|Workshop on System of Rice Intensification|
System of Rice Intensification in Rainfed Areas: Workshop Proceedings
A Pradan Report
Bringing together the different stakeholders—facilitating agencies, practitioners, scientists and senior government officials—on a common platform, the workshop discussed several aspects, including the achievements, concerns and ways ahead, of SRI in India.
The National Resource Centre for Rural Livelihoods (NRCRL), hosted in PRADAN, in collaboration with the Aga Khan Foundation and Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, held a one-day experience sharing workshop on 23 December 2009 at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi. The workshop succeeded in bringing together different stakeholders involved in promoting SRI. Presentations were made by facilitating agencies, practitioners, scientists and senior government officials. Discussions were held to evaluate the role and importance of SRI in ensuring food security in rainfed areas, as well as identifying the scope for affirmative action within the prevailing policy framework.
Over the last 50 years, 23 million hectares have been added to our Net Sown Area (NSA). Most of such landholdings fall in the ridge portions of rainfed areas and have been brought under rice cultivation. The fact that such holdings are located in the poorer parts of India makes SRI all the more relevant—precisely for the cost and yield advantages it offers on the one hand and its resilience to the water scarce conditions that characterize rainfed areas on the other. To validate the importance of SRI in this respect, a number of NGOs presented their experiences. PRADAN said that, despite delayed monsoons, households have reported enhanced yields of 4 to7 tonnes per hectare in kharif. Likewise, the Peoples’ Science Institute (PSI), Dehradun, informed the participants of the increased grain yields under SRI to the extent of 67% (2006), 89% (2007) and 53% (2008) when compared to yields obtained through conventional methods.
Where cost reduction is concerned, a study carried out by the Gujarat Institute of Development Research (GIDR) revealed that SRI farmers, being supported by the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme-India (AKRSP-I), have roughly saved Rs 10,873 per hectare more than the farmers adhering to conventional methods. In terms of resilience, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) shows that SRI has been able to withstand extended periods without irrigation. Similarly, the SRI Secretariat, Bhubaneswar, recounted that whereas 38% of the entire cropped area under SRI suffered pest attacks, the percentage stood at 45% for lands under conventional methods.
The participating NGOs shared about effective strategies and the constraints faced. Watershed Support Services And Activities Network (WASSAN), Hyderabad spoke of how it has successfully promoted SRI in the command area of village tanks by accounting for traditional modes of tank management and training irrigation overseers (neerugattis) in SRI methods. The Madhya Pradesh Rural Livelihoods Programme (MRPLP) conveyed the many ways in which it has collaborated with both government and non-government agencies to upscale SRI in the tribal-dominated parts of Madhya Pradesh. M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSSRF), Chennai, outlined how the drum seeding method can be integrated with SRI practices. In discussing the challenges faced, NGO representatives and participants voiced the need for more intensified awareness-building and training that would reach out to farmers as much as the input suppliers and department heads at the district level. SRI specifically targets rainfed regions and demands an alternative system of wetting/drying. The participants, therefore, agreed that it was crucial to dovetail in-situ soil and moisture conservation (SMC) measures such as field bunds and farm ponds along with SRI. Similarly, the need to contextualize SRI for boro paddy was emphasized.
Shri. Khullar stressed the need for NGOs to partner with ATMAs for the successful expansion of SRI. He reiterated that in working with ATMAs, the Strategic Research and Extension Plans (SREPs) prepared by the ATMAs need to be pursued in all seriousness to locate the scope and strategy for SRI implementation at the district level. In addition, it was made clear that NFSM—in the hierarchy of institutions—may only be approached as a supervisory body for dealing with impediments or easing implementation in the long run. Speaking of the achievements under NFSM, Dr. M.C. Diwakar of the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) made a comprehensive presentation, which provided great clarity on the macro-economic situation. He said that the enormity of India’s food grain needs is such that it cannot be fulfilled with imports alone. Senior representatives of NFSM and the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), particularly Dr. Saini, highlighted the government’s interest in investing in SRI for the purpose of achieving self sufficiency. They expressed that there is no dearth of funds but rather the need to strengthen collaborative ties between the government and NGOs to achieve this end.
As part of the ongoing dialogue with senior government officials, the plenary expressed that the approach adopted by NFSM with regard to SRI is too focused on scattered demonstrations whereas the effort should be on bringing contiguous plots under SRI. Where the NFSM works through agriculture extension workers in a top-down manner, it should ideally be farmer-led and bottom-up in its approach. Similarly, the focus should be on confidence and skill building rather than remaining confined to making physical inputs available to farmers. To achieve these, the focus should be more on compact area development. Up-scaling SRI through compact area development would require facilitating agencies to understand landscape realities. They would also be required to engage with prevailing institutions and departments. The plenary affirmed that such an approach is sure to bring contiguous tracts under SRI and generate the required synergy for replication.