You love rice, everyone loves rice and we need more of it. Growing populations and the impact of the climate crisis on crops raises the stakes of rice cultivation. As a species we need to keep rice cheap, plentiful, and accessible to ensure a stable global food supply. India has stopped exporting rice which means other nations need to step up their exports. In Bali they recently ran an experiment in water rice fields and found ways to reduce water consumption and improving yields. This is a good finding for such a popular food.
The results at the end of the first harvest were astounding, the researchers say. They found that in the drained field, the release of GHG had dropped by 70%, and the farmer who owned the demonstration plot saw his crop yield in the drained field rise by more than 20%. The researchers knew why the methane had been reduced, but initially they couldn’t work out why the crop was so bountiful. Then Lansing reflected on a study he’d carried out in 2005 on the impacts of fertilizer runoff on coral reefs. By draining the field, he concluded, the fertilizer remained in soil rather than being washed into the river system.
Rice farmers have been growing their crop in the same way for hundreds of years and most people have assumed the most efficient way to grow rice has been figured out. That is until some farmers in India decided to change how they grow their bounty and now scientists have take note of their success.
What happened in Darveshpura has divided scientists and is exciting governments and development experts. Tests on the soil show it is particularly rich in silicon but the reason for the “super yields” is entirely down to a method of growing crops called System of Rice (or root) Intensification (SRI). It has dramatically increased yields with wheat, potatoes, sugar cane, yams, tomatoes, garlic, aubergine and many other crops and is being hailed as one of the most significant developments of the past 50 years for the world’s 500 million small-scale farmers and the two billion people who depend on them.
Instead of planting three-week-old rice seedlings in clumps of three or four in waterlogged fields, as rice farmers around the world traditionally do, the Darveshpura farmers carefully nurture only half as many seeds, and then transplant the young plants into fields, one by one, when much younger. Additionally, they space them at 25cm intervals in a grid pattern, keep the soil much drier and carefully weed around the plants to allow air to their roots. The premise that “less is more” was taught by Rajiv Kumar, a young Bihar state government extension worker who had been trained in turn by Anil Verma of a small Indian NGO called Pran (Preservation and
Proliferation of Rural Resources and Nature), which has introduced the SRI method to hundreds of villages in the past three years.