Chapter 10: CONTROVERSY OVER ‘SUPER-YIELDS’
Getting SRI and its results taken seriously was difficult initially because for decades, crop improvement efforts had focused mostly on developing new and better varieties with greater genetic potential. This genocentric approach was shaped and then reinforced by the successes of the Green Revolution, which although controversial in some respects contributed to the largest expansion of food production in our history.
The new and improved crop varieties that were developed for the Green Revolution through plant breeding implied, by their designation as ‘high-yielding varieties,’ that they provided the best and maybe the only way to raise crop production significantly. Most research on crop management practices was focused on determining how these could help grow the new varieties most successfully.
Given the magnitude of the Green Revolution’s technological changes, it should not be surprising that there were economic and environmental costs associated with it. Nor should it be surprising that over time the strategy would encounter diminishing returns after the initial productivity gains from its new set of ideas had been exploited. These considerations do not invalidate the benefits achieved with Green Revolution technology, however. It made the latter third of the Twentieth Century more livable for billions of people. But that success does not ensure similar benefits from the technology will continue in this century.
It is unfortunate that in some minds there has been set up an opposition between SRI as a management strategy and the Green Revolution’s approach of improving genetic potentials, either through plant breeding or higher-tech genetic modification. SRI practices are oriented toward getting the fullest possible expression of crop plants’ genetic potential, whatever that potential is.
Whenever farmers can start with varieties that have more genetic potential for production or for resisting drought, pest, disease or other stresses, they should get better harvests. So, the importance of genetic endowments is not in question. However, these endowments are more a starting point for cropping outcomes than their determinants. What qualifies as an ‘improved’ variety always depends on what are the conditions under which the crop will be grown, and on what human needs, preferences, and objectives are to be met.
There has been a presupposition in scientific, policy and commercial circles that highest yields will always and best be achieved with ‘improved’ varieties, rather than by making changes in the management of plants, soil, water and nutrients for practically any variety (genotype).
WORKING WITH BOTH OLD AND NEW VARIETIES OF RICE
SRI practices are remarkable in part because they are beneficial when used with either ‘traditional’ or ‘modern’ varieties. It has surprised farmers as well as many scientists that under SRI management, some ‘unimproved’ rice varieties, local cultivars or landraces, can surpass the performance of ‘improved’ varieties when these were grown with the methods recommended by scientists.
Unfortunately, these ‘modern’ practices can inhibit the growth and functioning of plant roots as well as of the beneficial soil organisms that affect the expression of plants’ genetic potential. As noted in Chapters 4 and 5, the research and recommendations for the Green Revolution paid little if any attention to root systems and to the soil biota.
To date, all of the highest yields attained with SRI methods -- all yields over 15 tonnes per hectare -- have been achieved with what are called ‘high-yielding varieties’ (HYVs) or with hybrid varieties. However, these new varieties seldom match the older ones in terms of their taste, texture, aroma and other qualities valued by consumers.
Accordingly, the market prices for traditional or heirloom varieties are quite often higher than for new varieties. So, even if the yield from older varieties is not higher than that from HYVs or hybrids, the older varieties can be more profitable for farmers to grow, as discussed in Chapter 18.
This was made clear to me during an early visit to Sri Lanka in 2001. I was taken to the small but carefully-managed rice farm of Salinda Dissanayake, at that time his country’s Deputy Minister of Agriculture. His farm happened be located right next to Sri Lanka’s national rice research station at Bathalagoda.
As an innovative farmer, Salinda was one of the first in Sri Lanka to try out SRI methods. He was also one of the few politicians who maintained his occupation as a farmer while having a top policy-making position for the agricultural sector. This made him an ideal keynote speaker for our Sanya conference on SRI in the next year (Chapter 8).
The research staff of the Bathalagoda station had paid no attention Salinda’s farm, even though he was their political boss because they shared the negative view of SRI held by IRRI scientists and took their cues from Los Baños. In the 2001 main season, Salinda evaluated SRI practices with 16 different varieties of rice on his farm, some modern and some traditional.
As reported in his keynote address at Sanya, with SRI methods he had gotten a yield of 17 tonnes per hectare from a high-yielding variety, BG-358, developed at the research station just a few hundred meters away. At the same time, however, his yield from a popular ‘unimproved’ local variety (Pachchaperumal) when grown with SRI methods was 13 tonnes per hectare. This was a yield seldom achieved from HYVs using what rice specialists considered ‘best management practices.’
When I revisited Sri Lanka the next year, I was told by Gamini Batuwitage, a Senior Assistant Secretary of Agriculture in the Ministry, that in that season Salinda had planted his whole farm with Pachachaperumal, not with BG-358. Since at that time I was still too focused on the yields produced with SRI methods, I was disappointed to hear this and asked Gamini, why?
Gamini explained that the market price for this heirloom variety was 2-3 times higher than the price that farmers received for the HYV because of consumers’ preference for the ‘old’ rice. This was an early lesson for me to take more than agronomic considerations into account.
Below is a picture of Gamini (left) and Salinda (right) on the latter’s paddy farm in 2002, comparing weeder designs. Obviously, neither was a typical politician or civil servant because both liked to get ‘down and dirty’ in the rice paddies. Such unusual persons played many important roles in the story of SRI.
THE DIALECTIC BETWEEN PHENOTYPES AND GENOTYPES
SRI experience made clear again and again that it was important to think beyond genetic potential and to consider how the potentials within an organism’s set of genes are expressed. While a plant’s genotype – the genetic underpinning for any organism – is important, SRI is more concerned with the phenotypes that result from a given genetic potential, the actual phenomena not just the potential. I continually remind myself and others that we don’t eat genotypes; it is the phenotypes that we consume and depend on.
Persons not trained in genetics often have a popular-culture understanding that the genome is like a blueprint. But this widely-accepted simile misrepresents what occurs as plants and other organisms grow. The genome, rather than being like a blueprint, functions more like a playbook in sports. The best strategy for a team and its players at any point in time is shaped by, and is highly contingent upon, multiple, often changing factors.
My Cornell colleague Susan McCouch, a well-known rice geneticist who had previously worked at IRRI, when I first showed her some pictures of SRI plants, explained how scientists in her discipline know that actual rice plants are not the result just of their genome. They are greatly affected by the interplay between plants’ genetic endowment (G, their genotype) and all of the elements that make up their environment (E), in a process summarized as G × E interaction.
A plant’s environment ranges from the microenvironment within its individual cells, to the conditions within its tissues and organs, to within the organism itself, and finally to a diversity of external factors like the soil and climate that influence a plant’s growth and health, plus the management of that environment, if any, by humans.
As we were trying to understand how plants respond to SRI practices, there was a growing interest among scientists in the emerging body of knowledge known as epigenetics. This studies heritable changes in an organisms’ genetic endowment. It was not clear to what extent if any SRI practices have effects on plants’ genotypes, on their DNA. In SRI, we were probably not dealing with the inheritance of acquired characteristics. But we are certainly dealing with varying expressions of plants’ genetic potential. Possibly SRI experience and research can contribute to a better understanding of how genetic factors operate and how they influence plants’ growth and development in conjunction with the multiplicity of factors that are beyond the plant genome.
Very relevant to SRI was the growing interest among biologists and geneticists in what they refer to as plasticity. This refers to the ability of a given genotype to produce multiple variations in the resulting phenotype in response to differences perceived or experienced within its environment.
The popular conception of DNA as a blueprint according to which organisms get constructed by reading the information (instructions) contained in the DNA’S double helix of base-pair atoms, is much oversimplified. Indeed, gaining an understanding of how genetic influences operate might have been faster if the metaphor of blueprints had not been introduced because it limits our thinking.
There has been, unfortunately, rather little interest in SRI experience expressed among geneticists, with one exception. About 10 years ago, Vasilia Fasoula, a crop genetics researcher at the University of Georgia, after hearing a put-down of SRI at a professional meeting, looked it up on the SRI website and saw how its ideas connected to work that she and her sister, also a plant geneticist, had been doing, following up on their father’s earlier work as a plant breeder, something that they call ‘honeycomb’ breeding.
The SRI strategy of wider spacing between plants corresponded to the principles of this plant breeding strategy. So Vasilia got in touch with the community of researchers seeking to achieve a more thorough scientific understanding of SRI effects. Previously, there has been no engagement of plant breeders with SRI, perhaps because of the negative posture taken by the International Rice Research Institute, which devotes most of its resources to making varietal improvements through genetic changes, with crop management subservient to maximizing the performance of ‘new’ varieties (Chapter 22).
In any memoire of SRI, it is important to consider how genetic potentials and their expression fit into the story. To phrase this in more technical terms: how can we understand better the dialectic between genotype and phenotype? This includes considering the relationship between typical or average results and also outliers or exceptions, what can be called ‘positive deviance.’ That there can be great variability in SRI outcomes presented some particular challenges for getting it accepted, but it also helped to advance our understanding.
That rice plants have greater genetic potential than ordinarily observed was dramatically shown to me and my wife when SRI farmers whom we visited in Indonesia presented us with the rice plant stump seen below (and already in Chapter 6) when we visited their training program in East Java in 2009.
This plant with 223 tillers was grown from a single seed using SRI methods. This number of tillers is an order of magnitude more than is normally seen with rice plants that are grown with usual cultivation practices. I have held this plant in my hand, so I know it is not a fabrication.
The profuse growth of this rice plant shows how much potential exists in plants if this potential can be evoked. This rice plant is an ‘improved’ variety, Ciherung, it should be noted. The massive root system supporting the plant is as impressive as its number of tillers. It shows how misleading the concept of a genetic ‘blueprint’ can be. This plant massively exceeded the genetic potential that was usually expressed from the DNA instructions in its genome.
ASSESSING AND EXCEEDING GENETIC POTENTIAL
It has been both fortunate and unfortunate that a few farmers using SRI methods have been able to produce some unprecedented rice yields, over 20 tonnes per hectare, more than four times the world average. The super-yields produced by Ralalarison in Madagascar and Sumant Kumar in India and a few others have been a blessing and also a curse for the progress of SRI.
Their super-yields, discussed in detail below, have given encouragement to many farmers around the world and to those who work with them to try the new methods. These ‘outliers’ show how much potential exists that can be elicited by modifying the management of rice plants and of the soil, water and nutrients that are needed to bring them to fruition.
Their results have been reported not to boast, or to put anyone or anything down, but rather to share the good news that rice genomes, both new and old, without added cost and without more water (indeed, with less of both), could produce food at levels that would meet people’s demands for rice for many years to come.
These reports elicited more criticism than curiosity within the crop science community. It seems they were perceived as a threat by some persons and institutions engaged in creating ‘improved’ varieties as well as by those who promote new-seeds-plus-fertilizer packages for raising cereal crop yields, rather than as an opportunity. Such controversy could be considered bad news by some plant breeders.
The controversy kindled by ‘super-yields’ deflected conversation from the remarkable large increases in average yield that were being achieved around Ranomafana in Madagascar and then elsewhere, as discussed later in this chapter. The unprecedented increases in average yield – sometimes three-fold and even more, without requiring the purchase of new seeds or chemical fertilizer and with less water -- should have been the focus of debate and investigation.
Instead, ‘super-yields’ got most headlines and most attention. And once SRI became controversial, governments, foundations and donor agencies hesitated to assist this innovation or even to support its evaluation. There was a shunning of SRI by institutions that should have been curious and helpful because SRI if validated and extended could help them achieve their stated institutional objectives.
It is average impacts that are of most relevance for reducing hunger and poverty. In any data set, there will usually be some results that are well above or far below the mean. These are called outliers. Skeptics and opponents claimed that the highest SRI yields reported were beyond what rice scientists considered to be the ‘biological maximum’ attainable with available genetic material. They then concluded, fallaciously, that if the top yields reported for SRI were above what leading scientists considered possible, then then there was no need to consider the reported increases in average yield -- even though these were well within an uncontested range of yield possibilities.
The most dismissive critique of SRI relied on the results of a crop modeling exercise to conclude that the SRI yield of 21 tonnes per hectare reported from Madagascar and discussed below was impossible, either deliberately exaggerated, or due to measurement error. The crop model supporting this conclusion relied on data for day length (exposure to sunlight), rainfall, mean daily temperature, and other parameters from the central highlands of Madagascar to drive the model’s calculations that emerged.
This model was designed to estimate what would be the maximum amount of photosynthesis that rice plants could achieve under their particular conditions. This calculation was converted into an estimate of the maximum attainable crop yield. With the numbers for day length, rainfall, etc. plugged into the model’s equations, it projected that the maximum yield possible under the growing conditions in Ranomafana would be 11 to 14 tonnes per hectare.
The disparity between these numbers and the reported yield of 21 tonnes per hectare, plus the results from three small plot trials in China (discussed in Chapter 28), led to the authors to conclude that “SRI [will have] no major role in improving rice production generally.” The reported yield was dismissed as biologically impossible.
As it happened, I had previously corresponded by email with one of the article’s co-authors, Achim Dobermann, who been shared with me the modeling methodology that he used to evaluate SRI and invited my comments.
I asked Achim whether his modelling -- based on coefficients derived from measurements of conventionally-grown rice plants that had diminished root capacity due to their being crowded and flooded -- would correctly estimate the performance of SRI rice phenotypes that had much bigger and longer-lived root systems.
I suggested to Achim that the coefficients he was using to calculate rice plants’ photosynthesis, derived from the structure and functioning of standard rice plants, might not give valid predictions for how SRI plants would perform under their more favorable growing environment which was conducive to more copious root systems. Achim’s response was puzzling.
He wrote back: “This is NOT about root systems, but [about] the basic laws of photosynthesis and [the] conversion of solar radiation [into carbohydrates].” He explained: “When running such models, one assumes that root uptake of nutrients and water is unlimited so that biomass production and yield are mainly a function of solar radiation and temperature.”
His model thus assumed that rice plants whose root systems had degraded by as much as three-fourths when they started forming and filling rice grains (Chapter 4) would maintain an “unlimited” uptake of nutrients and water. This made little sense.
I had pointed out to Achim the large phenotypical differences that we were observing between SRI root systems and conventional rice roots. Could it reasonably be assumed that what happens to and within a plant’s root system would have no effect on what goes on in the rest of the plant? How could the way that plants’ roots functioned have no impact on the photosynthesis that occurred in their leaves?
In the response that I sent back to Achim the same day that I received it, I suggested that such reductionist modeling of rice plants’ performance would lead to mistaken conclusions. But Achim’s contention that the highest yields reported from SRI management were exaggerated or not replicable led him to conclude that the reported results with SRI did not need be taken seriously. This became a widespread belief within the international rice science community.
Some SRI colleagues have concluded that these top yields should never have been mentioned because such dramatic numbers could be seized upon by skeptics to challenge and reject the validity of SRI. This view has some merit because the dismissal of SRI by ‘mainstream’ agronomists and plant breeders was widespread, and sometimes vehement.
Scientists who could not get such impressive results from their own experimental plots might get some comfort from dismissing reported SRI results as unattainable. Without further investigation, they gave no attention to the average SRI yields being achieved because they were so incensed by the maximum yields reported.
Also, that farmers might get better results than researchers, who had more education and more resources, was probably a discomforting and untenable idea. In the sections that follow, we will look at both maximum and average yield, as well as at disparities between scientists’ and farmers’ results when using SRI methods.
EVALUATIONS DONE AT IRRI
IRRI conducted its first on-station trials of SRI in the dry season of 2002 at its central research facility in the Philippines. The SRI yield that IRRI got that season was 1.44 tonnes per hectare, unimaginably low for SRI. Also, IRRI reported that its expenditure of labor on the SRI trials was 2.4 times more than with conventional methods. This too was without precedent. But these results made SRI look like a non-starter, of no interest to serious scientists.
In a second set of trials at Los Baños during the next wet season, SRI methods performed better, producing 3 tonnes per hectare. However, this was only half as much yield as Filipino farmers were getting at that time with SRI methods on their own fields. In the IRRI trials that season, the yield that was attained with its own ‘best management practices’ using the same variety as in the SRI trials was only 4 tonnes per hectare. This was no more than the national average paddy yield that Filipino farmers were getting at the time. This result itself should have raised some alarm in Los Baños.
This was not the only time that we found farmer’s off-station results with SRI methods surpassing scientists’ on-station yields. When the National Wheat Research Program in Nepal conducted SRI trials in 2002, it got four farmers near the Bhairawa research station to use the new methods on their own land at the same time. The spacings tested were 20 × 20 and 30 × 30 cm, 5 cm below or above the recommended SRI spacing of 25 × 25 cm, which was usually found to be more optimal.
The SRI yields on farmers’ fields, as measured by program technicians, were 47% and 28% higher than the yields that researchers got with SRI methods on the Bhairawa station. The farmers’ average SRI yields on their own fields ranged from 7.6 to 8.8 tonnes per hectare, double the Nepali average.
Part of the suspicion or opposition that SRI raised among rice researchers could have been due to their not getting as good results from their on-station trials as farmers were able to achieve off-station on their own farms. Usually the situation is reversed: farmers have difficulty replicating researchers’ results.
There is no way to measure the ire and controversy that were evoked by the super-yields reported from Madagascar and India which surpassed 20 tonnes per hectare. This was 2 to 5 tonnes per hectare above what rice scientists had previously calculated to be the ‘biological maximum’ for rice production.
CLOSE-UP LOOKS AT TWO ‘SUPER-YIELDS’
In 1998, the leader of CIIFAD’s team in Madagascar, Glenn Lines, and I had breakfast in the regional capital of Fianarantsoa with a government agronomist, Bruno Andrianaivo. Bruno had been trained as a rice specialist some years before at IRRI in the Philippines. We wanted to get acquainted with Bruno because he was the first Malagasy government rice specialist who had a favorable attitude toward SRI, being willing to give technical advice to Joeli Barison for his thesis research on SRI in Ranomafana.
When discussing the question of optimum spacing for SRI seedlings, Bruno told us that there was a field two hours’ drive from Fianarantsoa that was the most productive field of rice that he had ever seen, an SRI field with spacing of 50 × 50 cm between plants.
This sounded preposterous to us. Fr. Laulanié’s recommendation of 25 × 25 cm spacing as usually the optimum distance between plants had been frequently confirmed in farmers’ fields, with one qualification. As the soil’s fertility improved, wider spacing and lower plant density would give higher grain yield. In top-quality soil, 30 ×30 cm or even 35 × 35 cm spacing could produce the best yields. How could planting just four plants per square meter produce the highest yield? This made no sense to Glenn and me.
Bruno responded that we should come and see this field for ourselves. He had himself already visited the farm twice during the growing season. He said that in his 20 years of working with rice in Madagascar, he had never seen such a productive field. So, after breakfast the three of us bundled into Glenn’s vehicle to make the two-hour trip over often-difficult roads.
When we arrived in the village of Soatanana, we were disappointed to find that the farmer, Ralalarison, was not at home (he had gone to do some shopping). Further, his crop had been harvested just a few days before, so we could not see the standing crop in the field. But his daughter offered to lead us to her father’s rice field: four adjacent small paddies totaling 1,300 m² in area, a little less than one-eighth of a hectare. This meant that Ralalarison had only about one-third of an acre from which to feed his family. He definitely qualified as a small farmer.
Actually, it was fortunate that the field had been harvested because this enabled us to better assess its yield. Tefy Saina, which had trained Ralalarison in SRI methods six years previously, had recognized that there was going to be a super-yield that season, so it had brought a scale to the field to weigh the crop as it was harvested. Thus, there was no sampling involved.
The total harvest that season weighed 2,740 kg. Producing this much grain from 1,300 m² meant that 2.1 kg of paddy rice was harvested from each square meter. Since one hectare contains 10,000 m², this represented a yield of 21 tonnes of paddy rice per hectare.
No measurement had been made of the grain’s average moisture content, which for comparison’s sake should be standardized to 14%. But even if the moisture content of Ralalarison’s grain were a percent or two higher than this, this would not affect much the overall calculation of yield. Even if an adjusted weight worked out to be 18 or 19 tonnes per hectare, this would still be a yield that was nine if not ten times the national average.
We found out subsequently that Tefy Saina had done proper sampling and calculation of the components of yield at the time of harvest, so these data could be used to assess the plausibility of the overall calculation. With 50 × 50 cm spacing, there would be 4 plants per m², and Tefy Saina found that the average number of fertile tillers per plant was 70 and the average number of grains per panicle was 260.
Disappointed at not seeing the field fully mature and ripe, Bruno, Glenn and I walked into it to examine what was left of the plants. We dug up one of the plants at random to look at its roots, which were massive. This was not surprising, of course, because plants spaced so far apart should have larger roots, but their size was really impressive.
Bruno and I each selected ten plant stumps at random throughout the field to count their respective numbers of tillers. We came up with an average number of 70 tillers per plant, exactly what Tefy Saina had found from its data gathering. One of the plants that Bruno counted had 140 tillers, but the average was 70. We couldn’t count the number of grains per panicle, obviously, so we had to accept the Tefy Saina count of 260.
Multiplying these numbers together (4 × 70 × 260) made the estimated number of grains per sq. meter 72,800. What would be their weight? Grain weight is usually reported and analyzed in terms of the weight (in grams) of 1,000 rice grains; 2,100 grams of grain per sq. meter divided by 72,800 grains gave an average grain weight of 28.8 grams per 1,000 grains. This was a high but not unreasonable weight for rice grains of this variety. Below are two pictures from Ralalarison’s farm.
There is no way to know exactly what was Ralalarison’s yield that season. We were not concerned with any absolute number because nobody was thinking about whether this might be a record yield. Indeed, Tefy Saina probably did not know or care what the world record was for rice yield. Maybe Ralalarison’s yield was only 18 tonnes per hectare, or even only 15 tonnes. Something remarkable had been achieved that could benefit many other farmers if they could even come close to this accomplishment.
The calculation of 21 tonnes per hectare was based on real numbers and observations, not on any crop-cut sampling or modeling. In any case we were interested in relative improvements, and with how farmers could make their and their families’ lives better and more secure. In a country where rice paddy yields are usually around 2 tonnes per hectare, Ralalarison’s production represented a huge increase. Unfortunately, the controversy that arose over what was Ralalarison’s exact yield that season drew attention away from what was really important: how much could the new methods improve people’s lives.
When I met the president and secretary of Tefy Saina in Antananarivo in 2002, four years later, Ralalarison had recently harvested that season’s rice crop. Sébastien and Justin showed me a certificate attesting to the production of 3,340 kg of paddy from the 1,300 m² area on which he had been cultivating with SRI practices now for a decade. I saw no reason to reject this report from Tefy Saina because by then we had collaborating for almost ten years, and I had never had any reason to doubt their truthfulness.
Ralalarison’s SRI profits during the previous four years had enabled him to buy enough more paddy land to triple his total rice area. But it was the original area which had had 10 years of SRI management that had the spectacular yield. His harvest in 2002 represented a yield of 27 tonnes per hectare, which neared the 30-tonne yield that Fr. Laulanié had predicted 10 years previously would eventually be reached for rice.
In Ralalarison’s sixth year with SRI, in 1998, he had followed a simple rotation, growing rice in the rainy summer season and then potatoes in the drier, colder winter. Before each season, he had put about 5 tonnes of compost on his 1,300 m² of plots. Given the small size of his area, this application represented the application of about 80 tonnes of compost per hectare per year, a huge amount.
Having so little arable land, Ralalarison devoted much of his time and effort to collecting and processing organic materials to produce compost that could make his small area of land as productive as possible, a rational strategy. Glenn, who was more of an expert on compost than I, said that Ralalarison’s compost was some of the best-quality that he had ever crumbled through his fingers.
In the four years since our first visit, Ralalarison had evolved a more complex and more productive farming system. He was still growing rice in the summer as his main crop, but now he had planted three shorter-duration crops between the summers: cabbage, potatoes, and beans. Before planting each crop, he put about 5 tonnes of compost onto the fields, decomposed for 60 days for the rice crop, and for 30 days for the other three crops.
This doubling of organic inputs for his already-intensive application of compost to ‘feed the soil’ required a lot of effort from Ralalarison. But getting four good crops a year from this small area of land was very remunerative, especially with his super-yield of rice. In this region, vegetation was readily available in many forms, and Ralalarison diligently capitalized on this resource to raise his yields and to expand his farming operations. From his tiny initial land base, he was moving out of the small-farmer category and making his family fairly well-off.
A lot could be learned from Ralalarison, who had only three years of formal schooling and was respected in his community for his hard work and uprightness. (His white clothing identified him as a Jehovah’s Witness.) A neighboring farmer who tagged along with us on our walk around the paddies told us that he was now fully convinced about SRI merits and would give up his traditional practices in the next season. Ralalarison’s sister, however, whom we also met sitting near the field, said that she was still not ready to change her rice cultivation methods because she saw how hard her brother was working, and she preferred not to work so hard. This underscored the human element in SRI.
In any case, I decided not to write about Ralalarison’s 2002 super-yield (until now) because I knew the hornet’s nest of objections and rejections that were stirred up by his 1998 results. It should be included here as part of the SRI story, however, because it influenced my and some others’ thinking about SRI and our understanding of the role that organic matter can play in amplifying the life in the soil and increasing its fertility with SRI practices.
Ralalarison’s strategy included rotating rice with other crops, not just growing rice continuously. Crop rotation diversifies and activates the life in the soil. Farmers in Vietnam and China like those in Madagascar have discovered that alternating potato-growing with rice, for example, enhances SRI yield. Why? Possibly because digging up the potatoes creates more soil aeration that can stimulate the growth of beneficial aerobic organisms. Ralalarison’s work showed indisputably that the productivity of a particular rice genome is not fixed. It can be amplified – or inhibited – by the growing environment that exists or is created around it.
In January 2012, I participated in a ‘Centenary Conference on Rice Science in India’ organized by faculty at the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University in Coimbatore. TNAU was the institution where scientific study for rice improvement had been started 100 years earlier under the British colonial regime.
At the conference, the director of India’s Directorate for Rice Development (DRD), Dr. M.C. Diwakar, told me about a reported new world-record paddy yield, over 22 tonnes per hectare, achieved with SRI methods in the state of Bihar. I had not yet heard of this. Since his directorate was located in Bihar, Mool as he was familiarly called had been able to look into how the data had been collected. He told me that he personally believed something very significant had occurred in Darveshpura village.
At the conference, there had been no discussion of this huge SRI yield in Nalanda district, apparently because rice scientists were not taking it seriously. Such a yield was hard to imagine, being ten times the average yield in Bihar state. Diwakar gave me a table with yield data from 57 farmers in Nalanda district who had used SRI methods during the recently-concluded season, data collected by technicians of the state’s Department of Agriculture using their usual methods of measurement.
There had been no thought about records. Probably none of the technicians even knew what was the world-record yield at the time. They had simply demarcated an area 5 m × 10 m in the middle of each field, harvested all of the rice plants that were standing within that area, threshed them, and weighed the grains produced within that 50 m² area. This was the standard practice for determining crop yields in the state.
The data that Diwakar shared with me reported that Sumant Kumar’s calculated yield had been 22.4 tonnes per hectare. When the technician adjusted this for grain moisture content, this represented a dry-weight yield of 20.2 tonnes, well above the previous world record yield of 19 tonnes set in China.
To me what was most significant that the data also showed four of Sumant’s farmer-neighbors getting SRI paddy yields above the world-record level. So Sumant’s success was not a lone occurrence. Diwakar said that there had been a confluence of favorable factors that year: good temperature, optimum rainfall, soil and other conditions. Also, these farmers’ fields were on the banks of the Sakri River which had well-drained sandy-clay soils with no water-logging and with neutral pH, being neither acid nor alkaline.
Diwakar and I decided to write up a report and analysis on these conditions and the practices used to be published in India so that others would know what had happened in Darveshpura. He sent one of his Directorate’ senior rice scientists, Dr. Anil Kumar, who was already well-acquainted with the community and region, to Daveshpur do some ground-truthing of the data that had been collected.
At the same time, I asked an SRI colleague working in the area, Anil Verma, team leader for the NGO PRADAN based in neighboring Gaya district, to go to the village also and to spend some time there verifying the data and obtaining more information. This Anil had himself trained the officials and technicians in the Darveshpura area who had in turn trained Sumant and his neighbors on SRI methods. Having more detailed information would give Diwakar and me more confidence (or no confidence) in the information previously provided.
This reconnaissance on the ground showed that Sumant Kumar and his neighbors (Krishna Kumar, Nitish Kumar, Vijay Kumar and Sanjay Kumar) were all experienced farmers, 30 to 35 years old. They had 10 years of schooling plus a few years of further education, and each owned 5 to 7 acres of land (2.0-2.8 ha). They would thus be considered as middle farmers or progressive farmers, rather than as small farmers or subsistence farmers. But there was nothing wrong with this.
After training, each had planted 1 acre (0.4 ha) with SRI methods, using 12-day seedlings spaced at 25 × 25 cm. Since each of these farmers had access to tubewell irrigation, they had both the means and the incentive (because of cost) to apply water to their fields minimally and precisely. Their method of application was by sprinkler, and they used only one-third as much water as with conventional flooding of fields. They had weeded their SRI crop twice mechanically, at 13 days and at 26 days after transplanting.
Farmyard manure was applied at a rate of 6 tonnes per hectare when preparing the field, but these farmers practiced what is called ‘integrated nutrient management.’ This means that they tried to optimize soil nutrient amendments from a combination of organic and inorganic sources. The manure was thus supplemented with modest amounts of NPK fertilizer and with some additional organic fertilization.
The farmers followed an interesting crop rotation with rice planted in the summer (rainy) season, then potatoes, and then melons, with a leguminous green manure/cover crop (Sesbania) grown before planting the next rice crop. This meant that four crops per year were being grown on the same soil, like Ralalarison, without ‘exhausting’ it, indeed getting ‘super-yields’ of rice.
Sumant Kumar had planted a hybrid rice variety produced by Bayer (Arise 6444), while the other four farmers used a Syngenta hybrid (number 6302). Although Sumant’s yield of 22.4 tonnes per hectare was the highest, the average yield for the other 8 farmers in Nalanda district who had grown this hybrid rice with SRI methods was 12.82 tonnes, considerably less, but they were farming in different locations. The four other farmers who had grown the Syngenta variety with SRI methods in Darveshpura produced 17.85 tonnes on average.
Overall, the average yield for all of the varieties that farmers had grown with SRI management (N=57) was 9.34 tonnes per hectare. These figures were not based on sampled small crop-cuttings but on measurements of 50 m². Below are pictures of Sumant Kumar and of sheaves of SRI rice being carried from his field to be threshed and weighed.
From another field where Sumant had cultivated the same Bayer hybrid rice variety with his usual methods, he had gotten a yield of 5.9 tonnes per hectare, very respectable in Bihar, but much less than he got with SRI methods. The rice yields when other farmers in the village had planted hybrid varieties and managed their fields with standard cultivation practices were 5.0-6.5 tonnes per hectare. This was roughly double the yield that farmers normally get in Bihar.
We submitted our report to the Indian journal Agriculture Today for publication, which it seemed to do reluctantly. The editors shortened the manuscript that we had sent them by half, and without consultation. Unfortunately, they cut out a section that was probably the most salient for Indian farmers and for policy-makers. That section is reproduced below.
Need to Explain a Tripling of Yield due to Management Alone
The yields that these Darveshpura farmers obtained using a particular set of SRI-formulated practices were three times higher than the yields that they achieved from the same hybrid varieties in the 2011 kharif season on the same farms when using their usual management methods.
This suggests that careful attention should be paid to the differences in crop management between SRI and normal practice. The results from five farmers in a single season in a single village do not prove anything scientifically. However, the results point to areas for systematic research that could have substantial payoff for enhancing crop production in economically and environmentally-desirable ways.
With conventional rice crop management, the yields from hybrid varieties were about triple the typical rice yields in Bihar. With SRI methods, the yield of these same hybrid varieties could be practically tripled again. Such results were achieved on fields that were probably better than the average in the state, so super-yields like this should not be expected to become the norm everywhere. But the potential for evoking fuller expression of genetic potentials was emphatically demonstrated by Sumant Kumar and his neighbors. However, few people on research stations and in government service seemed to want to know about this.
The common response from skeptics when told about SRI results was that the methods were ‘too labor-intensive’ to be relevant for most farmers. Yet an analysis of the Darveshpura farmers’ experience showed exactly the opposite. The data gathered by Department technicians showed that the SRI operations required 40 hours less labor per hectare for nursery establishment and management, and 50 fewer hours for removing and transplanting the seedlings (fewer and smaller).
Only 25 to 30 laborers, instead of 50 to 60, were required for transplanting the same area, reducing the labor for this operation by half. Initially, mechanical weeding took more time, but once this skill had been mastered, it required less labor than the usual hand weeding. For nursery operations, transplanting and weeding together, it was calculated that 32% less labor was needed per hectare, with a huge increase in yield.
Water management required more time because water was applied sparingly. But irrigation itself is itself costly because of the charges levied for the water and for fuel. So, the additional cost for labor to manage the water was offset by reduced expenditure on water and fuel for irrigation. Because the harvest was much larger, more labor was needed for this operation. But this added cost was remunerated several times over. Overall, there was a great reduction in the cost of production per kilogram of rice produced.
Such information elicited little approval or curiosity, however. Even though the Minister of Agriculture confirmed these results on the floor of the national Parliament on March 20, 2013, what seemed to attract the most attention was controversy over the results, rather than the results themselves. Professor Yuan Long-ping, known in China as ‘the father of hybrid rice’ and one of the earliest and most important supporters of SRI (Chapter 21), called Sumant Kumar’s results “120% fake,” asking how Indian government could have confirmed the result after the harvesting was already done? 
This statement was made without any knowledge of how the Department of Agriculture technicians had gone about measuring and calculating the yields. They had done their work according to standard procedures, with no thought to comparing their results to Prof. Yuan’s world record, which they probably did not even know about, but which he felt compelled to defend.
AVERAGES ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN ‘SUPER-YIELDS’
As indicated already, super-yields became unfortunate distractions from the real news: that changing management practices can produce larger gains in yield than by modifying crop genes. As a general proposition, populations are not fed better, nor are the lives of people made more secure, by a few farmers achieving super-yields. It is averages that should receive the most attention.
SRI proponents have in fact been more concerned with averages than with record yields, even while some others have gotten more excited, pro or con, by impressive outlying numbers. We did not repudiate or try to hide the latter because they are indicative of what was being observed and what could be attained. We saw again and again that transplanting young seedlings, singly, carefully and widely spaced, in soil well-supplied with organic matter and ‘a minimum of water,’ as Laulanié advised, quite reliably raise yields by 20% to 50%, and often by 100% or sometimes more, while reducing most inputs, even of labor.
Percentage increases are, of course, affected by what is the baseline level from which production is being improved. Starting from a low base certainly makes it easier to obtain large percentage increases. However, this does not negate from the importance of such increases for the usually-poor households that achieve them. An increase of 2 tonnes per hectare brings relatively more benefit to a household that has been producing just 2 tonnes per hectare than for a household that is already getting 6 tonnes per hectare.
The four-fold increase in yield observed in Ranomafana turned out to be unusual but not unique. Several times it has been reported that such average increases were attained with SRI methods for whole communities, not just by individuals. The households that have gotten these large gains are some of the poorest and most in need of such gains.
Below we consider two such instances that were independently reported and that showed the Ranomafana experience in Madagascar was not a fluke. After reviewing these cases, which added to our confidence in SRI, we consider in the next chapter some of the changes in rice plant phenotypes that have been documented as resulting from following SRI recommendations for crop management. These improvements in phenotype make the SRI yield improvements discussed in this chapter more comprehendible.
Aceh province, Indonesia
After a devastating tsunami hit the north coast of Aceh province in northwestern Indonesia in December 2004, the Australian and Czech programs of the Catholic NGO Caritas introduced SRI methods to rice-growing villagers in Sampoiniet sub-district. Usually these households had been producing only enough rice to meet their food needs for eight months out of the year, so they were in food-deficit for the other four months. The isolation and insecurity of these communities was made greater by the ethnic conflict that had been going on in the region for the previous 30 years (Chapter 16).
Already in their first season with SRI, farmers in these communities raised their average yields from 2 tonnes per hectare to 8.5 tonnes, producing this increase with much less rice seed and with less water. The latter resource was not much of a constraint in this tropical climate, but rice seed was in competition with household consumption in this food-insecure area. Because the farmers were cut off from the rest of the country and so poor, they acquired and used very little fertilizer. But they had not been making use of the abundant biomass that was growing all around them to make compost that could improve their fields’ productivity.
Dr. Ingvar Anda, humanitarian coordinator for Caritas Australia, observed that “These people are going from not growing enough food to feed themselves, to having a decent income from generating surplus. … to me this development is really exciting because the cost is low, and you are providing new skills and new understanding for long-term and lasting development.”
This kind of report excited some others too. But it may have confirmed to persons who favored input-oriented agricultural development the stereotype that SRI is beneficial primarily for persons who were farming at subsistence levels of production. This would be ironic since in fact, a yield of 8.5 tonnes per hectare would be much appreciated by most commercial rice farmers, especially if they could lower their production costs at the same time.
Damoh district, Madhya Pradesh, India
In 2011, the Indian newspaper The Hindu reported from this district, one of the most backward districts in the state and country, that a local NGO, Gramin Vikas Samiti together with the People’s Science Institute in Dehradun, one of the earliest and strongest proponents of SRI, had introduced SRI methods to over 1200 farmers in 32 villages. These communities, many of them populated by tribal households, had been previously most notable for their frequency of farmer suicides prompted by poverty and debt.
When using traditional rice varieties and their usual methods, farmers in the Tendukheda block of Damoh district had yields from 1.7 to 2 tonnes per hectare. With the SRI practices that they had learned, they were able to increase their yields to 7.5 to 8 tonnes per hectare. With the new methods, the lowest yield in these 32 villages was 4.4 tonnes per hectare, and the highest was 11.5 tonnes.
Seed rates were cut from 100 kg per hectare, to just 6.25 kg, according to Dr. Sanjay Vaishyampayan, senior scientist at the KVK agricultural extension station in Damoh. He noted a reduction in production costs because organic manure (compost) was used and there was no expenditure for pesticides or fertilizer. This reporting, like that from Aceh, matched almost exactly what had been observed in Ranomafana, Madagascar (Chapter 3).
With the new methods, traditional varieties grew up to 6 feet tall and gave more yield; high-yielding varieties grew only 3.5 feet tall, producing less fodder for the farmers’ cattle. The differences in yield were at least partly explained by the fact that HYV panicles usually produced about 100 grains, while under SRI management the local varieties had over 300 grains per panicle.
A comparison of panicle length and size between a local variety under SRI management (top) and a HYV grown nearby (bottom) is shown below. This picture was taken by the journalist who reported on the Damoh experience. Differential expressions of genetic potential resulting in improved phenotypes was seen in many other ways with SRI, not just in the evident differences in size. The following chapter considers some of the important differences that using SRI cultivation methods have made make in the resulting rice plants.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
 This statement that microbes influence plants’ gene expression could not have been made with much confidence 10 years ago. However, transcriptomic research has shown that soil microorganisms that live within rice plants as symbiotic endophytes can affect the plant cells’ expression of their genetic potential, inducing more rapid growth, more photosynthesis, more resistance to stress, etc.
The connections between plants’ genetic expression and the life in the soil are becoming better understood. See these articles for which Chinese, Malaysian and Cornell colleagues have coopted me to help with the writing: Q.Q. Wu, X.J. Peng, M.F. Yang, W.P. Zhang, F.B. Dazzo, N. Uphoff, Y.X. Jing and S.H. Shen, ‘Rhizobia promote the growth of rice shoots by targeting cell signaling, division and expansion,’ Plant Molecular Biology 97: 507-523 (2018); F. Doni, F. Fathurrahman, M.S. Mispan, N.S.M. Suhaimi, W.M.W. Yusoff and N. Uphoff, ‘Transcriptomic profiling of rice seedlings inoculated with the symbiotic fungus Trichoderma asperellum SL2,’ Journal of Plant Growth Regulation (2019); and G.E. Harman and N. Uphoff, ‘Symbiotic root-endophytic soil microbes improve crop productivity and provide environmental benefits,’ Scientifica, 9106385 (2019). Some recent results are presented at the end of Chapter 5.
 When Joeli Barison, a Madagascar student doing graduate study at Cornell, visited Sri Lanka in January 2000 to share SRI ideas and also the findings from his own research (Chapters 4 and 6), Salinda Dissanayake upon hearing about the new methods arranged for Joeli to be interviewed about SRI on the national radio network.
 ‘A policy-maker’s perspective from Sri Lanka,’ in Assessment of the System of Rice Intensification, Proceedings of an International Conference held in Sanya, China, April 1-4, 2002, 26-28 (2002).
 This message was reinforced during a 2005 visit to Bandung, Indonesia, as explained in a trip report (pages 4-6).
 In football or soccer, for instance, a team‘s play book will listed preferred and agreed-upon plays for different and particular circumstances. A team and its individual players need to consider whether they have the ball or not, whether the ball is at their end of the field or at the opponent’s end, whether they lead in the score or are behind, how much time is left to play, etc. A blueprint is a predetermined plan that results in a single, fixed result. Genomes have to be and are more flexible and opportunistic than that.
 For a review as this field of study was gaining momentum, see R. Feil, ‘Epigenetics, an emerging discipline with broad implications,’ Compte Rendus Biologies, 331: 837-843 (2008). A readable introduction to epigenetics has been provided by E. Jablonka and M.J. Lamb, Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral and Symbolic Variation in the System of Life, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA (2005), 113-155.
 G. Fusco and A. Minelli, ‘Phenotypic plasticity in development and evolution: Facts and concepts,’ Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 365: 547-556 (2010).
 A good discussion of this subject is Susan Oyama’s Evolution’s Eye: A Systems View of the Biology-Culture Divide, Duke University Press, Durham, NC (2000).
 See V.A. Fasoula and D.A. Fasoula, ‘Honeycomb breeding: Principles and applications,’ Plant Breeding Review, 18: 177-250 (2000). In any strategy for breeding better genotypes, the challenge is to make the best possible selection of plants (phenotypes) to be used for getting more productive assemblies of genes.
‘Honeycomb breeding’ has a selection strategy very different from that employed in conventional crop breeding. Plants are sown in a geometric hexagonal pattern with wide spacing between them. This way, plant phenotypes can be selected for their respective genetic potentials assessed with minimum constraint from surrounding plants, since plants in close proximity must devote some of their resources for growth to compete with plants around them.
When selecting on the basis of the performance of whole populations of plants that are closely spaced, the competitive ability of these plants is factored into breeders’ assessment of their inherent productivity. There is usually some tradeoff between a plant’s capacity to produce grain and its ability to compete with other plants. A ‘honeycomb’ methodology assesses plant-specific traits, seeking to identify potential for productivity potential that is distinguishable from competitiveness.
 In 2014, Fasoula joined other SRI colleagues in preparing a paper for the plant breeding section of the 4th International Rice Congress held in Bangkok, integrating what was known about SRI that should be of interest to plant breeders. N. Uphoff, V. Fasoula, I. Anas, A. Kassam and A.K. Thakur, ‘Improving the phenotypic expression of rice genotypes: Rethinking “intensification” for production systems and selection practices for rice breeding,’ Crop Journal, 3: 174-189. This has more discussion of ‘honeycomb breeding’ and its congruence with SRI principles.
 R. Pascale, J. Sternin and M. Sternin, The Power of Positive Deviance: How Unlikely Innovators Solve the World’s Toughest Problems, Harvard Business Press, Cambridge, MA (2010).
 S. Yoshida had calculated 20 years previously that 15.9 tonnes per hectare represented a ‘biological maximum’ in the tropics that could not be exceeded without making further improvements in rice varieties’ genetic potential. Fundamentals of Rice Crop Science, International Rice Research Institute, Los Baños, Philippines (1981). With his super-hybrid varieties, Prof. Yuan Long-ping had reached a yield of 17 tonnes. So yields beyond 20 tonnes per hectare were beyond what rice breeders thought possible without further varietal improvement.
 J.E. Sheehy, S. Peng, A. Dobermann, P.L. Mitchell, A. Ferrera, J.C. Yang, Y.B. Zou, X. H. Zhong and J.L. Huang, ‘Fantastic yields in the system of rice intensification: Fact or fallacy?’ Field Crops Research, 88: 1-8.
 E-mail from A. Dobermann to N. Uphoff, January 24, 2003. Emphasis (capitalization) was in the original. At the time, Achim was on the faculty of the University of Nebraska, but he soon thereafter became IRRI’s deputy director for research.
 The rest of Achim’s e-mail read: We know quite well what the maximum achievable radiation conversion efficiency (biomass produced per unit radiation) is for different crop species. That is why I asked you for climate data for that site because those will allow calculating the theoretical yield potential, the upper limit possible. Actual yield in a field experiment should always be below that theoretical limit. If it is larger than that, one must raise doubts and investigate in more detail because that would imply that current basic knowledge about photosynthesis is wrong. Again, all this has nothing to do with roots. Achim
Although we had some disagreements, our conversation was very civil. In his next response, Achim suggested that it was I, not he, who was being reductionist. He contributed the results of his crop modeling exercise to the article by Sheehy et al. noted in endnote 13 above. From our exchange, I did not conclude that our ‘current basic knowledge about photosynthesis is wrong,’ but rather that we need to consider and evaluate plants’ performance in a more holistic way. Also, it might have been expected that the anomalous SRI yield results would have elicited interest in closer investigation.
 J.F. Rickman, ‘Preliminary results: Rice production and the System of Rice Intensification (SRI),’ Research report, International Rice Research Institute, Los Baños, Philippines (2003).
 R.S. Verzola, ‘System of Rice Intensification: Practices and Results in the Philippines,’ paper originally presented to the 2003 national conference of the Philippine Society of Soil Science. Verzola’s paper reported a 6.44 tonnes per hectare average yield for SRI, calculated from 23 sets of comparison trials.
 When I visited IRRI in March 2003, I reviewed these results with the IRRI farm manager who had conducted the trials, Joe Rickman, and with V. Balasubramaniam, whom I had met when he was IRRI representative in Madagascar (Chapter 3). Bala asked Joe: how can IRRI justify itself if its own best practices do not surpass the Philippines’ national average in these trials? Instead of answering, Joe asked me why I thought that IRRI’s trials using SRI methods had not performed better than was being achieved with these methods on farmers’ fields in the Philippines? I responded: maybe IRRI’s on-station soils are “almost dead” after so many years of mono-cropping plus continuous application of fertilizers and agrochemicals. At that time, however, IRRI had no soil microbiologist or soil ecologist on its staff who could investigate such matters.
 R.B. Neupane, ‘System of Rice Intensification (SRI): A New Methods of Rice Establishment,’ National Wheat Research Program, Bhairawa, Nepal (2003).
 These data were reported in Sebastien Rafaralahy’s keynote to the Sanya conference in 2002.
 The report was made more credible by its having been attested to by a senior Malagasy government official who was very respected among donor agencies and NGOs in Antananarivo for his expertise and integrity. Tefy Saina had invited Jean-Louis to come from Fianarantsoa to Ralalarison’s field in Soatanana to supervise the harvesting to have accurate assessment and validation of the measurements. Jean-Louis signed a certificate attesting to the weight of the harvest from Ralalarison’s four rice paddies.
 ‘Technical Presentation on the System of Rice Intensification, based on Katayama’s Tillering Model,’ unpublished paper.
 When I asked Sébastien and Justin what Ralalarison was collecting to build up his compost pile, they said that the farmer was combining a lot of rice straw with leaves lopped from fast-growing leguminous shrubs such as Gliricidia (for N); wild ginger plants (Afromomum angustifolium, a known phosphorus-concentrator) and banana leaves and stumps (for K); manure from cattle, chicken and pigs; and eucalyptus leaves and eucalyptus sawdust from sawmills. In Madagascar, to counter deforestation on hillsides the government had carried out a big campaign to get eucalyptus trees planted widely throughout the island because although they are exotic and not biodiverse, they grow profusely and have multiple uses.
 Roland Bunch, who learned about SRI while a member of CIIFAD’s international advisory committee and assisted SRI introduction in Indonesia and Cambodia (Chapter 25), was instrumental in promoting farmer-centered research and extension in Central America that improved maize production on hillside farmers in Guatemala and later Honduras.
With agroecological management of crops, soil, water and nutrients, some spectacular increases were achieved in Guatemala. Within seven years of project activity, maize yields were increased by more than 6x, while the yields in neighboring control villages went up by only 50%. Over the next 15 years when there was no further project activity, these farmers raised their maize yields by another 75%, to reach >11x their baseline level.
Because these increments were so large, they were mostly dismissed or ignored as ‘too good to be true,’ Roland reports. Perhaps this was a way to avoid having to make any changes in current thinking and practice. He suggested to me that in retrospect they should probably have understated farmers’ achievements by at least 50%, to have had more credibility.
This is a sad commentary on how the development community regards success. See Bunch’s chapter on ‘Farmer-to-farmer experimentation and extension: Integrated rural development for smallholders in Guatemala’ in Reasons for Hope: Instructive Experiences in Rural Development, eds. A. Krishna, N. Uphoff and M.J. Esman, 137-152, Kumarian Press, West Hartford, CT (1997). See also his ‘Increasing productivity through agroecological approaches in Central America: Experiences from hillside agriculture,’ Agroecological Innovations: Increasing Food Production through Participatory Development, 162-172, ed. N. Uphoff, Earthscan, London (2002).
 Diwakar and I had met six years previously at the first all-India rice symposium convened in Hyderabad at WWF-ICRISAT initiative. The evening entertainment of contemporary Indian pop music had been so deafening that we both, by coincidence, stepped outside the conference hall to relieve our ears, and struck up a conversation. This is mentioned because it underscores the serendipitous nature of so many elements in this story. Diwakar was one of the few senior administrators whom I met in India who had actually gone out into the rice fields after learning about SRI and talked with farmers about their experience. From his own observations, Diwakar was persuaded of SRI’s merits for India and for its farmers.
 ‘Kumar’ is a family name, meaning son, boy, or prince. None of these farmers made any claim to royalty.
 All the information reported here is from M.C. Diwakar, A. Kumar, A. Verma and N. Uphoff, ‘Report on the world record SRI yields in kharif season 2011 in Nalanda district, Bihar state, India,’ Agriculture Today (New Delhi), June, 53-56 (2012).
The article manuscript that was submitted to Agriculture Today was twice as long as what was published, being cut in half by the magazine’s editors without consulting the authors. That full manuscript has been posted on the India Water Portal website.
 On a per-hectare basis, they applied 40 kg of N (urea), 80 kg per ha of phosphorus (DAP), and 40 kg of K (potash). Also on the SRI field, 400 kg of poultry manure per hectare was applied along with 100 kg of vermicompost (worm-worked compost) and 40 kg of a compound enriched with phosphorus-solubilizing bacteria (PSB). The farmers applied a micronutrient foliar spray with zinc sulphate to both their SRI and regular crops.
Unfortunately there was some confusion when the SRI trials were described as ‘organic’ in a report in The Sunday Observer (London), ‘India’s Rice Revolution,’ Feb. 16, 2013. This was seized on by critics as a misstatement since it should have been said that the fertilization was mostly but not completely organic. Critics seemed more interested in this distinction than in the resulting yield, although it should have made them very happy to see that some optimizing use of inorganic fertilizer could boost SRI yield to such an unprecedented level.
 One might have thought that such results would have excited and been widely publicized by Syngenta and Bayer, but there was no apparent commercial interest, perhaps because SRI reduced the seed rate so significantly. Sumant’s SRI seed rate was 5 kg per hectare, compared with his usual rate of 35-40 kg.
 It should be noted that the editors put the SRI article at the very end of their June issue, delaying publication until the summer kharif season had started. We had provided the manuscript in time for the May issue. Further, the picture that was chosen for the article, of a flooded, poorly managed rice field, was the antithesis of a properly-managed SRI field.
 ‘India’s rice revolution: Chinese scientist questions massive harvests,’ The Guardian, Feb. 23, 2013; ‘Chinese scientist questions Indian’s world record rice harvest,’ The Economic Times (Singapore), Feb. 21, 2013.
 G. Cook with T. O’Connor, ‘Rice aplenty in Aceh,’ Caritas News, 118: 10-11 (2009).
 M.P. Singh, ‘Organic rice cultivation transforming lives of Damoh farmers,’ The Hindu, Nov. 28, 2011.
PICTURE CREDITS: Gamini Batuwitage (Sri Lanka); Norman Uphoff (Cornell); Norman Uphoff (Cornell); Tefy Saina (Madagascar); The Guardian (UK); Anil Verma (India); The Hindu (India).