Farm Productivity: Why Can’t India Emulate?

Farmers in our village and all the villages of the region cultivate two crops, rice being the main one. It is because the canal network from River Sone provides the water required for paddy crop. When I go back in my childhood, I vividly remember one aspect of paddy cultivation. I have not been able to forget that lively scene with numbers of women transplanting the paddy seedlings in ploughed rice fields full with water and singing the folk songs related to the occasion in Bhojpuri. Over the years, things have changed. Contracted male members hired from distant villages of North-East Bihar districts specialized in the operation carry out the task of transplantation. As my brother tells me, they do it better using less number of seedlings. I got reminded of the change, when I read about SRI for enhancing the rice yield significantly in ‘Outlook- Business’.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), India needs to increase its rice production by 2.5 million tonnes a year to meet its requirement in 2050. Rice output needs to increase by 92% from the current 140 million tonnes to meet the domestic demand in 2050. India can attain that to a great extent with ‘the system of rice intensification (SRI)’ developed 20 years ago by Father Henri de Laulanie, a Jesuit priest in Madagascar.

The SRI process requires younger and fewer seedlings transplanted with wider spacing; and it doesn’t need wasteful continuous flooding for irrigation. As claimed, SRI can increase rice yields to up to 15-20 tonnes per hectare. With India’s average rice yield of 3.1 tonnes per hectare, SRI has the potential to bring about significant increase in rice productivity and production-that too with fewer inputs and at a lower cost.

About 5,000 litres of water is required for just one kg of rice in the conventional ‘flooding of the field’ method. SRI uses 25-50% less water. Instead of flooding paddy fields, SRI requires only the root zones be kept moist. It also cuts seed requirement by an astonishing 95%. Fewer seedlings are planted, with more space between them. India cultivates rice on about 45 million hectares. One can calculates the benefits easily.

Studies show that the net returns per hectare of rice farmers who adopted SRI was 67% higher than those who followed the conventional method. A farmer in Andhra Pradesh reported to achieve a rice yield of 17.3 tonnes per hectare. It may be an exception. But an increase of around 2 tonnes per hectare-64% more than current levels-is very much achievable.

SRI has been included in the National Food Security Mission, which talks about increasing rice production by 10 million tonnes by 2012. As reported, “about 100,000 hectares is under SRI, which can be scaled up to 500,000 hectares in the next five years.” SRI is said to have a presence in 130 of the 500 rice-growing districts. However, that’s only 1.1% of the total rice area under cultivation. One can imagine the increase in the rice production, if switch is judiciously increased. Instead of imposing ban on basmati rice export, the government can work more seriously on this change over and providing better input including genuine fertilizers and better seeds. Why can’t our scientists achieve what the Chinese can?

The agricultural scientists “are trying this system for other crops, like wheat and madua (ragi).” Experiments with wheat in Dehradun saw yields increase from 18 quintals per hectare to 21 quintals per hectare. Similarly, traditional methods of growing sugarcane, another thirsty crop, require 10 tonnes of seed buds per hectare, SRI methods require only one tonne; as for the yield, it can increase from 65 tonnes per hectare to 144 tonnes.

A state like Bihar and other states of the eastern India that can become the granary of the country, must go for the switch over gradually. I fail to understand why a proven process of improved cultivation and means to bring prosperity in rural India can’t be adopted fast. Many a times, it seems our politicians intends to keep the region backward enough for their selfish manipulations as vote banks.

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