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The original impetus for SRI came from the pressing need to grow more rice to meet demand for this staple food. Rice supplies about 20% of the calories that the world’s people eat every day, and 13% of their protein because rice is not just a source of carbohydrates. The initial focus of Father Laulanié and Association Tefy Saina was mostly on how best to increase rice production, especially by households close to the margin of subsistence.

In Madagascar, there was huge unmet demand for rice, and most of the farmers growing rice were close to a subsistence level, or not much above it. While the market for rice had some impact on families’ well-being when SRI was being assembled 35 years ago, the market was not a force shaping their lives.

This is not how most people in the world live and farm today. Even in Madagascar, interactions with the ubiquitous and impersonal ‘market’ have become increasingly pervasive and influential. Once people’s basic food needs are met, other necessities of life and then the little and eventually larger luxuries become more and more important. These require participation in market transactions.

As SRI evolved, especially as it was achieving substantial increases in yield and thus in the supply of rice, more and more questions arose about demand. How would consumers’ demand for rice feed back to and influence its supply? At the same time, how could the demand for SRI rice be shaped and spurred so as to support the further development and spread of SRI thereby meeting various objectives?

Previous chapters have focused on expanding the supply of rice. This chapter considers how promoters of SRI and also farmers themselves have put thought and effort into developing market linkages for SRI rice, meeting and enhancing demand. They hoped thereby to create incentives for the greater use of SRI methods for the sake of farmers, consumers and the environment. Some of the value-chain linkages that emerged, as discussed in Chapter 18, re-forged the early connection between SRI’s development and the objective of biodiversity conservation, which drove and justified the early work in Ranomafana (Chapter 3).  

This chapter reviews various efforts to influence the demand for SRI rice meshed with efforts to expand its supply. The following chapter then considers how some of these efforts by various agencies and by farmers themselves have helped to conserve endangered wildlife in several countries and to preserve the diversity of rice’s genetic resources. These two chapters in the SRI story stories connect as economic and environmental interests have intersected in fortuitous ways.

As farmers using SRI methods began to obtain higher yields, sometimes much higher yields, it was important to look beyond simply increasing the supply of rice for people’s consumption. We became concerned with how to increase consumer demand for this high-quality rice. If, when, and where the supply of SRI rice surpassed demand, declining prices could make farmers losers rather than gainers from the new methods.

Farmers’ net incomes from higher rice production need not decline even with lower market prices if their costs of production fall significantly as their rice output rises and/or if the drop in prices is more than offset by gains in yield. But it was increasingly clear that market balances (or imbalances) needed to be attended to, not focusing only on agronomic issues.

When lower prices for rice are the result of large productivity gains, this is a benefit for consumers everywhere. Buying rice makes up more than half of the expenditure of millions of really poor households. So, lowering the price of rice could do more to reduce poverty around the world than most of the programs set up for this purpose.

SRI proponents wanted consumers as well as producers to benefit from the productivity gains made possible by SRI, but not for consumer gains to come at the expense of rice-producing households. Many of these households are themselves very poor and are urgently in need of more income from their investment of labor and limited land and water resources in rice production.

It became clear fairly quickly that SRI methods produce better-quality rice when some millers in Sri Lanka began offering farmers a higher price for their SRI paddy rice knowing that it would yield more edible grain after the milling process than would the same amount of paddy rice grown with usual methods. We also learned that SRI-produced rice can have higher content of micronutrients (Chapter 11). Because of its taste, appearance and other qualities, SRI rice should get a higher price from buyers in the market. How would this greater value being created by farmers be shared with them?

Further, when SRI rice is grown with fully-organic methods, farmers should be eligible to receive a higher price for their rice that is free of agrochemical residues. A higher farmgate price should not be necessary to induce farmers to use organic practices with SRI because it reduces their costs of production, both per hectare and even more per kilogram of rice. But it seems only fair that farmers to paid a premium price for organic SRI rice, and this would create greater incentive to change their agricultural practices.

When some food products are first grown under organic management, farmers often get lower yield the first year (or two or three). Their soils need some time to rebuild the populations and diversity of microorganisms and soil fauna that have been diminished by years of plying the soil with inorganic fertilizer. A few years are commonly needed to transition production from chemical-dependent to chemical-free. However, a drop-off in yield is seldom seen with SRI rice because just changing paddy soil from anaerobic to aerobic and reducing plant density gives a boost the first year. A higher market price should not be necessary to compensate farmers for their producing better-quality rice with SRI techniques.

However, as a matter of fairness there should be market opportunities and rewards for farmers who use SRI methods that produce both more rice and better-quality rice. If SRI rice receives a higher market price, farmers will have more incentive to adopt and use these new methods that benefit not just themselves and their families but practically everyone. For example, wider adoption of SRI will reduce agricultural consumption of water, which is increasingly scarce for all sectors and for domestic use, and will also lower the emissions of greenhouse gases from rice paddies (Chapter 12). Increasing farmer incomes from growing SRI rice should be a win-win-win proposition that supports the wider uptake of better rice production methods that are environmentally-friendly and of particular benefit to women (Chapter 15).



Olivia Vent at Cornell was the first person in the SRI network to put these considerations together into a strong argument for working on value-chain development, to increase consumer demand for SRI rice and create more favorable marketing opportunities for SRI that make the new methods more attractive to farmers, at the same time that consumers and the environment also benefit. Such initiatives could proceed alongside the expanding efforts in dozens of countries to get SRI methods taken up by farmers. Working initially with SRI colleagues in Cambodia, Madagascar and Sri Lanka, Olivia put together an informal partnership to begin marketing SRI-grown indigenous varieties of rice on a global scale.

In 2005, this consortium was selected from among 275 nominees to receive one of the first five international ‘SEED Awards’ sponsored by the UN Environmental Program, the UN Development Program, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.[1] Although this prize did not carry any monetary reward, it conferred international recognition on the effort and gave Olivia and her colleagues in the three countries access to services and some funding for capacity-building and networking that could help launch this aspect of SRI development on a broader scale.

The mission of this marketing partnership was to give SRI farmers in various countries, through farmer-cooperatives or NGO intermediaries, access to remunerative opportunities in national and international markets.[2] Some of the linkages developed are discussed below.

In 2015, the partnership’s SEED Award in 2005 was selected as one of the SEED program’s top 10 awards from among the 165 prizes that the program had conferred over the preceding decade. On behalf of her SRI colleagues, this honor was accepted by Bancy Mati, SRI promoter in Kenya whose value-chain work is described below, at a SEED recognition banquet held in Nairobi, shown here.

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A major chapter of the SRI story opened up in 2005 when Olivia met and began working with Ken Lee and Caryl Levine. Ken and Caryl are co-founders and co-CEOs of a rice-importing company, Lotus Foods, that is based in the San Francisco Bay area. Its founding mission statement read:

Since 1995, we have pioneered the introduction of exotic rice handcrafted on small family farms in remote areas of the world such as Bhutan, Bangladesh and China into the US market. Each rice variety is distinguished by its terroir and treasured for its distinctive cooking quality, taste, texture, aroma, color and nutritional value.

We founded Lotus Foods with the intent and vision to support sustainable global agriculture by promoting production of traditional heirloom varieties, many of which were being pushed out of production, while enabling small family rice farmers to earn an honorable living. We are the only US-based company with the unique vision and commitment to seek out small family rice farmers in developing countries and provide them a means of economic support through access to a global marketplace economy.[3]

The export-import linkages that were envisioned under the partnership which received the SEED Award in 2005 took several years of great effort to develop and considerable upfront financial investment by Lotus Foods. Olivia worked closely with Lotus Foods for several years until the first shipments of organic heirloom SRI rice could be sent in 2009 from Madagascar, Cambodia and Indonesia. Each of the three partners sent an 18-tonne container to San Francisco for processing, packaging and sale in the US. SRI rice has since then been sold in many of the 7,000 store outlets across the US through which Lotus Foods sells its products, including Safeway, Wegmans, and Whole Foods.

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In 2008, Olivia took early retirement from her position at Cornell University to begin working as a part-time consultant for Lotus Foods and to have more flexible time to support a variety of SRI initiatives. She has continued to work with them since then to shape messaging and communication related to SRI and rice production generally and to facilitate their connections to the global SRI community.

Lotus Foods has become an advocate for SRI in many forums such as the Clinton Global Initiative[4] and with the organic and natural foods industry in the US. The company has received a number of national awards from the food industry for its promotion of organic and fair-trade products.[5] Below is a picture of the Lotus Foods founders Ken Lee and Caryl Levine at the launch of their SRI product lines at the Natural Products Expo West trade show in 2009 in Anaheim, California.

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Rice export-import linkages that were set up by Lotus Foods with various trading partners are described below under their country headings. Establishing reliable, economically-viable and sustainable supply chains from thousands of far-away small farmers to a warehouse in the San Francisco Bay area turned out to be difficult as well as time-consuming and risky. The Sri Lankan opportunity envisioned under the SEED initiative, discussed in the next chapter in connection with the preservation of heirloom varieties, did not become commercially viable for Lotus Foods, for example; but a number of other opportunities developed.

Lotus Foods was already importing heirloom rice varieties that were not SRI-grown from Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, and Italy. As its engagement with SRI deepened, it has tried to redirect all of its sources of supply to SRI methods. Also, it also featured SRI themes in its advertising, emphasizing water-saving (‘more crop per drop’ᵀᴹ) and women’s benefits.[6] These were not only marketing appeals, but also educational efforts to promote more socially and environmentally-conscious food consumption.




The SRI value-chain story here grew out of the second phase of CIIFAD involvement in this country, not from the first project involvement. When the USAID mission decided in 1998 not to continue its project in Ranomafana, but instead to focus efforts on protecting forest ecosystems farther north, CIIFAD’s team was relocated to Moramanga to assist in implementing USAID’s Landscape Development Interventions project (LDI) from 1998 to 2004. The goal of LDI was integrated conservation and development like the work in Ranomafana, with the new project serving a larger area to the east of Antananarivo, between this capital city and Toamasina on the east coast of the country.

One of the main thrusts of LDI was to establish a network of village-based, environmentally-oriented farmer organizations called Kolo Harenas (KHs), each with about 20 members. Their Malagasy name meant ‘protect our wealth,’ the word for ‘wealth’ referring to the natural resources in each local area. The project promoted agricultural intensification as an alternative to slash-and-burn cultivation, supporting various environmentally-sound activities that included SRI along with agroforestry, horticulture, aquaculture, bee-keeping and other productive pursuits.

Members of these village-level organizations all had access to project-assisted cooperatives that benefited them through the provision of more reliable and remunerative agricultural inputs and marketing services. This was a ‘carrot’ to get farmers to give up their traditional slash-and-burn farming methods that were endangering forest ecosystems.

The Kolo Harena groups started after 1999 and assisted by CIIFAD’s team in Madagascar had support from LDI and then two successor projects: USAID’s Eco-regional Development Initiative (EDI), and the Business and Market Expansion (BAMEX) project. The latter operated from 2004 to 2009 without direct Cornell involvement, but with some cooperation. BAMEX’s goal was to develop commercial activities that would reward farmers for eco-friendly production and thus relieve pressure on threatened rain forest ecosystems.

During these ten years, the Kolo Harenas grew reasonably fast and well, although they were not all effective, and many were not sustained beyond the project period. By 2009, their total membership was over 30,000 households.[7] This background on the Kolo Harenas is mentioned because they played a role in the establishment of a value chain for SRI farmers, although many other actors were involved as well.

A detailed case study of the development of a supply chain for SRI rice in the Lac Alaotra region has been written for an FAO publication,[8] so only a summary is given here. In 2004, the Slow Food Movement in Europe gave Tefy Saina its Award for the Defense of Biodiversity, in recognition of its work with the Kolo Harenas to increase production of a traditional Malagasy red rice called Vary Mena (riz rouge) using SRI methods and making rain forest ecosystems more sustainable.

In October, 2004, several KH farmers were able to accompany the Tefy Saina leaders to participate in Slow Food’s international food fair, the Salone del Gusto, held in Turin, Italy. The farmers took with them bags of organic Vary Mena rice for demonstration and for sale. Below is a picture of their stall at the Slow Food Movement exposition in Turin.

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The bags of rice were sold quickly at the Slow Foods expo and at a very good price, $6 per kilo. This was 20 times more than the price that farmers received for riz rouge in local markets. When the farmers returned from Turin, news of this spread quickly within farming communities. The Slow Food prize given to Tefy Saina included funds for buying an electricity-powered milling machine that could turn out better-quality milled rice for European markets. The Slow Food connection led to Malagasy farmers getting several orders for exporting their SRI rice to Italy and France. Chefs loved the rice, we were told. But there was no effective supply chain organized, and this opportunity came and went.

In 2006, with support from the SEED initiative, CIIFAD facilitated a visit by Ken Lee and Caryl Levine of Lotus Foods to Madagascar to explore the possibilities for importing SRI-produced rice from around Lac Alaotra to the US. Their visit was hosted by BAMEX and Glenn Lines, still working for CIIFAD but soon to join the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a US government agency similar and parallel to USAID.

In 2008, Lotus Foods started negotiations with a KH cooperative in Amparafaravola to purchase stocks of its local, SRI-grown pink rice called Varini Dista, named after the farmer who had popularized it. Lotus Foods had selected this variety, a tasty pink-colored rice, as its favorite in a number of taste tests done to assess which would likely appeal most to American consumers.[9] With backstopping first from BAMEX and then from EDI, and finally from the French-funded Projet BV Lac Alaotra, Lotus Foods was able to import to the US a first container (18 metric tonnes) of SRI-grown milled pink rice in early 2009.

That year, farmers in the Kolo Harena were given some modest grant support from the Better U Foundation to purchase push-weeders, organic fertilizer, and other simple implements. Thee with SRI methods raised farmers’ production by more than 50%. To import a second container in 2010 certified as ‘organic,’ Lotus Foods received crucial on-the-ground assistance from several US Peace Corps volunteers serving in the Lac Alaotra region, the local Lions Club, and technicians from the French NGO Agronomes et Vétérinaires sans Frontières.[10] This suggests how much effort was required to get ‘organic’ certification and export approvals, but also what broad-based support there was for this initiative. The picture below shows young farmers receiving weeders from representatives of the Better U Foundation in Madagascar. 

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Once the supply chain had been forged through these combined efforts, with farmers growing Dista rice in the lowlands around Lac Alaotra, both producers and importers had to cope with an unexpected rice-export ban imposed by the government of Madagascar, which was trying to hold down the local price of rice to avoid civic unrest after the global 2008 recession and a 2009 presidential coup.

While it was in principle possible to get an exemption from the export ban, such a permit had to be renewed annually, without any guarantees of renewal, and this element of uncertainty kept Lotus Foods from expanding its purchases of the KHs’ SRI rice even though US consumer demand for the rice had been demonstrated and was growing. A combination of organic and fair-trade premiums meant that the SRI farmers received 30-50% more than the local market price for the SRI rice that they were producing.​


As in Madagascar, most rice in Cambodia was grown with little or no agrochemical inputs, but even so, getting ‘organic’ certification was again high hurdle to get over. Most rice production in Cambodia is rainfed, so yields are usually just 1.6 to 2 tonnes per hectare. With SRI methods, these yields could be increased to 2.5 to 3.5 tonnes, or more.

A 2012 evaluation found that farmers using SRI methods with organic certification were netting about US$ 750 per hectare (most farmers had only a fraction of a hectare, it should be noted). With conventional methods, rice-growing is not much more than a break-even operation. Traditional methods were used to produce rice as mostly a staple food for household consumption; low yield, high input costs, and low market prices made rice not much of a net income earner for most Cambodian rice-producers.

The NGO CEDAC was already promoting SRI in Cambodia largely as an organic methodology. Before Lotus Foods took an interest in establishing export opportunities, CEDAC had started to build a national network of SRI organic farmers, called the Farmer and Nature Net (FNN),[11] as well as a marketing arm under its Natural Agri-Product Marketing Project. The project’s purpose was to ensure that small farmers would get appropriately higher prices for their organic products, helping them organize village-based producer groups linked to the national network, training them on organic standards, creating linkages with consumers, and building local management capacity. 

In 2004, grants from the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ), Oxfam Great Britain and Oxfam America enabled CEDAC/NAP to open a retail store and several branches in Phnom Penh, where farmers’ surplus organic SRI rice and other organic products could be sold. An expert from the German Senior Expert Service (SES) helped to advise NAP during 2005, and a marketing advisor from the German Development Cooperation Service (DED) began working with NAP in October 2006.

From 2007 to 2009, CEDAC received some grant support from the US Department of State to expand its organic SRI marketing initiative by organizing organic producer groups and developing the necessary internal control standards for organic certification that would meet US and European standards. This grant was received within the framework of the SEED award that CEDAC had received in 2005. CIIFAD at Cornell University assisted CEDAC in linking NAP initiatives with markets in the US and in Europe. It also facilitated a Lotus Foods visit to Cambodia in December 2007 to assess the feasibility of partnering with CEDAC to export SRI-grown rice to the US.

With ongoing financial support and technical assistance from GIZ, CEDAC/NAP exported a first container (18 metric tonnes) of organic rice to Lotus Foods in the US in December 2009. In Germany, issued the required organic certification. Farmers belonging to the Damrei Romeal Organic Cooperative Federation in Tramkok district, Takeo province, produced the rice for this initial export. The federation covered 39 villages. About 250 farmers sold their certified organic rice to CEDAC, which then processed the rice and sold it onward to Lotus Foods. The story of Cambodian farmers’ entry into export marketing has also been told in a publication prepared for the World Bank.[12]

In 2010, Lotus Foods and CEDAC started the process of getting the rice also certified as Fair Trade, to further augment benefits to farmers and communities. In 2012, the Fair Trade Sustainability Alliance (Fair-TSA) certified that the CEDAC-FNN procurement system was meeting ‘fair trade’ criteria, with a small share of the price paid for each kilogram of rice procured and exported going into a social development fund.

This fund made grants to participating communities to finance schools, potable water, public sanitation, ponds, road improvement, and other amenities. In 2012-13, the annual fair-trade premium going to each participating village averaged almost US$ 1,000. This was in addition to farmers’ receiving a higher farmgate price premium for organic rice.​

CEDAC made great efforts to mobilize funds and technical support for village cooperatives to purchase and operate their own rice mills. Such mills would enable them to retain more of the value-added from rice production in the hands of farmers. For example, if farmers do their own milling they can keep for their own use the bran that is milled off the rough grain, a nutrient-rich product, good for chicken feed. The rice husks milled off rough grains can also be retained, to be burned as a source of fuel or put to other uses. The ash of rice husks when burned is a good source of silicon to be returned to paddy fields.

This aspect of value-chain development is still in its early stages in Cambodia, but the organizational base of farmer associations has been laid. It is buttressed by their fair-trade premiums and by the acquisition and operation of milling equipment to ensure and retain more of the value of quality-rice production. Keeping the export operation functioning to meet all expectations has not been easy, however.


The value-chain development here has very personal origins. When the FAO-supported IPM program in Indonesia started introducing SRI ideas and methods, it found one government rice extension worker who was particularly receptive, Alik Sutaryat, who was an Agriculture Ministry advisor already unhappy about the promotion of agrochemical use.[13]

When Alik learned that higher yields could be produced with little or no insecticide, he became an avid promoter of SRI, so much so that his agricultural extension colleagues (who despite their assignment to promote IPM still retained some attachment to agrochemicals, and probably had some personal financial interest in their use) suggested that he no longer come to the office, although they did not terminate his employment. So Alik was free to carry out his SRI extension work, in effect at government expense.[14]

Alik found the most receptive farmer response to SRI ideas and methods in an area of West Java known as Tasikmalaya, where he trained 5,400 farmers in the new methods. When I visited Tasikmalaya in 2005, I was told that there were already 380 hectares under SRI management, with average yield of 9.2 tonnes per hectare and a top yield of 14.7 tonnes.[15] The next year, farmers in the area started forming their own marketing organizations, and by 2009, 25 farmer groups across 8 subdistricts had come together for form a cooperative, Gapoktan Simpatik (Simpatik Farmers Organization).[16] 

The next personal initiative, complementing and capitalizing on farmer initiatives to organize themselves for marketing purposes, resulted from a dinner party in Jakarta in 2008 which the parents of Emily Sutanto put on for their friend, Solihin, a former Governor of one of the country’s largest and most important provinces, West Java.[17] Emily was visiting from Singapore where she was living at the time, having launched a successful career in modeling, singing, and traditional dance.

I was living overseas [she told an interviewer], and a friend of the family, the former governor of West Java, told me about a group of farmers that was producing this type of organic rice that they wanted to export, and they were looking for somebody to help them. So, I went to Tasikmalaya to look into their organic rice, and I saw how they did everything, making use of compost and natural pesticides and SRI methods. I was really impressed. I thought the methods being used would be beneficial to the environment and would be able to address global hunger issues. I thought the world should know about this.[18]

Emily’s visit to the farmers in Tasikmalaya led her to change careers, and she set up a rice exporting company, Bloom Agro PT, which made connections with Lotus Foods through Olivia. In 2009, after huge efforts made by Emily to get organic and fair-trade certification for the Simpatik cooperative, it was able to ship an 18-tonne container of SRI rice to San Francisco, like the Kolo Harenas in Madagascar and CEDAC in Cambodia, which enabled Lotus Foods to launch three lines of specialty SRI rice for American consumers.

The ‘Volcano Rice’ grown by the cooperative’s more than 2,300 members and shipped from Tasikmalaya to the US and elsewhere was a blend of two heirloom varieties, one red and the other brown. Before long, Bloom Agro was able to develop market demand for Tasikmalaya SRI rice also in Singapore, Malaysia, Germany, Netherlands, Italy and UAE.[19]

Bloom Agro helped Simpatik get certification for ‘fair trade’ rice production, which added to the value of its organic certification.[20] Below is a picture of Emily with the farmer-chairman of Simpatik cooperative, Saepul Bahri, and a representative of a German rice-importing company, Stefan Fak, standing in the cooperative’s modern milling facility for processing organically-grown SRI rice.

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SRI development got a later start in Kenya than in most of Asia, but thanks to the strategic thinking and indefatigable efforts of Bancy Mati at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Nairobi, SRI now has a strong footing in Kenya (Chapter 45). The new methods were introduced first in the country’s largest and best-known irrigation scheme, Mwea, which is about 100 kilometers from the capital city.

Mwea farmers produce about 80% of Kenya’s rice, but total national production constitutes only about one-third of the country’s consumption. Mwea has a command area of about 10,000 hectares, but this could be expanded to 13,000 hectares if there would be sufficient water to supply the whole area. It was SRI’s potential for reducing water requirements for rice production that first attracted Bancy, a water resources specialist, to this innovation.

Given the large and growing national demand for rice, SRI value-chain development in Kenya has been for local consumption rather than for export. Once the new methods were introduced in Mwea, it became clear that SRI rice had higher quality that could justify its receiving a higher price than run-of-the-mill grain.

In Mwea, it was also found that 6% more edible milled rice could be turned out per bag of unmilled paddy rice, while the bags of SRI-grown paddy were themselves 15-20% heavier.[21] The percent of grains that were broken during milling was one-third less than with conventionally-grown paddy rice, of interest particularly to millers. Whether SRI paddy rice was procured by weight or by volume, farmers deserved a higher purchase price. Further, when milled SRI rice was marketed to consumers it sold faster in the stores, so a higher market price could be charged for it because buyers preferred its texture and aroma.

It was obvious to Bancy that if farmers could get a higher price for their SRI-grown rice from millers and consumers, they would have greater incentive to adopt SRI methods. This would increase the amount of water-saving possible within the Mwea project. With SRI, water savings of 26-30% were being recorded within Mwea. So, expanding farmers’ acceptance of the new methods would have implications for the country beyond just increasing the incomes of the households that adopted them.[22] So Bancy undertook to develop a trademark and special marketing arrangements for SRI rice.

In 2014, the National Irrigation Board made a pilot grant to support an initiative by the Water Research and Resources Centre of the Jomo Kenyatta University and an NGO working with it, the African Institute for Capacity and Development (AICAD), to develop standards for validating what would qualify as ‘SRI rice’ and to establish a trademark.[23] A survey of 4,000 SRI farmers in the Mwea scheme was conducted, from which 1,000 were selected for a pilot phase. The survey itself was undertaken partly as a consciousness-raising measure to reach thousands of farmers.

The participating farmers agreed to set aside at least 10 bags of their harvested SRI rice for sale to the value-chain project, and test milling was done in a large commercial mill. Unfortunately, the Irrigation Board did not provide further funding, so the next step of branded packaging and sale could not be taken, and the project stalled.[24] But its feasibility has been demonstrated, and there remains farmer enthusiasm for establishing commercial connections from their farms to stores in Nairobi and beyond.


As in the Kenya case, value-chain development need not extend all the way from SRI farmers’ fields to international markets. The NGO that has led SRI introduction in Liberia, the Community of Hope Agricultural Project (CHAP), developed a national campaign to boost production and consumption of SRI rice with the slogan and trademarked product label: I LOVE LIBERIAN RICE. Below is a picture of the Minister of Finance and other officials endorsing this campaign, which the World Bank and Liberian banks also expressed interest in supporting.

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Because rice production in Liberia does not meet all the demand for rice, and the country is very dependent upon rice imports, local supplies can be sold quickly. The director of CHAP, Robert Bimba, has hopes that there will be a market for this rice also among Americo-Liberian expatriates living in the United States and elsewhere, and his fund-raising strategy includes tapping investment for expanding SRI production and processing to reach this international market.


It is an indicator of the spread and success of SRI that one of the most recent ventures in value-chain development for SRI did not originate from within the SRI community, as it did in Madagascar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Kenya ad Liberia. LT Foods Ltd. is one of the largest food companies in India, with the leading rice brand in that country. Its wholly-owned subsidiary Nature Bio-Foods Ltd. (NBFL) is fully devoted to organic food production, processing and distribution. 80,000 farmers in 13 states of India, mostly smallholders, provide the organically-grown foodstuffs that Nature Bio-Foods brings to consumers.[25] The company, which has 75 internal control systems for certification of organic standards, markets organic food products throughout Asia, Europe and North America.

When the owners of Lotus Foods got acquainted at a food industry trade show with the CEO of Nature Bio-Foods, Tapan Ray, he was already well-aware of and favorable to SRI methods. But he was not connected with his countrymen and women who had been bringing SRI forward in India over the previous 15 years. Lotus Foods and NBFL worked out an agreement for rice farmers associated with the Indian company to supply an indigenous, SRI-grown basmati rice variety to start up a new product line of heirloom rice for Lotus Foods to distribute within the US.[26]

Tapan has now retired as NBFL’s CEO to establish a new organic company PraTithi Organic Foods, that will emphasize SRI and women’s empowerment as well as the enhancement of soil health. In 2019, Lotus Foods and PraTithi participated in a pilot program to test the standards for Regenerative Organic Certification. The basmati grown by SRI farmers in Uttar Pradesh, who participated in the pilot project, has qualified for the status of ROC/Silver.


Not all efforts to link SRI farmers to external markets have been successful and benign. In Tanzania, a British-based company, Agrica Ltd., established a wholly-owned subsidiary to operate a large rice operation, more than 5800 hectares, in Kilombero Valley, well-suited for rice production. In 2009, Agrica’s Kilombero Plantations Ltd. (KPL) brought a WWF staff member from India to provide initial training for SRI. The operation subsequently received considerable financing from the US (OPIC and USAID) and Britain (DFID). KPL turned out to be more of a commercial operation, ultimately unsuccessful, than a valid development effort, however.

The KPL organizational model was to establish a central plantation that employed SRI methods and hired labor and to have contractual relations with ‘outgrowers’ surrounding the plantation. A rice mill was built on the plantation for processing rice produced there and by the outgrowers. Land for the plantation was appropriated by the government from households that had traditional tenure claims to the land, with the government then transferring it to KBL on a long-term lease. The displaced households had to resettle elsewhere with low compensation for their land (US$15 per hectare), and not all of this was paid to them as agreed, so there were social tensions around the operation from the start.

A majority of the rice was to be produced by the more than 5,000 small outgrowers under contract with KBL. These small farmers were required by KPL to buy their production inputs from the company. To qualify for production loans, they had agree to plant a particular new variety of seed and to use chemical fertilizers, even though neither of these inputs was needed or recommended for SRI production. Further, outgrowers were contractually required to sell their entire paddy harvest to KBL at a fixed price to repay their loans. KBL retained the right to cut this price if market prices fell, but did not commit to paying a higher purchase price if the market price rose.

As could be predicted, this policy as well as the forced land acquisition for the plantation caused considerable unhappiness in the area regarding KBL’s operation. Farmers found their rice production unremunerative as a consequence of these financial arrangements, detailed in a critical report written on KBL.[27] These arrangements had nothing to do with SRI itself. Indeed, with the new methods, farmers got average yields of 5 tons per hectare, which was considered ‘remarkably high’ for rainfed rice.[28]

The operation was initially successful for KPL if not the farmers. By its third year, KPL’s rice production was the largest in Africa. However, frictions between the company and the outgrowers and displaced residents eventually dragged KPL down. In 2019, due also to management arrears, KPL was forced to default on its loans and was put up for sale.[29] This not the fault of SRI, which performed well even under the adverse socio-economic circumstances, but due to the exploitative conditions and intentions of the company.

This is one negative effect of SRI’s being an ‘open-access’ innovation. Its name and methods can be taken advantage of by persons with less virtuous motives than most of the SRI community. This KBL initiative did succeed, however, in introducing SRI in Tanzania, where other organizations have taken up the new methods. The government began supporting SRI extension in 2015,[30] and a large FAO project working with the Sokoine Agricultural University has been disseminating SRI with aimss similar to those in most other countries.[31]

DR Congo

In contrast, in the eastern region of Tanzania’s neighbor, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, SRI collaboration by two European NGOs, now expanding their SRI operations under a World Bank project, is producing quite different result. The SRI activities of the Italian-based NGO Mazao were discussed in the preceding chapter, reporting on how SRI introduction was bridging between the Pygmy and Bantu communities around Mazao, which is the name of the Congolese locality being assisted by the NGO.[32] The NGO Mazao has created a rice supply chain that links Congolese farmers and Italian consumers as described on its home page and in a video posted on YouTube.[33]

VECO, an international NGO based in Belgium and now known as Rikolto, has worked on the introduction of SRI in Vietnam, Indonesia, Tanzania and other countries, as well as in the DRC.[34] It has teamed up with Mazao to have a larger-scale impact with SRI methods there. The number of households participating in their joint project was 1,000 in 2018, with a project goal to include 20,000 households by 2021. While the eastern region of DRC is not fully self-sufficient in rice, the doubling of production that is expected with the new methods needs to have marketing outlets so that the producers’ price for their rice is sustained and even raised.


*    *    *    *    *    *

These are examples of how some common threads of the larger and evolving mission of SRI are being woven together as the innovation evolves. Bringing SRI farmers into national and international market networks on terms that are beneficial to them, their families and their communities has become part of the SRI effort in a growing number of countries.

The SRI-LMB project in Southeast Asia, discussed in Chapter 8, which developed local farmer networks for participatory evaluation and extension of SRI, expects in its next phase to focus more on value-chain development to spur the spread of SRI use in that region by making it more financially attractive to farmers.

Such development of marketing channels enables farmers to be more fairly compensated for the higher quality of the rice that they are producing, as well as for the positive externalities for the environment that result from their using SRI methodology. This is example of how SRI as an agronomic innovation has many ramifications.



[1] Here is the award announcement from the SEED Secretariat based at the United Nations. SEED was an acronym for Promoting Entrepreneurship for Sustainable Development. This award became well institutionalized over the next decade. One benefit from receiving the award was that it enabled Y.S. Koma, director of CEDAC, who was brought to New York to receive the award on behalf of the consortium, to get acquainted with Cambodia’s Minister of the Environment, Mok Mareth, during the awards banquet at the UN after the ceremony, and this expanded Koma’s access to Cambodian government support of SRI.

[2] Another benefit of the SEED Award was that it facilitated having Christina Gradl, a young German management consultant with McKinsey & Company, a global consulting firm, work with Olivia and her partners on a volunteer basis for six months to assess the market-readiness of partners in Madagascar, Cambodia and Sri Lanka to export SRI-grown rice.

​[3] This is from the Lotus Foods website.

[4] In September 2010, Ken was introduced by former President Bill Clinton to speak about SRI and Lotus Foods’ work to a Clinton Global Initiative forum in New York City. Caryl spoke to another CGI forum in 2014.

[5] Here are some of the awards that Lotus Foods has received for its engagement with SRI and SRI farmers:

  • The Biodiversity Leadership Award from the Union for Ethical BioTrade (2011).

  • The Leadership Award for Vision from the Specialty Foods Association, to Caryl (2014).

  • The Leadership Award for Citizenship from the Specialty Foods Association, to Ken (2017).

  • The first NEXTY Gold Award, recognizing Lotus Foods’ products and mission for “standing out every year for upholding industry values and epitomizing what it means to have integrity, innovation and inspiration” (2017).

  • The first Leadership for Global Impact Award, awarded by Conscious Company Media, recognizing leaders using the power of business as a force for positive change (2017).

  • Second place in the category of Social Impact via Technology Innovation, awarded by the Global Sourcing Council (2017).

  • The inaugural National Co+op Grocers Climate Collaborative Award for Outstanding Value Chain Engagement, for developing a model for and for educating their supply chain and customers about, the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) ecological rice production methods and also for reducing emissions throughout its fleet and warehouses (2018).

  • The Environmental Stewardship Award given by Whole Foods Market Suppliers, for implementing the ‘More Crop Per Drop’ᵀᴹ system, enabling farmers to dramatically increase yields while decreasing water consumption, seed use, and methane gas emissions (2018).

  • Runner-up for the Sustainable Pioneer Award recognizing operators who are helping to build a sustainable food industry, awarded by Ecovia Intelligence at the Sustainable Food Summit in Amsterdam (2018). 

  • The NEXTY Award for Best Supply Chain Partnership represented at the Natural Products Expo West, for its Organic Rice Ramen Noodle Soup Cups (2019).

  • Two Specialty Food Association Sofi Awards, top honor in the $140 billion specialty food industry, awards in the category of Pasta, Rice and Grain: Lotus Foods won both the gold award for its Organic Dehraduni Basmati Rice and the silver award for its Organic Forbidden Pad Thai Rice® Noodles (2019).

[6] See website on this, titled ‘Do the Rice Thing.’

[7] By the time that the LDI project ended in 2004, there were 947 Kolo Harena local farmer associations, 14 cooperatives, and 9 federations; five years later, the total numbers were 1,693 associations, 38 cooperatives, and 18 federations. Madagascar: Ecoregional Development Initiatives Final Report, 2004-2009, Development Alternatives Inc., Silver Springs, MD (2009).

[8] J. Randrianarivelo, A. Randrianarivelo, R. Abhukara, W. Fitzgerald, C. Pargee and O. Vent, ‘Organic production of pink rice in Madagascar,’ Organic Agriculture: African Experiences in Resiliency and Sustainability, pp. 112-135, Natural Resources Management and Environment Department, UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Rome (2013).

[9] More is said about this pink rice and the development of a value-chain for it in a Madagascar case study in Organic Agriculture: African Experiences in Resilience and Sustainability, 112-135, Natural Resource Management and Department, UN Food and Agricuture Organization, Rome  (2013).

[10] In English, Agronomists and Veterinarians without Borders. AVSF operates for agriculture in a way similar to the NGO Médicins sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) which provides health care in many difficult circumstances around the world.

[11] By 2009, the Farmer and Nature Net in Cambodia had over 1,100 village-based farmers associations in 11 provinces of the country, and over 40,000 members, almost 60% of them women.

[12]  O. Vent, Y.S. Koma, C. Levine and N. Uphoff, ‘Market incentives for eco-friendly SRI rice production in Cambodia,’ in M. Sawadeh and S. Jaffee, eds., Shades of Green: Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives for Reducing the Environmental Footprint of Commercial Agriculture, 73-80, Greening of Agriculture in East and Southeast Asia Program, Eco-Agriculture Partners, Washington, DC (2015).

[13]  I was told that Alik attributed the serious birth defects in one of his children to the heavy use of agrochemicals for Indonesian rice production, but I was never able to confirm this with him.

[14] See report of the pilot evaluation of SRI that Alik oversaw at Ciamis.

[15] On this visit, see pages 6-10 of my trip report from September 2006, including a description of the multi-verse song that farmers had themselves composed about SRI’s merits and sang for me in Javanese. On this trip, I also visited a training center in Bandung operated by the Ministry of Public Works (PU) which had trained 3000 farmers in organic SRI methods (page 4-5).

     The center’s director Sutarmin proudly showed me the packaged organic SRI rice that he and PU colleagues were able to sell in local markets for about double the usual price of rice because of consumers’ dislike of agrochemical contamination. They were helping farmers get paid a much higher price for their increased production which was chemical-free, although it was not formally certified as organic.

[16] There are several websites with information on this cooperative.

[17] See pages 19-21 of my January 2008 trip report. Solihin, an 82-year-old retiree from government service, introduced himself to me when we met as ‘a pioneer SRI farmer.’

[18] This statement is from a Jakarta Globe interview in 2009.

[19] This aromatic blend of heirloom rices has been very successful. A strong value-chain linkage has been established with the European importing firm Sunria which complements the market link with Lotus Food and gives more stability to the operations of Simpatik and Bloom Agro, which now have a nicely diversified structure of demand.

[20] See this summary account of the process of certification. The Tasikmalaya rice production was also certified as ‘Fair for Life,’ which requires meeting stringent social and environmental criteria.

[21] This was reported in Options and Opportunities to Make Food Value Chains More Environmentally Sustainable and Resilient in Sub-Saharan Africa, Boxes 5a and 6, Global Environmental Facility (2017).

[22] Estimating conservatively based on Mwea experience, with a 30% increase in yield and 30% reduction in water requirements, the 10,000 ha area of rice production could be expanded to the full 13,000 ha command area, with an increased output of almost 17,000 tonnes of paddy. At a farmgate price of $500, this would be additional income of US$ 8.5 million. Any price premium that SRI farmers received would be added on top of this.

[23] See SRI Rice Marketing Project Launched, posting by Water Resources and Research Center, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Nairobi (2014).

[24] We cannot know what role interest-group pressures may have played in the decision not to give further support to the marketing of SRI rice. In many African countries where large quantities of rice must be imported to meet consumer demand, the rice importers constitute a very powerful vested interest behind the scenes. It is possible that they had a hand in stopping this initiative.

[25] The scope of Nature Bio-Foods operations is described on its website.

[26] This is marketed as organic traditional Dehraduni basmati rice.

[27] Irresponsible Investment: Agrica’s Broken Development Model in Africa, The Oakland Institute, Green Peace Africa, and Global Justice, Oakland, CA (2014).

[28] See evaluation of the KBL project by Y. Nakano, Y. Tanaka and K. Otsuka, ‘To what extent do improved practices increase productivity of small-scale rice cultivation in a rainfed area? Evidence from Tanzania,’ Discussion Paper 14-21, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, Tokyo (2014).

[29] ‘After defaulting on loans, Kilombero Plantations Ltd (KBL) goes up for sale,’ Oakland Institute, March 19 (2019).

[30] System of Rice Intensification: Training Manual for Extension Staff and Farmers, Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, Dar es Salaam (2015).

[31] K. Makoye, ‘Reducing water raises rice yields,’ SPORE, CTA, Wageningen (2019); ‘Students become the teachers,’ FAO (2019). See also video ‘System of Rice Intensification Transforming Lives in Tanzania,’ FAO (2018)

[32] See report in the January 2017 newsletter from Mazao.

[33] Here are links for the website and the video.

[34] See 2015 report on farmer successes with SRI assisted by VECO/Rikolto near Mt. Kilimanjaro.


PICTURE CREDITS: Bancy Mati (Kenya); Lotus Foods (2); Association Tefy Saina; Emily Sutanto (Agrobloom); Robert Bimba (CHAP)

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