize at 6,53,000 hectare and grows it all three seasons of autumn, rabi and summer using both traditional and hybrid seeds.
Ask the farmers about the reasons behind last two years’ poor yield that forced the government to distribute compensation to them, they trot out different reasons. Some attribute it to weather and rat infestation while others to non-compliance of the prescribed methods of cultivation. They also said that traditional seeds, too, could result in a poor yield.
“We have had better yields last three years in comparison to the preceding three years. If the price of new seeds are monitored, farmers are going to be happy,” said Laddu Yadav, another farmer at Sirrahi village .
Experts of hybrid seed companies, meanwhile, have been impressing upon farmers to maintain a distance between two crops to increase productivity and minimise rat infestation. Farmers have been also willing to try out inter-cropping to optimize soil capacity.
Besides, Monsanto (US), which is in the state for almost 15 years, Pioneer is another US company that sells hybrid seeds in Bihar. Some Indian companies, like Kaveri, are also in the market. The companies have been citing production figures to push their case.
Shilpa Diverkar Nirula, Director, Maize Business, Monsanto India, told The Indian Express: “Soil fertility, growing conditions and the farmers in Bihar have made it possible for the state to be at a higher level of maize productivity as compared to the average maize yields in India. Our experience suggests that farmers in Bihar are extremely progressive and it is our constant endeavour to focus on the evolving needs of the farmers, develop the right products, technologies and share knowledge on agriculture practices, in alignment with the state government.”
Asked about the Nitish government’s stand on MNCs giving monetary assurance in case of crop failure, the Monsanto director avoided a direct reply. Nirula, instead, said: “As a responsible company focused 100% on agriculture, our single-minded focus continues to be on delivering higher yields on Indian farms through superior seeds and extensive farmer education.”
However, the companies won’t have it easy any longer with Nitish stating that MNCs and private companies cannot get away with selling high-cost seeds and that they have to provide some monetary cover to farmers in the event of crop failure. “Attributing bad yield to inimical or unsuitable weather is just not convincing,” he said.
Submitted on 06/21/2011 – 09:20:03 AM
Patna: After good roads, improving law and order, education and health services, Bihar is turning its attention to popularising and promoting organic farming in the state to usher in a new “Green Revolution” in agriculture.
In a bid to spread awareness about benefits of organic farming among farmers, hundreds of national and international organic farming scientists and experts are expected to gather in the Bihar capital here for a three-day conference beginning Wednesday.
“This conference of national and international organic farming scientists and experts will boost the government’s plans of attracting farmers to adopt organic farming,” Bihar Agricultural Management and Extension Training Institute Director RK Sohane said.
An official in the agriculture department said the effort was part of the preparation of a progressive agriculture road map for the state for the next five years.
The government has decided to promote organic farming in at least one village of all 37 districts.
“The Bihar government launched an ‘organic farming promotion programme’ early this year for the cultivation of organic crops in all the districts. The government has decided to develop organic villages for which Rs 255 crore has been sanctioned for five years,” an official of the Agriculture Department said.
There is adequate quantity of animal dung, compost, rotten crops and fodder for use in organic farming, the official said.
Agriculture Production Commissioner AK Sinha said that after delivering organic litchi of Muzaffarpur, the government has selected Zardalu mango variety and Katarni rice of Bhagalpur for organic farming.
In April, Bihar became the first state to set up an agriculture ‘cabinet’ to improve the agrarian sector and address the plight of the farmers. This move was seen as not only big news for the millions of farmers of Bihar, but the beginning of turnaround for the agriculture sector.
“This will help Bihar achieve a second ‘Green Revolution’,” Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh said.
He said that agriculture scientists and farmers had expressed concern over diminishing fertility of the soil due to the constant use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides and had requested the government to take measures to improve conditions.
The government chalked out a roadmap for the agriculture sector in 2008.
“Several steps, including promotion of modern techniques of farming, organic farming, use of improved seeds among others, have been taken in last two-three years but it is still a long way to go in developing the agriculture sector,” the Agriculture Department official said.
Agriculture is the backbone of Bihar’s economy, employing 81 per cent of workforce and generating nearly 42 per cent of the domestic product.
|The Kosi Balance Sheet|
|Year||Area in ha||% of promised|
|Eastern Kosi (EK) Main Canal|
|Slashed Down Target||1975-76||3,73,000|
|Maximum that the canal irigated||1983-84||2,13,133||29.93%|
|Land Water logged on east of EK Embarkment|
|Western Kosi Main Canal|
|Cost Estimation||1963||Rs. 13.49 Cr|
|Mar-08||Rs. 1009 Cr|
|Promised Protected Area||2,14,000|
|Land Waterlogged on eastern embarkment||1,82,000|
|Land waterlogged on western embarkment||1,23,000|
|Land permanently exposed to flooding/erosion/sand casting between two embarkments||1,10,000|
|This year’s flood has hit 5 districts, 35 blocks, 412 GPs, 1026 villages, a population of 33.56 lakhs killing 162 persons and 767 cattle ( Official Report 25th September 2008)|
|for further information|
|Dinesh Kumar Mishra|
|Convenor-Barh Mukti Abhiyan|
|6-B Rajiv Nagar, Patna 800024|
|Bihar , INDIA|
|E- mail: firstname.lastname@example.org +919431303360|