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#WhySRI - Dr Ravi Chopra tells us his story

Updated: Aug 21, 2019


#SRI is the System of Rice Intensification. It’s a new approach to cultivating crops – not just paddy or rice – and it tries to understand the principles of nature and maximise the various energies that are present in the microbes, in the soil, in the water and in the air.


My name is Ravi Chopra and I work as a research scientist at People’s Science Institute


The beginning

The story goes back about 10 or 12 years. There is an annual conference of people who work in the area of water in India. And one of the keynote speakers there was Professor Norman Uphoff. Professor Uphoff talked about the System of Rice Intensification, about all its benefits. And then someone asked him whether this was being practiced in #India. He mentioned that there were a lot of farmers, particularly in southern and eastern India who were already practicing it. But he expressed some disappointment and said that unfortunately, "in the #GreenRevolution areas, particularly in the state of #Punjab, I don’t have knowledge of any farmers who are practicing SRI. For some reason, Punjab agriculture university scientists do not seem to accept this."


Being a Punjabi, I felt a little bit disappointed and I walked up to him after his lecture and told him that I am a Punjabi and I would like to introduce SRI to Punjab.


The next thing I knew was that a few days later, in the my inbox, I got a whole bunch of papers and literature to read. I leafed through them, got excited, called my colleagues at #PSI, had a meeting and said: “Why don’t we try this technique, we’ve got a bit of land over here in our town – let’s try it out.” And then I forgot about it.


Some time in July, I suddenly recalled that I had given the suggestion to my colleagues and I asked them: “Have you started anything on SRI?” They said: “No”. I was quite furious because it meant the loss of a whole year. So at that stage, I told them, I said: “Look, we’re going to try this method next year. And if you haven’t tried it, none of you will be here.”


The following year, my colleagues tried out this technique, and the results were absolutely astonishing. We were stunned.

We saw the difference between the height of the plants, compared them with the traditional variety that was on a neighbouring plot. We looked at the number of grains, we looked at the yield, we looked at the yield of the straw and the paddy seeds and we were just stunned.

So our confidence grew and the following year we tried it with 40 farmers – we got, OK, it’s one thing to try it on your own field and it’s another thing to extend to outsiders. The results from the 40 farmers was also very encouraging, at which stage, I asked my colleague who looks after all these efforts of PSI, and I said: “Debashish, how many farmers should we reach out to next year?”. And he said: “How about 100 or 200?”. I said: “No. We have a food crisis in this country: we need to be much more bold. How about 1000?”.


So he said: “OK”. We ended up with about 600 farmers that year. So after the results were in from the 600 farmers, I asked him: “Debashish, how many next year?” And he said: “2000?”. I said :”No! 10,000!”. So we went up to 10,000 and ultimately, we were reaching out to about 25-30,000 farmers in a season.


Developing #SCI

When I try to understand the principles of SRI, one thing that struck me was that nowhere did it say that these are applicable only to paddy or #rice. So once again, I asked Debashish a year after we’d been trying all this. I said: “Do you think this system will work with #wheat?” And he shrugged his shoulders and he says: “Meh” I said: “It doesn’t say anywhere that it’s specific only to rice. Why don’t we try it with wheat?”


The first time we tried it, we went straight to some farmers and I remember going to their fields in May and being absolutely astonished. The normal variety of wheat, the stalks were normal height. And the #SWI was higher. Almost a foot higher. You could see the difference from a distance. And there was excitement on the faces of the farmers who were taking me around. So we ended up with being the first people to report trials on wheat. Once that worked, then there was no stopping my colleagues and they tried it out with maize, they tried it out with red kidney beans. And pretty soon, other organisations in India were trying it with millets, with lentils, with tomato – and reporting very good results. #SCI


The benefits

Different people will look at the benefits and difficulties differently.

The way I look at it, the biggest benefit of the System of Crop Intensification, is that it’s a technology totally within the control of the farmers.

Once they have the #knowledge, they don’t have to buy seeds outside, they don’t have to buy fertilisers outside, they don’t have to buy pesticides outside. All of it can be done with material found on their own farms. So that is one big benefit. And practically, for the farmer, it translates into more profitability because their costs come down.


The second advantage is that of saving of #water and this is interesting that it’s not just saving of water, it’s system that works with less water and more water – so we have seen that in years of drought or very heavy rainfall, unusual rainfall, the SCI crops survive better.


So it’s a system that ensures greater #security for the farmers. Now, all this is extremely useful for #women in states like ours. In our state, there’s a lot of male migration out of the villages and women are left to tend to the farms as well as to look after the family’s other needs. So to have a system like this, which more or less gives you guaranteed returns, is a, gives them a great sense of security.


There is one major difficulty with the whole process and that is that it is time consuming. Now, there’s a lot of debate amongst the proponents and opponents of SRI, whether there is greater labour requirement or less labour requirement. I would tend to think that yes, there is greater requirement. And this is a reason why many farmers, beyond a point, will not pursue SRI. For example, if it’s a family that doesn’t have much household labour, they may limit themselves to SRI over a smaller piece of land – we’ve seen this.


In the mountains, for example, typically, our farmers are not practicing this over an area of more than four-tenths of an acre. But if you go to the plains, where the household labour is much greater – and even though other resources are less, we find that farmers are practicing it easily. They begin with half an acre, they go u to an acre or 2.


Now, this is where there is need for some input and I’ve often tried to understand: how did the Green Revolution succeed? What made it more successful? And faster? And my answer is that the Green Revolution received a massive input of resources. The kind of resources that nobody even talks about in SCI.


So, for example, small, labour-saving tools or equipment could be designed and manufactured to suit the pockets of small farmers. These are the kinds of #inputs that our agricultural #research centres, campuses, should be working on. But they are not very involved with SCI.

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