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Groundbreaking method enables small farmers to grow more food with less water

By Oxfam

WASHINGTON, D.C- International relief and development organization Oxfam America joined WWF- International and Africare to bring attention to a groundbreaking method of rice farming known as the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) that has the potential to dramatically improve the lives of millions of poor people around the world.

In a new report released today, which is based on the experiences of the three organizations with farming communities in Vietnam, India, and Mali, SRI is shown to increase yields by 50% or more using 25-50% less water and almost 25% lower costs. As a result, farmers, in particular women, saw significant income improvements. In Vietnam, farmers introduced to SRI saw their income increased by about 50%, while in Mali farmers almost doubled their income.

“SRI can be a game changer helping to increase farmer incomes and reduce hunger for millions of poor people around the world,” said Raymond C. Offenheiser, President of Oxfam America.  “This can be a win-win-win for donors, poor farmers and our planet.  Even modest investments can lead to immediate and impressive results, improving farmer livelihoods and community food security.  This shouldn’t be a question of ‘if’, but ‘how-much’ to invest in SRI.”

The report calls on all major rice-producing countries promote adoption of SRI, with a goal of at least 25% of their current irrigated rice cultivation systems converted to SRI by 2025 and all new irrigation schemes designed to support SRI farming.  Additionally, bilateral and multilateral aid agencies are urged to significantly increase their investment, through aid or loans, in supporting farmers toward SRI and complementary technologies and practices.

“This is a no-brainer,” said Offenheiser.  “SRI is a low-cost, high-impact strategy to address food security needs, improve rural livelihoods and increase resilience to a changing climate. USAID and other international donors should move fast to support and implement SRI wherever they can.” 

SRI addresses one of the major challenges of this century: how to increase the amount of food necessary to feed the world’s growing population as climate provokes more erratic weather patterns and water shortages. Current rice production practices are highly water intensive, accounting for one-quarter to one-third of the planet’s annual freshwater use, an unsustainable practice given predicted impacts of climate change.

Rice is the major source of calories for half the world’s population and the single largest source of employment and income for people, especially women, who live in rural areas.  Around 80% of the world’s hungry live in rural areas, thus, any viable solution to eliminating hunger must address the challenges of small-scale farmers, particularly rice producers.  Global warming and more extreme weather conditions are making farming more uncertain, as evidenced by recent droughts in India and the floods in Pakistan.

Implementing SRI is simple, and once learned can be spread farmer to farmer to achieve rapid impact with only modest initial investments from donors. Farmers transplant younger single seedlings into un-flooded soils and space them in a square pattern wider than in traditional practices. Soils are kept moist rather than continuously flooded.  The plants develop with higher grain yield and more resistance to climate extremes, pests and diseases.  Farmers, who are often primarily women, require less time for transplanting seedlings and can harvest their crop 1-2 weeks sooner. This allows additional time to diversify production with higher value fruits and vegetables or livestock to further enhance their diets and incomes.

“I have experienced the benefits of SRI, this simple, easy to use farming practice that has made my life and the lives of my fellow farmers better,” said Le Ngoc Thach, a Vietnamese farmer and president of the Dai Nghia Cooperative who traveled to Washington, DC for the report release. Mr. Thach introduced SRI practices to his fellow cooperative members in 2006 and after only four cropping seasons, all households had seen the obvious benefits and adopted SRI methods on the cooperative’s 420 acres, reducing their use of water and agrochemical inputs and increasing their incomes.

The benefits of SRI have been documented in 42 countries, where more than one million farmers are using some or all of the recommended SRI practices. Increasingly, the principles are being applied with success to other crops such as sugar cane, teff and wheat. Private sector partners such as retailers, wholesalers, distributors and international food brands can accelerate conversion to SRI practices by targeting their rice purchases and designating, for example, that 10-25% should be SRI-grown.

“SRI is a ready opportunity that can benefit everyone from farmers to businesses to consumers immediately,” said Offenheiser. “We cannot wait 10 or 20 years for research and development efforts to deliver new tools to improve food security.  SRI does not require major investments in infrastructure or research and once implemented can quickly bear results.  If we are serious about increasing the impact of our aid dollars and making development work to bring people out of poverty, we will get serious about SRI.”

Note: the report is available in its entirety online: http://www.oxfamamerica.org/publications/more-rice-for-people-more-water-for-the-planet

 

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