So previously I wrote about the history of SRI and mentioned how even though it can make vast improvements to crop yield, it is not commonly adopted here in Madagascar. Why is that? Keep reading to learn about the methodology of SRI and why many Malagasy farmers are resistant.
SRI has a few key principles for farmers to follow. They are small changes that result in a big increase, but are very counterintuitive to the average Malagasy farmer.
1. Rice seedlings are transplanted when they have two leaves (generally between 8-12 days) This is the ideal time for rice to be transplanted; it is young enough to get over the shock of transplantation and to get growing. Normally farmers transplant around 30 days (and sometimes up to 60). This is a big change for farmers to adapt to! At only two leaves the rice plants are admittedly dinky. It is hard for farmers to imagine that they will survive the transplantation process at such a young age when they are used to working with older seedlings.
2. Single seedlings are transplantedTraditionally rice is planted in a group of 2 -5 seedlings but with SRI you plant one lone seedling. Wait… how are you supposed to plant less rice but get more output?? By giving the rice plenty of room it is able to grow to its fullest potential. It works but again, it is counter intuitive. Less = more is hard to grasp sometimes.
3. Seedlings are planted on a grid system with a wide spacing (25x25cm minimum)Same concept as before. By giving the rice a lot of room it will grow well. Generally rice is planted in a random scattering fairly close together, or in a line. In my community we have about a 50/50 split between scatter planters and line planters. Planting in a grid also helps with:
4. Regular weeding throughout the growing period Weeding reduces competition and allows the rice to thrive. A metal hand-push weeder is used. This is a big investment in money as well as time which makes many farmers resistant.
5. Limited water usageWhen you imagine rice paddies you probably imagine them flooded, right? Malagasy farmers think the same way but actually, rice grows best with alternating wetting and drying of the fields. Drying and even allowing the field to crack allows much needed oxygen to the plants root system.
These are some of the basic principle of SRI. Other components include pre-soaking the seeds, improved nursery design, and use of compost rather than chemical fertilizers.
As you can see, there are some big differences between SRI and traditional Malagasy methods of rice farming. It really sounds crazy to them and they don’t think it will work. Also, it is really scary for people to gamble with their rice. This is their food! They eat it 3 times a day! What are they going to do if something goes wrong?
My project is helping to assuage those fears by starting SRI on a small scale. Each farmer will convert ¼ a hectare of their rice paddies into SRI. They will be supported fully by myself and local agricultural extension agents throughout the process but if things do fail…. Oh well! Yes. Losing ¼ a hectare of rice SUCKS, but it is not the end of the world.
Wanna help? Donate here! https://donate.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=13-684-043