The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) is a model that has successfully increased rice production while decreasing water use. According to Norman Uphoff, an emeritus professor of government and international agriculture at Cornell University, the system has raised yields by increasing “the productivity of the land, labor, water, and capital” in more than 50 countries around the world.
SRI methods focus on changing the development and management of soil, nutrients, water, and plants as a way of increasing the productivity of irrigated rice. Compared to the more common flooded rice production method, successful applications of SRI have shown that farmers can raise their paddy yields by 20 to 100 percent or more, while using fewer farm inputs, especially water. In order to achieve these yields with fewer resources, farmers follow six basic principles. These principles are: transplanting seedlings at a much younger age; planting only single seedlings in each hill (as opposed to the more traditional handful of seedlings); when planted, placing plants in a square pattern and spaced widely apart; applying water intermittently to create wet and dry soil conditions, instead of using flooded beds and continuous irrigation; controlling weeds and aerating soil through rotary weeding; and the use of compost, manure, and organic fertilizers instead of synthetic fertilizers to enhance soil fertility.
SRI is both environmentally and farmer friendly. Perhaps the most beneficial aspect of SRI is that no high-cost inputs and no new technology or infrastructure is required. It can be easily adopted by rice farmers around the world, which, according Uphoff, allows the growing method to spread quickly and easily within and across countries.
Because rice is the main dietary staple for more than half of the world’s current population, the expansion of SRI to more rice producers around the world could help produce food for a significant portion of the population. Further, expanding these growing methods to other crops could help sidestep the predicted future food and water crises. According to the Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture, and Development, “there may be significant unexploited productive potentials in many crops.”