The development of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) 20 years ago in Madagascar by Fr. Henri de Laulanié, S.J. — based on 20 years before that of working with farmers to improve their rice production without dependence on external inputs — is a most unusual case. It is unusual partly because SRI is one of the most remarkable agricultural innovations of the last century, one only starting to be appreciated in this one. But it is also unusual because of the resistance, sometimes vehement, that it has encountered from the scientific community despite the evident benefits that it offered particularly for poor farmers and for the environment: doubling yields or even more without requiring the use of fertilizer or other chemical inputs, and using less water. [Read more…]
The Natural Farmer · Winter 2013-14: Crop Intensification
We are excited about this issue of The Natural Farmer. The principles which have been developed around rice production on small African and Asian farms over the last generation are truly revolutionary. Called SRI (for ‘System of Rice Intensification’), these methods are often counter-intuitive and fly in the face of conventional farming practices and agricultural theory. Yet they are delivering stunning results – very significant yield increases, higher plant health and quality, all with lower input costs.
“So,” you muse, “that is great. It is wonderful that you are excited about a new system for rice production in the Third World! But I’m a farmer in the northeast US with limited time. Why should I read about this?”
The story of the discovery of SRI (System of Rice Intensification) begins in the Indian Ocean.
As you learned if you read that, the French Jesuit priest Father Henri de Laulanié was sent by his order to Madagascar in 1961 to do mission work. But he fig-ured out quickly that he needed first to deal with the local poverty and hunger, and that rice, the staple food on the island, was the key to doing that.
For twenty years he watched local farmers, studied their planting methods and their harvests, experimented on his own with various growing techniques, and slowly developed a number of unconventional ideas about rice culture that began proving themselves in larger and larger local harvests.
By 1983 he was teaching Madagascar farmers to use his SRI system, and in 1990 created an organization, the Association Tefy Saina, to spread his ideas. ‘Tefy Saina’ is a Malagasy term meaning ‘to improve the mind’. But progress was slow. In 1990 Laulanié also gave a couple of seminars on his approach at the Uni-versity of Madagascar, but it was not taken seriously. He died in 1997.
Without the help of a thoughtful and determined American professor the potential of SRI in transforming small peasant agriculture would still be largely un-recognized.