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Universities, like international agricultural research centers, have as their institutional mission the expansion of scientific knowledge, but they have also the historic role of being protectors and purveyors of existing knowledge, which tends to make them somewhat conservative. Although universities generally have a reputation for being liberal, even sometimes radical institutions, this is a judgment made more in political than in intellectual terms. For many reasons, universities function for the most part rather conservatively.

In the SRI story, universities -- or better said, faculty members, staff and students at universities -- have played essential, indeed huge roles. As seen in Part I, university faculty have helped to forge a better understanding of SRI as an innovation, and as seen in this chapter, they have played essential roles in helping to gain acceptance for SRI. Some have also been instrumental in broadening the use of SRI, as discussed in Part III, even though the extension and application of knowledge is not as widely-established a function for universities as is their faculty members’ roles in teaching and doing research, unless they are operating in what is known as ‘the land-grant tradition,’ which is relevant for many American universities including Cornell.[1]

Understanding universities’ contributions must deal with the ambiguity between what is done by them as institutions and what is done by (and should be attributed to) the persons who compose them. Everyday language casually conflates individuals and institutions. When we talk about universities, we are for the most part speaking about individuals and units within them rather than about institutions as a whole.

One difference between universities and international research centers, discussed in the preceding chapter, is that universities are usually more heterogeneous in their personnel. Also, the forces that drive activity and behavior within universities are usually more centrifugal, more diverse, and less coherent. Their efforts are cumulative only in retrospect and are seldom very planned or intentional. University presidents and deans, even department heads, have less control over their faculty members’ endeavors than the director-general of a CGIAR center will have over his or her staff.

Thus, assigning responsibility, either credit or blame, is difficult with regard to universities. To simplify communication, we talk about how ‘universities’ do this or do that. But as the SRI story makes clear, while the actions of faculty and students get associated with their respective universities, there is considerable distinctness, for better or worse, between the institutions and the individuals involved in them.

Universities as a whole seldom do anything. Decisions and actions remain the prerogatives of their units and most directly of particular persons. Universities are made semantically into actors and agents when in reality they function more as arenas or platforms.

Like research centers, universities are expected to expand knowledge, generating new understandings of and insights on the world around us. However, their being at the same time protectors and purveyors of existing knowledge creates a certain amount of tension that draws them toward a posture of conservatism, as noted above.

On top of this, the incentive structures and specializations within universities, reified by universities’ organization into separate colleges, departments, institutes, centers and programs, tend to create both competition and isolation internally. These factors work against the ideal of academics pooling knowledge and new ideas to spur continuing, consensual advances in what is known. Concerns with turf and reputation tend to create defensiveness more than to foster openness.

Having spent many decades studying or teaching in universities (50 years at Cornell), I am as aware as anyone of divergences between the ideal and the actual manifestations of academia. However, when recounting the story of SRI’s acceptance around the world, it is not necessary to get into any evaluation of universities or of their operation. Some of these considerations can and will be addressed in Part IV when reflecting on this whole story.

In this chapter, we see the ways in which at least some academics in a great variety of universities have become engaged with the intellectual challenges and the practical opportunities of SRI. Since universities in China and India became involved with SRI most pivotally, they will each have respective sections of their own. Otherwise we survey, region by region, how universities contributed to SRI’s gaining acceptance within the domains of science and policy around the world.

Cornell faculty and staff had some key roles in this two-decade process, but this chapter should not be Cornell-centric because what emerged over time was an international intellectual bonding among universities, or rather among their faculty and some students. During this time, many university actors became linked with a variety of other institutions in their respective countries in ways that distinguished SRI as an innovation from most others. Universities have seldom gotten engaged with SRI in isolation, all by themselves.

Accordingly, this chapter reserves until its end a review of the engagement with SRI of Cornell University faculty and administrators who were not its protagonists. The concluding chapter in this second part of the SRI story (Chapter 36) will consider what was done proactively from a base at Cornell to support SRI’s becoming understood, accepted, and disseminated, interacting with the array of institutions that are considered in the chapters that follow.

There is also a separate consideration, in Chapter 27, of what certain national institutions that are dedicated to agricultural research have contributed to the process of accepting or resisting SRI. These institutions make up what can be called national agricultural research systems (NARS), which are differently structured from both universities and government ministries and agencies, operating with different missions, incentives and capabilities. So, it is appropriate to consider them as an institutional grouping of their own, not subsuming them within the category for universities or under the heading of government operating agencies. The story of SRI is unique for the extensive, even unprecedented interaction among many different kinds of institutions, documented in the respective chapters in this Part II. Each category of institutions deserves attention of its own.



The acceptance of SRI beyond Madagascar began with the involvement of two leading Chinese universities, Nanjing Agricultural University and China Agricultural University, the latter located in the capital Beijing. By late 1997, after three years of evaluating SRI with farmers around Ranomafana National Park, CIIFAD had concluded that this innovation was worth taking seriously. About this same time, Cornell faculty began interacting with counterparts at these two Chinese universities, starting with a joint trilateral workshop held in Shanghai in October of that year. This event gave me an opportunity to get acquainted with the academic leadership of both NAU and CAU and to start sharing with them what we were seeing and learning in Madagascar.[2]

When visiting these two universities in December of the next year, 1998, I gave presentations on SRI to faculty and students at both institutions. NAU’s president Zhai Huqu and vice-president Cao Weixing, both being crop scientists, took an interest in SRI and decided to do evaluations of the innovation in the next rice season.[3]

When a third trilateral workshop was held in August 1999 in Yangzhou City, Cao informed me that NAU’s SRI trials had given some very interesting results. The high yields in their SRI trial plots, 9.2 to 10.5 tonnes per hectare, were not unprecedented, he said. Such yields could be obtained by using China’s new hybrid varieties plus chemical fertilizer. However, such high yields could not be obtained using only half as much water as was normally consumed to produce irrigated rice in China. Since Chinese rice production was increasingly constrained by water limitations, this effect of SRI management greatly impressed Nanjing rice researchers and justified their further investigation of this innovation, Cao concluded.

Nanjing rice scientists were also involved in the Wageningen multi-country project discussed in Chapter 8, and they conducted further evaluations that were reported at the 2002 conference in Sanya, China.[4] Beyond this, however, NAU did not retain its momentum on SRI studies, mostly because its president Zhai was appointed as president of the China Academy of Agricultural Sciences (and moved to Beijing), and its vice-president Cao was elected to the Jiangsu Provincial People’s Congress, and was subsequently chosen to serve as the province’s vice-governor. Still, their initial efforts to evaluate SRI should be noted because they were crucially important for getting the SRI innovation started in China.

The upshot of my making a presentation on SRI at China Agricultural University after the NAU visit[5] was that some CAU agronomists did a few SRI trials on the edge of Beijing in the next season. These results were not very impressive, however, and they lost interest.

Fortunately, two years later the dean of CAU’s College of Resources and Environmental Sciences, Zhang Fusuo, heard from colleagues in Sichuan province about a village, Xinsheng, where the number of farmers using SRI methods had risen from just 7 in 2003 to 398 the next year. Fusuo thought this was worth investigating. He contacted the director of CAU’s Center for Integrated Agricultural Development, Li Xiaoyun, by then a very good friend of mine, and Xiaoyun put together a small research team from his center to do a quick study on how and why this rapid expansion had occurred.

The CAU evaluation, summarized in Chapter 7, reported that a major impetus for farmers in Xinsheng village to take up SRI practices was that SRI had demonstrated significant drought-resistance in the 2003 season. That year, those farmers who used usual methods suffered a 26% decline in yield, while the handful of farmers who had used SRI methods got a 9% increase over their usual production. This got the attention of everyone in the village.

The researchers calculated that in the next year, 2004, with reasonably normal weather, SRI yields had averaged 48% more than farmers’ usual yields, with water savings of 46%, and with costs of production lowered by 7%. The most interesting finding of the CAU study team, from both survey data and focus group discussions, was that Xinsheng farmers ranked labor-saving as the most attractive feature of SRI. This flatly contradicted a 2003 article that had concluded that SRI was too labor-intensive for poor farmers to want to adopt.[6]

As important for SRI’s spread in China as this early field research was the logistical support that Xiaoyun’s center at CAU provided for SRI work in China. This assistance started with printing up, in double-quick time, the proceedings of the 2002 Sanya conference to distribute at the 1st International Rice Congress held in Beijing five months later. For the next decade the Center for Integrated Agricultural Development and its staff were continually helpful in setting up meetings and providing logistical support for my and others’ activities in support of SRI evaluation and dissemination whenever we were in China. For foreign visitors with no Chinese language facility and little familiarity with this complex country and its culture, such assistance was invaluable.

In April 2006, a faculty member in the College of Environmental and Resource Sciences at Zhejiang University, Wu Lianhuang, was a visiting research scholar at Cornell for a semester. Wu stopped by my office on campus to get acquainted, having heard that I visited China from time to time. We shared a concern that China’s rice production with its heavy applications of inorganic nitrogen fertilizer was dangerously polluting the country’s groundwater supplies.[7]

When Wu returned to Zhejiang University, he got a talented PhD student, Zhao Limei, to do her thesis research on SRI. Her research findings on SRI’s enhancement of water- and nitrogen-use efficiency, published in several journals, showed that SRI management made it profitable for farmers to reduce their inorganic fertilizer applications, which was also desirable because it would reduce water pollution.[8]

Zhao also did research on soil microbiology dimensions of SRI that added considerably to our knowledge as reported in Chapter 5.[9] An unusual and commendable aspect of this research was that Wu involved SRI colleagues at the China National Rice Research Institute, also located in the same city, Hangzhou. Such an example of university-research institute collaboration was not the norm in China or in most countries.

In Sichuan province, in 2001 a professor at Sichuan Agricultural University, Ma Jun, began working with colleagues at his institution and also with the Sichuan Academy of Agricultural Sciences on understanding and evaluating SRI with encouragement from Prof. Yuan Long-ping (Chapter 21). The findings that Ma reported to a national rice science conference in 2004, summarized in Chapter 11, showed that SRI-grown rice had a higher milling outturn, i.e., more kilograms of polished rice from harvested (unmilled) paddy rice, and also its grains had less chalkiness so their quality and market price were better.

When I visited Sichuan province in 2007, it was gratifying to see Ma working on SRI together with the Provincial Department of Agriculture, the Sichuan Academy of Agricultural Sciences, and a private seed farm. This again exemplified the kind of cross-sectoral cooperation that was often seen as the phenomenon of SRI gained recognition and support.[10]

A professor at Northeast Agricultural University in Harbin, Jin Xueyong, joined the SRI network as soon as he learned about it because he had himself developed during the previous decade a system of rice crop management that was very similar to SRI. This system was adapted to the cold temperatures and short growing season of Heilongjiong province which is in the north of China. Jin had named the system ‘3-S’ which signified transplanting single seedlings with wide spacing (33×33 cm), reduced irrigation, and more soil organic matter, all elements of SRI’s methodology.

Because of the cold climate in the north, 3-S seedlings had to be started in plastic greenhouses while snow was still standing on the ground, as shown below. What qualified as ‘young’ seedlings in Heilongjiong province were necessarily much older than 15 days, indeed as much as 45 days, because rice plant maturity is a function of temperature rather than calendar days.[11]

The difference in plant growth and vigor can be seen in the other picture below. Professor Jin is in the center, in a blue shirt and white hat, inspecting a 3-S rice plot on the right. Unfortunately, Jin died in 2011, so the SRI community lost the contributions of a Chinese academic who had independently discovered during the 1990s how combining many of the same elements as in SRI had many desirable consequences. 

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In 2014, some years later, a young Chinese agronomist, Wei Wu, who had done his PhD degree at Huazhong Agricultural University and had taken up an academic position at the Northwest Agriculture and Forestry University in Shaanxi province, wrote to me at Cornell. He had learned about SRI from the SRI-Rice website and had done some research on SRI in connection with his thesis.

On his own, Wu had embarked on an ambitious project, a meta-analysis of all the data that he could find in the published literature by Chinese researchers who had compared the results from SRI management with their own preferred ‘best management practices’ (BMP). Hoping to produce an article that would warrant publication in a respected international journal, he was looking for cooperation in writing up the results of his meta-analysis.

A particular contribution that I could make from the Cornell side was to work out a scaling system which would enable Wu to quantify the degree to which SRI practices had been used in each of the sets of trials evaluated. This permitted him to evaluate to what extent SRI practices and principles had been assessed, not just considering as SRI whatever researchers chose to call ‘SRI.’ This made the assessment of SRI more substantial and not just nominal.[12]

Wu had sought out all studies that had sufficient comparable data to carry out a detailed investigation. Through his search of three large data bases, he identified 26 data sets from seven rice-growing provinces published in 17 articles that he could analyze. The meta-analysis article when written went through the peer-review process rather quickly and easily and was published in the journal Plant and Soil in 2015.[13]

For the whole set of studies, the average yield advantage of SRI methods over what researchers chose as best practices was 10.9%. But when the data were disaggregated according to the extent of that SRI practices and principles had been used, the ‘good’ use of SRI methods (with ≥ 20 points out of 27) had produced a 20% yield advantage, while full use of the methods gave a yield advantage closer to 30%. Unfortunately, there were not enough studies where the use of SRI methods had been ‘full’ to test for statistical significance as most of the evaluations in the published literature had not fully followed a recommended SRI protocol.

‘Poor’ or partial use of SRI practices (warranting ≤ 10 points out of 27), on the other hand, gave yields that were 3.9% lower than the BMP controls, for example, transplanting young seedlings but not maintaining water control. Wu’s meta-analysis was important for SRI acceptance because it contradicted, with a more defensible data base and better analytical methods, a previous often-cited evaluation of SRI that had reported that ‘BMP’ had an average yield advantage of 11% over SRI, without rigorously defining or representing either category.[14]

These thumbnail accounts of what Chinese academics have contributed both to the scientific foundations for SRI and to its acceptance show how important their role has been, and what could be accomplished from a university institutional base.




Through contacts made with several faculty members at the University of Tokyo by Shuichi Sato, a Nippon Koei consulting engineer who was at the time  working with SRI in Indonesia, this eminent university became the base of operation for SRI research and dissemination in that country. In April 2007, the Japan Association for SRI (J-SRI) held its founding meeting at Tokyo University, and J-SRI meetings have been held there with some regularity ever since.[15] Leadership for J-SRI has been given by Professors Eiji Yamaji and Masaru Mizoguchi who are very active and visible professionally, not only in Japan but within the East and Southeast Asian regions.[16]

There was also some important SRI activity at another leading Japanese university, Kyoto University, whose professor for rice science, Takeshi Horie, was mentioned in the preceding chapter in the sections on IRRI and WARDA. He invited me to make presentations on SRI to his research group at Kyoto University in 2005 and 2008 and supervised PhD thesis research on SRI in Madagascar.[17] In Japan, universities have responded to SRI fairly positively as faculty at several other Japanese universities have also been involved in SRI research although with less visibility.[18]


The first expression of interest in SRI came from Lin Yupin at National Taiwan University, who learned about the innovation through his participation in the international Paddy and Water Environment Engineering Society (PAWEES) which invited me to make plenary presentations on SRI in 2009 in Bogor, Indonesia, and again in 2011 in Taipei, Taiwan. The most active members of PAWEES are professionals in civil or water resource engineering or in agronomy from Japan, Taiwan, Korea and Indonesia.

Lin Yupin is active with academic journals, as noted in Chapter 28, serving as managing editor for the PAWEES journal Paddy and Water Environment, and then for the Taiwan Water Conservancy journal. He commissioned and oversaw the publication of special issues on SRI in both of these journals which were helpful for consolidating and disseminating knowledge about SRI. These articles, from 11 and 6 countries, respectively, would have taken much longer to get published separately, and they would not have had as much impact if their empirical findings had been scattered across many journals.

After the 2011 PAWEES meetings in Taipei, a number of Taiwanese professionals in the rice sector having learned about SRI through their PAWEES connections or through J-SRI associates in Japan established a national SRI group, with Chang Yuchuan of Hsing Wu University taking the lead to support its activities, which include a blog.[19]

Another university in Taiwan, Ming Dao University has established what was probably the world’s first Department of Post-Modern Agriculture. Its teaching and research are mostly focused on organic agriculture, with instruction on organic SRI. It invited me to make a presentation on SRI in October 2011. As in Japan, leadership for SRI has come mostly from university circles, although in both cases there has been some key support from private-sector actors.


In this country too, it has been university faculty who have taken the most interest in SRI, and indeed, SRI interest in Korea has come only from faculty. The first was Jinyong Choi, professor of sustainable agriculture at Gyeongsang National University. Choi brought a small group of his Korean students to visit Cornell for a short course on SRI during a summer study tour in the US in 2009.[20] His death a few years later unfortunately deprived the SRI community of his leadership.

In 2009, Joongdae Choi, no relation to Jinyong, a professor of regional infrastructure engineering at Kangwon National University, learned about SRI during the PAWEES meeting in Indonesia, and he took an immediate interest in it, particularly for SRI’s impact on water quality and on greenhouse gas emissions. Some of his published results were reported in Chapter 12. Choi was the first researcher to evaluate the reductions in water pollution that result from changing from flooding irrigation to SRI management.

During three years of trials, Choi and Kangwon colleagues measured six parameters of water pollution, including suspended solids and total nitrogen and phosphorus in the runoff from paddy fields. They found that SRI management methods reduced the average concentrations of pollutants by 16.5% to 46%.[21] It was disappointing that they found no significant increase in yield, but paddy rice yields are already quite high in Korea.

There is growing concern in Korea about water limitations and the adverse environmental impacts of pollution associated with current rice production. Documenting almost a 50% reduction in water requirements plus better quality of water run-off from paddy fields is thus regarded as a significant improvement, making SRI more attractive there.[22] Despite such evidence from universities in Korea, however, no evident interest in SRI has been observed from the government side.

To the north, in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), there has been some government interest and some international NGO involvement with SRI, as discussed in Chapter 38. However, there has been no university engagement with SRI there as far as we can determine. 



While universities have often been the independent initiators of SRI acceptance in East Asia, universities in Southeast Asia have functioned more often in consort with other institutional actors concerning SRI.


In this country, as seen in Chapter 39, the first initiative for SRI came from the government’s rice research agency and from NGOs there, but it was faculty at the country’s national agricultural university Institut Pertanian Bogor (IPB) who have provided the most national leadership for SRI.

IPB provided a base for the Indonesian Association for SRI (Ina-SRI) when it was created in 2009, being coordinated first by Iswandi Anas and then by Budi Setiawan, respectively professors of agronomy/ microbiology and water resources engineering. Their research contributions with IPB and other colleagues, including publications with SRI colleagues in Japan, have been noted in Part I and will be noted further in Chapter 39. IPB faculty giving leadership on SRI worked with colleagues in the government, the NGO community, and the private sector to establish a conducive climate for SRI acceptance.

There were other Indonesian universities that also took an interest in SRI, starting with Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, although the cooperation with other institutions that was anticipated and hoped for did not come to fruition.[23] In January 2008, I visited Universitas Andalas in West Sumatra to learn about its work on SRI through both research and extension activities. My visit was hosted by the university’s rector Musliar Kasim, with whom I had been in email correspondence already for several years since he had himself started evaluating SRI while a faculty member without any administrative responsibilities. In 2005 he sent me the picture below of himself holding up an SRI plant from one of his trial plots.

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During the visit, Musliar proudly told me that there had already been four PhD and six master’s theses written on SRI for Andalas University degrees, and ten students were currently doing thesis research on SRI.[24] He had invited Prof. Helmi from Hasanuddin University in South Sulawesi also to come and speak at the conference on SRI that he organized to coincide with my visit in 2008. Helmi reported on SRI work was going on in his region of Indonesia, although there was not yet as much activity in Sulawesi as in West Sumatra.[25]

In 2009, Iswandi Anas as Ina-SRI coordinator got me invited to give a presentation on SRI at Brawijaya University in Malang, and then in 2011 at Universitas Padjajaran in Bandung.[26] These visits followed a presentation on SRI that he set up for me in 2008 at IPB, his own university. In all of these institutions, the faculty members with whom I interacted were evidently interested in SRI as an innovation. Academics in Indonesia seemed generally more open to the new ideas of SRI than their counterparts in most other countries.


In this country, initiative for SRI acceptance and use came mostly from civil society rather than from academia, although there were also many university participants.[27] As noted in the previous chapter, in 1999 a presentation on SRI was made at the University of the Philippines, Los Baños in conjunction with my first visit to IRRI. There were several subsequent visits to UPLB, including one in 2004 where the results of student thesis research on phyllochrons with SRI were presented.[28] Overall, UPLB did not become as engaged with SRI as anticipated, however.

Obet Verzola, coordinator of the SRI-Pilipinas network, arranged presentations for me to share SRI knowledge and experience at several other universities: Central Luzon State University in Muñoz, Nueva Ecija; Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro, Northern Mindanao;[29] and Visayas State University in Baybay, Leyte. At the latter, formerly known as Leyte State University, CIIFAD had had a collaborative program on the study and promotion on conservation farming in the tropical uplands, and SRI fit nicely under that rubric.

After a visit to Visayas State University in 2004, the next year its faculty reported that the 15 farmers who had done comparison trials on their farms had gotten average SRI yields of 9.4 tonnes per hectare, which was 25% more than their 7.6 tonnes with their usual methods.[30] Overall, there was considerable interest in SRI expressed from a number of Philippine universities, but not much leadership for its acceptance emerged from these institutions.[31]


The first SRI trials in this country were done in 2001, at the Multiple Cropping Center of Chiangmai University in the north. While the initial trials gave a few good results, overall the results engendered more disappointment than enthusiasm.[32] Subsequently, the activity of Abha Mishra and her husband Prabhat Kumar at the Asian Institute of Technology located near Bangkok gave a large boost to SRI, first through Abha’s thesis research[33] (Chapter 8) and then through a large farmer-participatory research project on rainfed SRI supported by funding from the European Community development program.

In 2013, Abha and Kumar created at AIT an Asian Center of Innovation for Sustainable Agricultural Intensification (ACISAI) which provided leadership on the evaluation and dissemination of rainfed SRI in the Lower Mekong River Basin.[34] Without the initiative of Abha and Kumar, it is not likely that AIT would have become so engaged along these agroecological lines, but this university provided a base of operation for SRI. AIT’s contribution to the spread of this innovation extended beyond Thailand because of its broad Asian regional mandate.[35]


Here the role of universities in SRI evaluation and acceptance was not very great. In July 2007, an SRI workshop was held at the Royal University of Agriculture in Phnom Penh with reports on SRI research done by some of its faculty and students as well as by students and faculty from the Maharishi Vedic University and the Kampong Cham National School of Agriculture.[36] But in Cambodia, leadership on SRI has rested with NGOs and the government, not with universities.


In this country a substantial role has been played by universities alongside government agencies and NGOs. Several faculty at Hanoi Agricultural University began studies on SRI as early as 2001, although they did not take a national leadership role.[37] Parallel to the SRI evaluations and promotion that were undertaken by the Ministry of Agriculture’s Plant Protection Division with Oxfam America support, Hoang Van Phu at Thai Nguyen University north of Hanoi started sustained SRI activities in 2004.[38]

Thai Nguyen University is a relatively young university, but it is already the largest in the country. Established in 1994 with a kind of ‘land grant’ mission, TNU was expected to help accelerate the development of poor communities in Vietnam’s mountainous northern region. As director of the university’s Office of International Relations, Phu had substantial non-agronomic duties, but this also gave him some administrative clout for pursuing SRI evaluation and dissemination, which he did.

When a national SRI network was established for Vietnam in 2015, Phu agreed to serve as its coordinator, helping to facilitate cooperation among a diverse set of partnering institutions in the country.  Below is a picture from my January 2006 visit to Thai Nguyen University with Phu standing in the middle along with me and several university colleagues.

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The university role in SRI introduction and acceptance was more prominent here than elsewhere in Southeast Asia. A private-sector initiative here in 2009 that did not gain traction was picked up on by Anizan Isahak, a faculty member at the national university, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM).

With the help of UKM colleagues and others, a national SRI network called SRI-Mas was formed within three years, to which Anizan provided leadership. This history is summarized in Chapter 40. Once UKM faculty had taken a lead on SRI research and demonstration, faculty at some other universities in Malaysia also became involved, and links were forged with other institutions in the country.


In this country as in Cambodia, most of the initiative for SRI came from the NGO sector, as reviewed in Chapter 40. However, some sustained university work on SRI was started in Myanmar around 2010 without any links to SRI-Rice or anyone else. At Yezin Agricultural University, Thein Su, a professor of agronomy, began doing his own evaluations of SRI and encouraged students to do thesis research on SRI without institutional assistance or interaction from outside Myanmar.[39]

When there was a private-sector initiative in 2018 to engage Myanmar government support for more ambitious SRI promotion, Thein Su was asked to join the delegation that SRI-Rice put together, bringing a decade’s worth of experience and the status of his university into the discussions with government agricultural staff and with the Minister of Agriculture himself. Thein Su made good independent use of the web-based resources on SRI, although possibly more could have been accomplished if there been more connection to the worldwide SRI community, which Thein Su is now a part of.

At his own initiative and with his own resources, Thein Su translated in Burmese SRI-Rice’s 2015 book on frequently asked questions about SRI, and he supplemented this edition with his own pictures and information from SRI experience in Myanmar to make the book more relevant to Myanmar farmers and officials.[40] A picture of the book’s cover is shown below.

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In the first two states of India where SRI got introduced, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, it was universities that took the lead, thanks to well-placed agricultural scientists in both institutions. Their research initiatives for SRI were commented on already in Chapter 7.

In 2000 when he first learned about SRI through the Wageningen project on water-saving rice production discussed in Chapter 8, T.M. Thiyagarajan, known everywhere as TMT, was director of the Centre for Soil and Crop Management at Tamil Nadu Agricultural University. This position gave him a good base for evaluating and promoting SRI.

Three years later, the director of extension for the Acharya N. G. Ranga Agricultural University (ANGRAU) in Hyderabad, Alapati Satyanarayana, took the initiative to start up SRI in his state after a visit to Sri Lanka. Both TMT and Satyanarayana have contributed their own mini-memoires to this SRI history.

TMT’s documentation and advocacy of SRI led to World Bank funding for a large-scale SRI project known as IAMWARM in Tamil Nadu state.[41] Satyanarayana helped formulate and manage the large-scale, multi-year evaluation of SRI that WWF funded in Andhra Pradesh state (Chapter 8).

It has not been reported elsewhere that in 2006, both TMT and Satyanarayana were finalists for appointment as the vice-chancellors of their respective universities, TNAU and ANGRAU. Both had some strong support from various constituencies, but in the end they were edged out by other candidates with more political or institutional clout. The history of SRI in India would have been very different if either or both of these colleagues had been given leadership positions at these prominent agricultural universities in India.

Several other universities played important roles for SRI in their respective states. In Odisha state, Shambu Prasad, a historian of science who learned about SRI while working on a project at ICRISAT and who wrote an early history of SRI in India,[42] provided leadership for SRI acceptance in his state after joining the faculty at the Xavier Institute of Management-Bhubaneswar. Shambu was responsible for coming up with and implementing the idea of having diverse institutions working with SRI in his state create what he called ‘a learning alliance.’ This brought together universities, NGOs, government agencies, and farmer groups.[43]

In northern India, several faculty and students at the G.B. Pant University of Agriculture and Technology in Uttarakhand state got involved with SRI research early on, particularly Anchal Dass who subsequently joined the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in New Delhi.[44] At the same time, it should be noted that several efforts to get Punjab Agricultural University, a key institution driving India’s Green Revolution, to take an interest in SRI were unsuccessful.[45]

In the eastern Indian state of West Bengal, faculty at the Bidhan Chandra Krishi Viswavidalaya University, largely with the instigation of Prof. Ratikanti Ghosh, were very receptive to SRI opportunities and conducted research over several years with funding from the Tata Trust. In April 2015, the Social Science Institute at the University of Allahabad in central India convened a national consultation on SRI for increased productivity and ecological security. This led to a published state-of-the-art volume edited by K.N. Bhatt.[46]

In the contested state of Jammu and Kashmir, faculty at the Shere-i-Kashmir University of Agricultural Science and Technology, with some initial support from the WWF-ICRISAT program, started work on SRI in their conflicted region in 2005, as noted in Chapter 16, an effort that has persisted and gained some momentum.

These examples indicate a considerable amount of dispersed university activity on behalf of SRI across India. However, apart from the efforts at TNAU and ANGRAU, there has not been much institutional push for SRI evaluation and spread as most Indian universities do not have much functional connection to the grassroots.




University engagement with SRI has been less here than in India. The Bangladesh Agricultural University in Mymensingh hosted a first national SRI workshop in September 2002, with initiative coming from the NGO CARE-Bangladesh, and some of the faculty and students in BAU’s agronomy department have conducted SRI research.[47] But for the most part, Bangladeshi universities have been missing in action as far as SRI is concerned.


The situation was different here. Following the lead of a few of their students, several faculty at the agricultural campus of the national university, the Institute of Agriculture and Animal Sciences at Rampur in the terai plains, have taken an interest in SRI after some were at first resistant to the new ideas.

In 2006, a master’s student at IAAS, Rajeev Rajbhandari, wrote to CIIFAD to say that he would like to do his thesis on SRI, but that he did not have any support for this from his professors. A small research grant from CIIFAD enabled Rajeev to research and write a thesis on the effects of different plant densities and levels of nitrogen fertilization under SRI crop management. This started attracting faculty interest.[48]

His initiative was followed by small grant requests from three more Rampur students over the next five years (Chapter 8).[49] As at the Asian Institute of Technology and a few other universities, institutional involvement with SRI at IAAS was actually initiated by students rather than by their teachers, although several faculty at IAAS like Khem Raj Dahal became quite supportive.

Sri Lanka

There was some interest in SRI expressed from Ruhuna University in the south of this country in 2003.[50] But the first sustained university interest was at Rajarata University in Mihintale after Seewanjanie Ginigaddara joined its faculty upon returning from Thailand with a PhD degree from AIT in Thailand, having written her thesis on SRI water management.  She worked with Oxfam Australia and with colleagues at Rajarata to conduct several studies on SRI and to support SRI expansion in Sri Lanka.[51] Overall, though, there has not been much university involvement with SRI in Sri Lanka, perhaps influenced by the vocal dismissal of SRI by government rice researchers.


Neither was there much university engagement with SRI here. Some promising work got started at the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad where Mohammed Arshad took an interest in SRI through our personal acquaintance. He was a microbiologist who had contributed a chapter on phytohormones to the book on biological approaches to sustainable soil systems discussed in Chapter 5.

Arshad visited Cornell in the summer of 2005, and a year later he submitted a proposal from his university, together with Cornell faculty, to the joint Pakistan-US Commission on Science and Technology. This proposal sought grant funding for a collaborative center on SRI evaluation and dissemination to be based at his university. Unfortunately, no grant was forthcoming. Otherwise the history of SRI in Pakistan might well have been quite different.

When I visited the agricultural university at Faisalabad in 2006, I met with two very impressive PhD students who were doing SRI trials for their theses under Arshad’s supervision. Their SRI rice plots were not yet ready for harvesting, so we could know their yield, but their SRI plants were clearly as good as or better than the plants in the control plots. The SRI plots had required only one-third as much seed and used only one-third as much water as farmers usually applied. [52]

Both students were enthusiastic about the crop growth that they were observing and measuring and talked about how they wanted to spread SRI after they finished their studies. It was thus unfortunate, for many reasons, that their teacher and my friend Arshad died two years after the visit. There was no evident follow-up on SRI at Faisalabad or any other universities in Pakistan.


Here the introduction of SRI got started at a small college in the eastern part of this Himalayan country, Sherubtse College. A Cornell alumnus, Karma Lhendup joined its faculty in 2006 after finishing his MS degree in natural resources. Having learned about SRI while studying at Cornell, Karma conducted SRI trials at three locations of Kanglung district which gave encouraging initial results. The next year Karma moved the College of Natural Resources of the Royal University of Bhutan, where he continued his SRI trials and demonstrations.

Through his initiative, Karma was able to get some staff of the government’s Renewable Natural Resources Research Center, located at Bajo not very far from his college, to begin their own evaluations of SRI.[53] When for family reasons Karma returned to the US in 2010, the initiative for SRI in Bhutan passed to the research center, perhaps because a role of leadership within the broader community was not a very familiar one for Bhutanese universities. Below is a picture of the vice-chancellor of the Natural Resources College (in center) inspecting an SRI plant that Karma had brought to the campus for display. Karma is looking on from the right.

C23 5 17.png

There is no need for a section in this chapter on university involvement with SRI in the Middle East and North Africa because there was little ascertainable academic activity for evaluating or promoting SRI in this broad region. As seen in Chapter 43, SRI initiative in this region was mostly from within the government domain.




It has already been reported how the University of Antananarivo, the national university located in the capital city, was one of the pivotal institutions in the whole SRI story. Without the scientific initiative and leadership of Prof. Robert Randriamiharisoa, getting SRI research started and its methods validated would have been much slower and more difficult.

Prof. Robert selected and supervised Joeli Barison to do the seminal research on roots that was reported in Chapter 4.[54] Then, the large-scale factorial trials whose results are reported in Chapter 7 were designed by Robert. To conduct these trials with six factors and random block design (N=288 and N=240), he recruited the top students in the university’s agronomy cohorts that were graduating in 2000 and 2001 to carry out these evaluations for their respective baccalaureate theses.

Prof. Robert personally traveled fortnightly to the research site at Morandava on the west coast and then to Anjomakely in the central highlands during the two cropping seasons to make sure that the practices were being properly implemented on both sets of plots and to ensure that measurements were being done correctly (even though he had a leg infirmity that made traveling difficult for him). After these first three thesis projects, he supervised another four students in their baccalaureate thesis research which added to our scientific understanding of SRI, although it did not add as much as did the first three theses.

This does not mean that the agriculture faculty at the University of Antananarivo were supportive of SRI. When SRI studies started, the head of the university’s School of Agricultural Sciences (ESSA), Prof. René Rabezandrina, was openly hostile to SRI, writing disparaging articles in national newspapers, for example. He vociferously challenged the reported yields and dismissed SRI as ‘backward,’ as too labor-intensive for farmers to adopt.

Prof. René criticized in particular the amount of time and effort that SRI required for mechanical weeding of widely-spaced plants, not considering any beneficial impact on yield from active aeration of the soil. He advocated the use of chemical herbicides as more efficient and a more modern way to control weeds, never acknowledging that he was at the time a paid consultant for the German chemical company Hoechst. Even though Prof. Robert held the position of director of research for the school, it took some courage for him to speak and act openly against the asserted views of his superior in a university where authority had little accountability.[55]

Under a small research grant received in 2000 from the Rockefeller Foundation (Chapter 35), a rice agronomist with the government’s agricultural research agency FOFIFA, Bruno Andrianaivo, did thesis research on SRI for a PhD in agronomy from the University of Antananarivo. This research provided additional scientific support for the innovation. When Robert died both sadly and suddenly in 2004, it was a big boost for SRI that Bruno was appointed as his successor in the Department of Agronomy.

Since that time, the university like most other institutions in Madagascar has been weighed down by the political turmoil that has preoccupied the country. Little work on SRI has been done at the university in recent years. But the initial work done there was essential for SRI starting to gain acceptance in Madagascar and beyond.[56]


The acceptance and spread of SRI here have been due primarily to the efforts and strategizing of a professor at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Nairobi, Bancy Mati who serves as director of the university’s Water Research and Resource Centre (WARREC). Bancy learned about SRI in January 2009 during a seminar on SRI at IFAD in Rome. Not long after she returned to Kenya, Bancy got SRI trials started in the Mwea Irrigation Scheme. Good results and farmer enthusiasm propelled SRI uptake in this scheme, which produces a majority of the country’s domestically-grown rice. About 80% of the farmers in Mwea are now using SRI methods.

Field research on SRI done by Jackline Ndiiri for her PhD thesis, supervised by Bancy, produced a succession of articles published with her advisors that clearly established the agronomic and economic superiority of SRI methods over current farmer practice under Kenyan conditions.[57]

Once SRI was started in Mwea, Bancy took the innovation to the other major irrigation schemes in the country.[58] As discussed in Chapter 17, Bancy started value-chain development for Mwea SRI farmers to sell their higher-quality rice at a premium price. Unfortunately,  support from a government agency and the university was not sustained, but the ‘proof of concept’ had been demonstrated.


In this neighboring country, SRI work started a little later than in Kenya. However, faculty interest at Sokoine Agricultural University made this institution one of the centers for SRI engagement in the country.[59] Its faculty have worked with government and donor agencies on the dissemination of SRI.


Work on SRI has not gotten started here because few Ethiopian farmers grow rice. However, this country has become a leading center for SCI innovation, particularly for teff and wheat (Chapter 14). SCI innovation got its start in Ethiopia as an outgrowth of a workshop organized in 2008 by an environmental research and networking center at the University of Addis Ababa.[60]

While this university’s involvement did not go beyond hosting the workshop, this kind of catalytic role for disseminating ideas is something that universities are particularly good at, and this university in Addis Ababa made an important if small contribution. Universities here have not played an active role with SRI or SCI.[61]


In West Africa, universities have not become much involved with SRI or SCI, although a faculty member at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, O.O. AdeOluwa, contributed to the SRI-Rice monograph on SCI based on his application of SRI principles to growing green leafy vegetables.[62] An agricultural extension specialist at Ahmadu Bello University in northern Nigeria, Iro Suleiman, cooperated with an NGO colleague in Jigawa state to present a poster on SRI results at the 2nd Global Conference on Food Security held at Cornell in 2015.[63]

Beginning in 2018, faculty and students at Ahmadu Bello University became involved in the implementation of two large World Bank-funded projects that included SRI components.[64] The head of the farming systems program in ABU’s Institute for Agricultural Research, Aisha Abdulkadir, as taken an active interest in expanding SRI research and involvement. There have also been interactions with some other ABU faculty and with faculty at several other Nigerian universities, but so far none have emerged to play very active roles.[65] 


Elsewhere in Africa

There were contacts made at several Ghanaian universities, but no leadership for SRI has emerged from them.[66] In Benin, a PhD thesis was written on SRI for the University of Abomey-Calavi by Pascal Gbenou, but the initiative for this research came from Pascal himself, an NGO leader and rice-farmer organizer who was seeking to earn an advanced degree, rather than from the university.[67] With a few notable exceptions, universities in Africa have not been centers of curiosity and research regarding SRI.



Universities’ role in SRI acceptance in Latin America and the Caribbean has not differed much from that in Africa. In May 1999, when visiting the Pan-American School of Agriculture in Zamorano for a CIIFAD workshop on soil health, I made a presentation about what was known about SRI before a large audience of Zamorano faculty and students from all over Latin America. There was at most some curiosity, with no trials or other undertakings resulting.[68]


This was the first country in the hemisphere where SRI methods were tried out and took root, but there was little interest from Cuban universities beyond one agronomy student writing his thesis on SRI for the Universidad Agraria de la Habana.[69] As discussed briefly in endnote 19 in Chapter 19, a government researcher who had learned about SRI while getting training in Japan did her thesis on an innovative method for SRI crop establishment.[70]


During 2010-11, a student at the University of Cundinamarca did his agronomy thesis on SRI based on field research done at his own initiative.[71] He later started assisting with SRI dissemination in the region based at IICA, but little came of this, and it was not until IICA undertook to help spread SRI that activities started up in Colombia.

Costa Rica

The most university activity in the Latin American region on behalf of SRI has been at the Earth University, a private university in this country. In October 2011, it hosted a Latin American regional workshop on SRI organized with SRI-Rice. There were 27 participants from 10 Latin American and North American countries. Apart from Cornell and EARTH participants, however, there were no representatives from Latin American universities.[72]

Subsequently, several Earth University faculty undertook evaluations of SRI as this methodology is consistent with the university’s self-defined mission of working at the intersection between agriculture and environmental conservation. But this has not led to the spread of SRI within Costa Rica or any other country.


In July 2013, there was a big event at the Technical University of Babahoyo reporting on SRI trial results, and the university committed itself to continue working on SRI,[73] but there has been no follow-up reporting. The volunteer coordinator for SRI in Ecuador, Jorge Gil Chang, has reported that 10 theses have been done on SRI at six universities in his country, perhaps the most in any Latin American country. Generally speaking, SRI has had some but not much traction and attraction in Latin American universities.



While there has been less university engagement with SRI in Europe than in Asian academic institutions, there has been notable and important involvement from some European universities.


We saw in Chapter 8 the significant role that Wageningen University played in the first years when SRI was moving outside of Madagascar through a Dutch government-funded collaborative project on water-saving rice production. Wageningen faculty also agreed to join in the collaborative evaluation of SRI planned by IRRI and Cornell that, unfortunately, never came to fruition because foundation funding did not materialize (Chapter 8).

One of Wageningen’s most concrete contributions to SRI development has been to admit into its PhD programs four SRI leaders from India and one from Nepal. This graduate training enhanced their professional skills and standing for continuing work on SRI in their home countries, and their dissertations have added to the body of SRI knowledge.[74]

Great Britain

Thanks largely to the interest of Robert Chambers at the University of Sussex, SRI found a quick and friendly reception at this university’s Institute of Development Studies (IDS). In December 2007, when the Institute held an international workshop on participatory agricultural research and extension, there were three SRI papers presented.[75] This gave welcome exposure for SRI to 80 participants from many countries and different organizations.

Then in December 2009, when Wageningen researchers were starting a research project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on the dissemination of SRI, IDS hosted a workshop through which Wageningen researchers could gain a better understanding of this subject.[76]

Because Amir Kassam had an appointment as a visiting professor at the University of Reading in the UK, this became a kind of mini-center for SRI teaching and research, with courses and theses dealing with SRI alongside conservation agriculture.[77]

Some of the most important published research on SRI has come from Oxford University. A research project on rice production systems in India headed by Barbara Harriss-White and Alfred Gathorne-Hardy teamed up with colleagues at the National Institute for Rural Development in Hyderabad to undertake extensive and detailed research on SRI in Andhra Pradesh state, documenting impressive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions along with other beneficial impacts.[78] As usual, these initiatives were more individual than institutional.


The first opportunity from any European university for SRI sharing came from the University of Hohenheim. In 2002, Prof. Franz Heidhues, an agricultural economist on its faculty, invited me to give a plenary keynote paper on SRI for a Southeast Asian conference on sustainable agriculture and natural resource management that the university was planning in Chiangmai, Thailand. The positive fallout from this event for SRI acceptance has been referred to already several times in this book. Prof. Heidhues also invited me to give a keynote on SRI to the Deutsche Tropentag held at Hohenheim near Stuttgart in October 2005.[79] Unfortunately, he has passed away in 2014, and there has been no further engagement with SRI from that university.

Prior to the 2005 Tropentag held at the University of Hohenheim, I visited the University of Bonn and was hosted by Mathias Becker, a former senior rice agronomist at WARDA who had been initially resistant to evaluating SRI. Mathias arranged for me to give a public lecture on SRI at the university. This presentation became more interesting and convincing when Dr. M. S. Swaminathan, who happened to be visiting Bonn at that time, came to the lecture and backed up what I said from his own experience in India when some skepticism was voiced by the director of the university’s Center for Development Research, Paul Vlek. There has been correspondence with faculty or students at several other German universities, but no leadership for SRI.[80]

Elsewhere in Europe

Over the years there were scattered contacts with university faculty in other European countries, but no sustained interest that we know of. We know of at least a dozen students who were interested in SRI and researched and wrote master’s or PhD theses on SRI accepted by a variety of European institutions: University of Copenhagen in Denmark; Göttingen University, the University for Sustainable Development (Eberswalde) and the Hamburg University of Technology in Germany; Wageningen and Eindhoven Universities in the Netherlands; the University of Life Sciences in Norway;[81] Uppsala University in Sweden; and Oxford University in the UK.[82]

Thus, there have been identifiable stirrings of interest in European universities, but no concerted efforts apart from those noted above. That more university activity on SRI has been seen in Asia than in Europe is not surprising given the relative importance of rice in these two world regions.


In general, responses to SRI ideas and opportunities at American universities have been similar to those at European universities, although there have been more negative reactions than in Europe, as well as more ambivalence than initiative. Because responses at Cornell University are so central to the story of SRI, they are discussed at the end of this section.

Eastern U.S.

The first expression of university interest in SRI apart from at Cornell came from Harvard University. In 2000, Will Masters, an agricultural economist on leave from Purdue University as a visiting fellow at Harvard’s Center for International Development, was assisting the center’s director Jeffrey Sachs to organize a conference on ‘constraints to agricultural development to tropical countries.’ Somehow Will heard about SRI and invited me to make a presentation on SRI as he thought it appeared relevant for dealing with agricultural constraints in the tropics.

The presentation[83] was politely received, but nobody spoke with me about it afterward except our host Jeff Sachs. He said that SRI sounded interesting and that his Center should invite me back again some time to talk more about it. There was no follow-up invitation, however, possibly because Jeff moved shortly thereafter to Columbia University in New York City to become the director of its Earth Institute.

As it happened, Jeff and I met again in 2007 at that year’s Biovision conference held in Lyon, France. I updated him during a coffee break on what we had been learning about SRI potentials, by then much better understood than seven years before. We had by then considerably more evidence to back up SRI claims.

Again, Jeff said that SRI sounded interesting and that I should come to the Earth Institute and make a presentation on it some time, which I said I would be glad to do. But no invitation ever came, and other efforts to work with Columbia colleagues went nowhere.[84] There were several more invitations from Harvard programs to make presentations on SRI in subsequent years, indicating a little more interest among its faculty than at Columbia. However, these visits did not accomplish much more than collegial exchanges of ideas.[85]

The role of the Institute for Conservation of Tropical Environments (ICTE)[86] at the State University of New York at Stony Brook was mentioned in Chapter 3. ICTE was set up at SUNY-Stony Brook by primatologist Patricia Wright for the purpose of helping to conserve the huge Ranomafana rainforest which is home to many endangered species, in particular the lemur populations there.[87] Without Pat’s initiative to bring CIIFAD into implementation of the second phase of the Ranomafana National Park Project, funded by USAID, Cornell and I would not have gotten to know about SRI, and it is possible that SRI would have remained little known and accepted in the world beyond Madagascar. However, SUNY-Stony Brook’s interest was not in agricultural development or rice improvement except as this could undergird its efforts for environmental conservation.[88]


Midwestern U.S.

In general, universities in the middle part of the country have been more involved with agricultural studies than those in the east. One of the first and most appreciated academic supporters of SRI was Vernon Ruttan, a Distinguished Regents Professor at the University of Minnesota. He had been IRRI’s first agricultural economist, and he learned about SRI from participating in the workshop on agroecological innovations convened at the Bellagio conference center in Italy in 1999.[89] However, a seminar on SRI presented at the university’s Minnesota Center for Sustainable Agriculture in 2002 elicited evident interest.

Vern Ruttan once offered the following explanation for why so many academics were disinterested in SRI. SRI, he said, was a case where technology preceded science, rather than the other way around. SRI is like the invention of the airplane where, he pointed out, aviation, that is, actual flight, came before the science of aeronautics emerged. Scientists prefer technology that derives from their work, Vern observed. That Fr. Laulanié was a Jesuit priest was as irregular as the Wright brothers being bicycle mechanics.[90]

Another American academic who was supportive of SRI from the outset was Rattan Lal at The Ohio State University.[91] Already at that time Rattan was one of the preeminent soil scientists in the world. During the first two decades of this century he was one of the leading writers on soil degradation and climate change, contributing a chapter to the book on soil biology discussed in Chapter 5.[92]

Already in 2002, Rattan arranged to have a presentation on SRI worked into the program of the 2ⁿᵈ International Agronomy Congress in New Delhi. In 2013, he invited a paper on symbiotic endophytes for the yearbook that he was editing for CRC Press on advances in soil science.[93] Vern and Rattan were both eminent professors from whom it was very helpful to have concurrence.

Conversely, perhaps because of personal connections to IRRI, the University of Nebraska at Lincoln became a center of published skepticism, even opposition, regarding SRI. Its faculty members included Achim Dobermann before he became a deputy director-general at IRRI (2008-2014) and Ken Cassman, who headed IRRI’s agronomy division from 1991 to 1996, while Dobermann was a staff agronomist there. Their critiques of SRI are discussed in Chapters 22 and 28. At the same time, Charles Francis in the same department with Dobermann and Cassman was quite supportive of SRI given his interests in sustainable agriculture.[94]

There were also several faculty members at Iowa State University, Cornelia Flora and Robert Mazur, who took an interest in SRI. There was a master’s thesis written on SRI at Iowa State in 2014, as there were master’s and PhD theses written at Ohio State in the following two years. In general, SRI got a rather mixed reception at universities in the Midwestern US, and there was no buy-in.

Western U.S.

Here there were different postures toward SRI at several campuses of the University of California. At the UC-Davis campus, perhaps again because of links with IRRI, there was disinterest and even some opposition, including an intervention in 2007 to scuttle a discussion of SRI with organic rice producers in the Sacramento valley.[95] In the mid-2010s, some UCD faculty worked with Oxfam America and USAID support on an evaluation of SRI impacts in Haiti. This study calculated a negative benefit-cost ratio for SRI use in the area studied, but it was a good-faith effort to assess SRI under field conditions.[96]

On other UC campuses, where there was more interest in agroecology, specifically at the University of California-Berkeley and the University of California-Santa Cruz, there was more receptivity to SRI. These campuses were, respectively, home for two of the leaders in agroecological studies, Miguel Altieri and Steven Gliessman. In 1999, Miguel and I co-organized a conference on agroecological innovations at Bellagio where SRI had its international debut.[97] Later, as editor of Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, Steve published an analysis of how it was possible for SRI methods to produce ‘more from less.’[98]

One of the first American graduate students to take an active interest in SRI was Tim Krupnik, a PhD candidate at the University of California-Santa Cruz. Tim introduced SRI in Burkina Faso during his field studies in preparation for thesis research in West Africa. Although only one of the six farmers whom Tim got to try out SRI methods, the one shown below was very successful. But there was not broader institutional interest at UC-Santa Cruz, although Gliessman sustained an interest in SRI.

C23 6 25.jpg

Southern U.S.

Apparently the first university research on SRI applications in the US was done in this region, at Clemson University, by Brian Ward, a research specialist who works on organic horticultural production with a special interest in heirloom varieties of rice. This interest drew his attention to a traditional rice variety known as ‘Carolina Gold’ brought over from West Africa three to four centuries ago, during the slave trade.

In 2015, Brian presented a paper on ‘rice as a vegetable’ at the annual meetings of the American Society for Horticultural Science in New Orleans. His abstract concluded: “Considering [the advantageous] pricing for organic heritage rice, [growing] SRI rice as a vegetable has potential to fill a niche in commercial horticulture with more research.’[99]

Brian showed how high yields on raised beds with much-reduced water requirements could make rice production quite profitable, at least with specialty varieties that command a good market price. Brian was one of the few American academics who looked at SRI in terms of its ideas, to be worked with and adapted to local conditions, rather than treat it as a fixed set of practices, a technology. At American universities there has been generally little interest in the intellectual substance of SRI, unfortunately.


The situation has been fairly similar in Canadian universities, although PhD research on SRI done in Panama undertaken by Marie-Soleil Turmel for her dissertation for McGill University made some very important contributions to SRI knowledge, noted in Chapters 5 and 9.

A social science-based program on SRI was put together at Queen’s University by Marcus Taylor that explores non-agronomic aspects of the innovation. The first thesis to come from this work seemed to take a rather reductionist view of SRI, however, categorizing it as ‘a silver bullet’ approach.[100] In any case, it is good to start getting more diverse disciplinary perspectives on SRI.

Cornell University

Cornell was probably one of the best academic institutions in the world from which to engage in the evaluation of SRI and in dissemination of SRI knowledge. The Cornell name is widely known and respected, and there is outstanding expertise in fields like agronomy, plant breeding, and agricultural economics at the university. It has an eminent and well-placed network of alumni engaged with agricultural development around the world.

Month in, month out, Cornell is a destination for visitors concerned with all facets of international agriculture. But it should not be assumed that Cornell as an institution therefor took an interest in and supported SRI. While it provided a good base of operation, faculty opinion on SRI was divided and sometimes bluntly dismissive. Administrators were cordial, but they declined to ‘take sides’ in the controversy, so it simmered along.

The two faculty members most known internationally for their involvement with rice science, Ronnie Coffman and Susan McCouch, were both friendly toward SRI from the start. Ronnie as director of the College of Agriculture and Life Science’s International Programs steered two small grants from a local foundation toward SRI work in the early years (Chapter 35), and as seen in Chapter 10, Susan helped introduce a better understanding of genetics into SRI thinking. In 2018, the university administration nominated me and SRI for the little-known but very valuable Tang Prize.[101]

Unfortunately for the acceptance of SRI, a number of faculty members in the crop and soil sciences were less than enthusiastic about this agroecological approach. An initial presentation made to faculty members in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences in 1997, sharing several years of field data but having no published research support, was received mostly with skepticism. Producing more output with fewer inputs made no sense according to the prevailing paradigm that guided the crop and soil sciences. And the fact that the reported yields, averaging twice the world’s average, came from soils that were some of the poorest imaginable made any positive claims about SRI practically unfathomable.[102]

The chair of the Crop and Soil Sciences Department, John Duxbury, was willing to try out SRI methods in 1999 under a project for which he was responsible in Nepal. But these results were not good enough to arouse the kind of enthusiasm that was being evoked in most other countries.[103]

A big problem with these first trials in Nepal, conducted during the monsoon season, was that they did not have the kind of water control prescribed for SRI, for intermittent flooding and drying of the soil. This probably accounted for the failure to attain significant yield increases since growing young seedlings under submergence is certainly suboptimal. John thus had some respectable empirical reasons for reserving judgment on SRI; but within his department a generally negative view of SRI took form.

Subsequent trials with SRI methods that John conducted in Bangladesh and Nepal in 2002-2003 gave better results, but they did not alter the negative view of SRI that had congealed within the department, nor did Joeli Barison’s master’s thesis completed for and accepted by the department in 2003.[104] John’s trials in South Asia that evaluated SRI methods together with solarization of the soil, using the sun’s heat to purge the soil of certain parasites and pathogens, gave very satisfactory results. The data showed clear advantages of SRI methods enhanced when used in conjunction with raised beds having enhanced soil health through solarization.[105]

Especially after John was shown SRI fields in Nepal by Rajendra Uprety in 2006, he became more interested in SRI and was willing to serve as a co-principal investigator in the evaluation of SRI proposed by IRRI, Cornell and Wageningen in 2008 (Chapter 8). Below are pictures sent to Cornell by Rajendra from John’s field visit in Nepal with the co-PI for his research project, Julie Lauren, also a member of Crop and Soil Sciences Department.

C23 7 28.png

The responses of others in the department, with one important exception, were less positive. From 2000 on, I sought several times to have a meeting with the department faculty, not just to inform them about what we were learning about SRI but to respond to any criticisms and misgivings that they might have about what they had heard about SRI, because I knew that there was a lot of resistance. Four successive chairs of the Department of Crop and Soil Science declined to arrange for any such discussion, perhaps wanting to avoid the contentiousness that having such discussion within their unit would engender.[106]

In 2011, the chair of that department at that time sent me an email in which he reproached me for “promoting SRI” without having adequate scientific justification for this. The message made my SRI activity sound like the agronomic equivalent of ‘practicing medicine without a license.’ It implied that I should stop working on SRI from a Cornell base. A 40-page response that I sent back to him, summarizing the research foundations that we could point to that supported SRI practices, was not responded to.[107]

When I reminded this faculty colleague seven years later that he had never acknowledged the documentation that I sent him on SRI’s scientific justifications, I suggested again that he set up a meeting with faculty of the Crop and Soil Science Department, so that I could respond to any objections or qualms that anyone might still have about SRI.[108] His reply was: “My suggestion on this issue is to let it go. … I think it is important to recognize that we all have different career objectives, and your requests for others to become involved in your research priorities is not workable for everyone, especially considering the challenging funding environment.”

I had not suggested that other Cornell faculty should change their research priorities; only that we have some scientific discussion of SRI’s pros and cons. But apparently the exigencies and imperatives of faculty members each doing his or her own thing, and their scrambling to mobilize funding to support their respective research projects, worked against their spending any time in substantive discussions. This was a dynamic not unique to Cornell, but common in most U.S. universities.

It should be acknowledged with appreciation that Janice Thies, a departmental professor in microbiology and soil ecology, was for almost 20 years a supportive colleague and her critical thinking about SRI was always welcome. She happened to be in China when the first international conference on SRI was held in 2002, so it was easy for her to come to Sanya and participate. Then she also attended the 3rd all-India symposium on SRI convened at Tamil Nadu Agricultural University in Coimbatore in 2009. So, she was acquainted with SRI experience in many countries.

As noted in Chapter 18, Janice served as an academic advisor for PhD thesis research by Jijy Sooksa-nguan conducted in Thailand on soil microbial biodiversity associated with SRI. Janice’s training and years of experience in microbiology seemed to prepare her to understand SRI as a phenomenon better than did her crop science and soil science colleagues.

The limited interest in examining SRI was not only among agronomists. Half a dozen times I suggested to colleagues in the Departments of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology that they arrange with their faculty and students for discussion of what was being learned about SRI that would be of relevance for their disciplines. None of these suggestions was ever responded to.

The Plant Breeding Department did invite a presentation on SRI in its faculty-student seminar series in 2001, but its members showed no interest in follow-up discussions.[109] Colleagues in the interdisciplinary fields of nutrition and international agriculture several various times invited presentations on SRI, and a few individual faculty members took some personal interest in what was being learned from SRI experience. But most were dismissive, and some were disparaging.[110]

This said, SRI’s being associated with Cornell University, even tenuously, gave it a boost for being taken seriously outside of Cornell. Because substantial positive feedback was coming from many countries and from other institutions, with a growing stream of published research from academics at many other universities, mostly in Asia, SRI work could and did proceed without much involvement of Cornell faculty.[111]

In the initial years, several theses were written on SRI, but these seem not to have been taken seriously by Cornell faculty, and further student research mostly stopped.[112] Sadly, there was also some obstructive activity that went beyond being just disparaging or dismissive, as discussed in Chapter 33, but that relates to a different part of the story.[113]

In 2021, the college administration moved SRI-Rice under a newly created Department of Global Development, and the College of Agriculture and Life Science got a new dean, with stronger environmental interests that his predecessors. Also, the new GD department chair took more personal interest in SRI than previous chairs. So, as this book was being uploaded onto the internet, there was more administrative support for SRI work than in the preceding 20 years.[114] This came at a time when there were new possibilities for getting funding of expanded SRI activity.

*     *     *     *     *     *

Universities have a mission and a self-image of being centers of invention and innovation, as being receptive to and promulgators of new ideas. These ideals of inquiry and curiosity are held high. But the SRI story suggests that for the most part, universities are more conservative than innovative.

Fortunately, universities provide institutional platforms from which faculty and students who are open to innovation can work. This makes them valuable institutions for society, provided that their putting brakes on new knowledge does not stop its creation and dissemination, which has happened many times in the past.

Some braking is justified, to screen out ideas that do not have merit. But gate-keeping can serve vested interests, personal, disciplinary or commercial, not putting foremost the values of truth and service. SRI would not have progressed as far and as fast as it has if there were no universities. But if universities had been living up to their professed ideals, they could have contributed much more to agricultural improvement, poverty reduction, and environmental quality.

That universities continually receive influxes of new students, curious and looking to the future, and that some of their faculty take universities’ historic purposes seriously, also being driven by curiosity, as this chapter shows from all parts of the world, makes universities essential incubators for innovation. Unfortunately, by themselves they cannot propel major changes. They need alliances with government personnel, civil society organizations, and private sector actors, as discussed in the following chapters.


[1] When the US Congress enacted the Morrill Act in 1862, during the height of the American Civil War, it authorized each state in the United States to establish a state university that merged practical scientific and technical education such as engineering and agriculture with the classical studies such as history, philosophy, and literature. Fifteen years later, these universities were given a broader mandate by another act of Congress, to establish institutional capacity and programs that would extend the use of knowledge for the benefit of individuals, families, communities, and society at large. The land-grant mission includes, in the words of Cornell’s current president Martha Pollack, “the application of knowledge to make a lasting positive difference in the world.” This concept of universities’ purpose has been adopted to varying degrees in many other countries around the world.

[2] This initiative with Chinese universities was undertaken on behalf of Cornell University by its vice-president for research, Norm Scott, a professor of agricultural engineering. At first, I was not personally enthusiastic about the initiative, having found working in South and Southeast Asia already challenging enough. China seemed to be the most formidable part of the world to understand and in which it was very difficult to make contributions to development from outside.

    The Shanghai workshop in 1997 established Cornell connections with NAU and CAU colleagues, particularly a personal connection with the director of CAU’s Center for Integrated Agricultural Development in Beijing, Li Xiaoyun. Xiaoyun had made a broad intellectual ‘trek’ as I was making, from political science to agronomy. He had done his PhD studies at CAU in plant physiology, and then when appointed as CIAD director he undertook PhD studies in social science in the Netherlands. We bonded quickly.

Xiaoyun asked me to serve on an external evaluation team for CIAD, and then he asked me to be a co-chair of       CIAD’s international advisory committee. Both assignments were made possibly by the Center’s institution-building grant from the Ford Foundation. These roles occasioned several visits to China over the next few years that were useful for getting SRI activity started there. Such personal commentary is reserved for, but provided in, endnotes like this so that factors and coincidences involved in the SRI story can be shared with readers without bogging it down. Readers can ignore these sidelights and stick with highlights in the chapters if they prefer.

[3] During this period, Zhai’s daughter happened to be enrolled as a student at Cornell, so when Zhai visited Ithaca to see her in May 1998, he and I had some opportunities to talk, and I could acquaint him with SRI better than during the initial Shanghai workshop that he had hosted. Cao had done his PhD at Oregon State University before taking up academic and administrative responsibilities at NAU. His PhD thesis on wheat improvement had made him well-acquainted with the phenomenon on phyllochrons (Chapter 6).

What I said in my December 1998 presentation on SRI at NAU thus made sense to Cao as it did not to most rice scientists, who were still looking at plants’ growth rate through the less-illuminating ‘lens’ of degree-days.       As noted in Chapter 6, phyllochrons apply to wheat as well as to rice and other grass-family plants. The results of Katayama’s research in the 1920s and 1930s had not found their way into rice science as readily as they had into wheat science. A special issue of the journal Crop Science on phyllochrons in 1995 (35:1) focused almost entirely on wheat, with only one paper on phyllochrons in rice, by Japanese researchers. So Cao’s acquaintance with phyllochrons helped gain his interest.

[4] S. Wang, W. Cao, D. Jiang, T. Dai and Y. Zhu, ‘Physiological characteristics and high-yield techniques with SRI rice,’ in Assessments of the System of Rice Intensification: Proceedings of an International Conference, Sanya, China, April 1-4, 2002, pages 116-124, CIIFAD, Ithaca, NY (2002).

[5] Knowing and talking about phyllochrons was important when I spoke at CAU as well as at NAU. My host at CAU, Li Xiaoyun, a plant physiologist by training, was at first skeptical about what I was saying. (When I started my presentation, his attitude was ‘what would a political scientist like me know about rice,’ according to my wife’s conversation with him during the talk as they were sitting together.)

     When I started explaining SRI’s effects in terms of phyllochrons, however, he started listening more closely. He knew about phyllochrons from having done his PhD in the field of plant physiology, and some of his professors at CAU had been trained in Japan, where Katayama’s concepts were well-known among plant scientists. So he recognized the significance of what I was saying.

[6] Li Xiaoyun, Xu Xiuli and Le He, A Socio-economic Assessment of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI): A Case Study from Xinsheng Village, Jianyang County, Sichuan Province, Report for CIAD, China Agricultural University, Beijing (2004). A Chinese version of their paper was published in China Rural Economics in March 2006, in Chinese. The paper presenting SRI as being inherently labor-intensive was by C.M. Moser and C.B. Barrett, ‘The disappointing adoption dynamics of a yield-increasing, low external-input technology: The case of SRI in Madagascar,’ Agricultural Systems 76: 1087-1100 (2003).

[7] In endnote 44 of Chapter 6, a USDA paper was cited which had reported that in some parts of China, the levels of nitrite in the groundwater were already 6 times higher than the level deemed acceptable to the US Environmental Protection Agency (and were still rising).

[8] L.M. Zhao, L.H. Wu, Y.S. Li, X.H. Lu, D.F. Zhu and N. Uphoff, ‘Influence of the System of Rice Intensification on rice yield and nitrogen and water use efficiency with different N application rates,’ Experimental Agriculture, 45: 276-286 (2009).

[9] L.M. Zhao, L.H. Wu, C.J. Dong and Y.S. Li, ‘Rice yield, nitrogen utilization and ammonia volatilization by modified rice cultivation at varying nitrogen rates,’ Agricultural Sciences 1: 10-16 (2010); L.M. Zhao, L.H. Wu, Y.S. Li, S. Animesh, D.F. Zhu and N. Uphoff, ‘Comparisons of yield, water use efficiency, and soil microbial biomass as affected by the System of Rice Intensification,’ Communications in Soil Science and Plant Analysis 41: 1-12 (2010).

[10] See trip report on my visit to Sichuan in 2007. I got to know Ma better than his colleagues at the university because he was more comfortable with his English. There were a number of articles on SRI that he published with these colleagues on topics such as ‘Improvement of the system of rice intensification (SRI) and its application in medium hybrid rice of the double cropping system,’ Hybrid Rice 18: 47-48 (2003); ‘The characteristics of roots and their relation to the formation of grain yield under the cultivation by system of rice intensification (SRI),’ Hybrid Rice 18:  61-65 (2003); and ‘Study on the seedling-age and planting density in SRI,’ Journal of Sichuan Agricultural University 23: 365-373 (2005), all in Chinese.

[11] This system is described in a trip report from a visit to the Northeast Agricultural University and Heilongjiong province in August, 2004, at which time the area under 3-S management was already over 40,000 hectares.

[12] This table is reproduced in endnote 51 in Chapter 7.

[13] Wu and Uphoff, ‘A review of The System of Rice Intensification in China,’ Plant and Soil 393: 361-381 (2015). A third co-author Baoluo Ma when the article was first published online withdrew from co-authorship before it was published in hardcopy, without any explanation, saying only that he was a wheat specialist rather than a rice specialist. Possibly, as a young researcher, he feared getting involved in controversy.

[14] A.J. McDonald, P.R. Hobbs and S.R. Riha, ‘Does the system of rice intensification outperform conventional best management? A synopsis of the empirical record,’ Field Crops Research 96: 31-36 (2006). The shortcomings of this article, both in terms of data and methodology, are discussed in Chapter 26.

[15] J-SRI’s website is maintained in both Japanese and English, with the former being kept more current than the latter.

[16] See websites for University of Tokyo faculty Yamaji and Mizoguchi. The membership of J-SRI was 192 in 2018, with members from eight Japanese institutions and participants from three countries outside Japan. Sato-san, from the private sector, has served as the secretary for J-SRI since 2007. Japanese faculty helped to strengthen the SRI work in Indonesia and undertook to introduce SRI in Taiwan. Yamaji’s ‘advice to students’ at the end of his CV is: ‘Leave the city and go to rural areas. Let’s observe carefully and think deeply on it. We can experience its problems and richness.”

[17] Y. Tsujimoto, T. Horie, H. Randriamihary, T. Shiraiwa and K. Homma, ‘Soil management: The key factors in higher productivity in the fields utilizing the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) in central Madagascar,’ Agricultural Systems 100: 61-71 (2009). As noted in Chapter 8, unfortunately, this research focused almost entirely on soil chemistry and did not analysis of soil biology.

[18] Work on SRI in Japan was facilitated by my being invited in alternate years between 2001 and 2007 to give summer short courses on the social sciences of development at Ryukoku University in Kyoto. This provided regular opportunities to interact with a number of Japanese institutions and colleagues interested in SRI.

[19] See Chapter 38 on SRI activities in Taiwan. The blog is published online in Chinese. The group decided to concern itself also with conservation agriculture as well as with SRI. This was the first CA-SRI organization, but the SRI-Mas network in Malaysia has moved to a similar amalgamation.

[20] By the sheerest of coincidences, after an evening program at the 2nd International Rice Congress in New Delhi, Prof. Choi and I happened to sit together on the bus that took attendees back to our hotel. He had already heard of SRI and was curious to know more about it, so we had a long and good discussion during the bus ride that led to continuing communication after the congress.

[21] J.D. Choi, G.Y. Kim, W.J. Park, M.H. Shin, Y.H. Choi, D.B. Lee and D.K. Yun, ‘Effect of SRI methods on water use, non-point source pollution discharge, and GHG emission in Korean trials,’ Paddy and Water Environment 13: 205-213 (2015). In 2017, Choi was able to get study-leave from his university to spend most of a summer with SRI-Rice at Cornell, reviewing and synthesizing literature on SRI’s reduction of GHG emissions.

[22] These results were consistent with the conclusions from a large-scale modeling exercise done by Chung-Gil Jung and colleagues at Konkuk University in Korea. From their analysis of data on stream flow and water quality over a six-year period from a medium-size watershed (373 km2) and from their evaluation of SRI, they concluded: “The results showed that water could be saved and the nutrient load reduced by just applying SRI water management for rice paddies in South Korea.” C.G. Jung, J.Y. Park, S.J. Kim and G.A. Park, ‘The SRI water management evaluation by SWAPP (SWAT-APEX Program) modeling in an agricultural watershed in South Korea,’ Paddy and Water Environment 22:251-261 (2014).

     Choi and colleagues have published on-line a review of ‘Greenhouse gas reduction from paddy by environmentally-friendly intermittent irrigation,’ Journal of Wetlands Research 21: 43-56 (2019).

[23] Gadjah Mada and IPB have had a somewhat competitive relationship over many years; for example, for many years it was understood that the position of Minister of Agriculture in the national government should alternate between alumni of the two universities, no matter which party or ruler controlled the government. That SRI became more identified with IPB may have somewhat diminished interest in SRI at Gadjah Mada, although there has been some interest from Gadjah Mada faculty and alumni, e.g., M. Ferichani and D.A. Prasetya, ‘SRI increases rice productivity on saline soils,’ Paddy and Water Environment 15: 649-657 (2015).

[24] The visit to Andalas University and the conference discussion are described in a trip report from January 2008, pages 10-15.

[25] Helmi and I knew each other from our previous respective involvements with participatory irrigation management programs in Asia. How convoluted the connections in the SRI story can be was evident when I learned that Musliar had learned about SRI  from Helmi’s sharing with him a paper that I had given to Helmi at an irrigation management workshop at the Asian Institute of Technology in Bangkok seven years before. This was the same paper that I gave to Ed Vander Velde who in turn gave the paper to Shuichi Sato who after initially rejecting the paper’s conclusions agreed to do some field trials, subsequently becoming a leading SRI champion in Indonesia (Chapter 37) and then in Laos (Chapter 38). Such coincidental connectivity is beyond any possibility of purposeful planning.

[26] On interactions at Universitas Padjajaran, see pages 3-5 of 2008 trip report.

[27] See a 2003 trip report that included visits to these two universities. Mostly it reported on interaction with NGOs, as seen in the section on a national NGO symposium. See also a 2004 trip report that described a similar symposium the next year, pages 1-11.

[28] This research by an agronomy PhD student at UPLB from Ethiopia, Dobech Mulu, is posted on the internet and summarized in my 2004 trip report, pages 5-8.

[29] In the meeting at this university, there were reports on SRI activities also from faculty at Central Mindanao University and at Capital University (pages 11-14).

[30] That two of these farmers had gotten yields of 14 and 13.58 tonnes per hectare gave impetus for others to take up the innovation; see page 2 of a 2005 trip report.

[31] In 2015, Ravi Joshi, an Indian agricultural scientist who had worked with PhilRice and who then got SRI introduced in the Solomon Islands while he was an advisor to the Minister of Agriculture there, aroused interest at the University of the Philippines, Baguio, while a visiting professor there. He invited the coordinator of the Philippines SRI network, Obet Verzola, to come and make a presentation at the Cordillera Studies Center at UPB. But there was little impact from this effort despite the abundant evidence of SRI impacts elsewhere in the country.

[32] See report to the Sanya conference in 2002 by Phrek Gypmantsiri, director of the MCC. Fortuitously, the MCC involved an NGO in Chiangmai, the McKean Rehabilitation Center, which carried on its own trials and had good results. A German expatriate at the Center and living in Chiangmai, Klaus Prinz, took a lead role for publicizing SRI in Thailand until there was leadership at AIT.

[33] The main findings were reported in one of the first major SRI publications in a leading peer-reviewed journal, Abha Mishra and V.M. Salokhe, ‘Seedling characteristics and the early growth of transplanted rice under different water regimes,’ Experimental Agriculture 44: 1-19 (2008).

[34] Project activities and reports can be seen from the project website.

[35] One of the leaders for SRI work in Sri Lanka, Sanjeewanie Ginigaddara, did thesis research on SRI for her PhD from AIT, before taking up an academic position at Rajarata University in her home country. G.A.S. Ginigaddara and S.L. Ranamukhaarachchi, ‘Effect of conventional, SRI and modified water management on growth, yield and water productivity of direct-seeded and transplanted rice in central Thailand,’ Australian Journal of Crop Science 3: 275-286 (2009); Ginigaddara and Ranamukhaarachchi, ‘Study of age of seedlings at transplanting on growth dynamics and yield of rice under alternating flooding and suspension of irrigation water management,’ Recent Research in Science and Technology 3: 76-88 (2011).

[36] This research was summarized in a trip report, pages 14-20. During a visit the previous year, Koma arranged for me to give a talk on SRI and participatory development at a new private university in Phnom Penh, the International University where he was serving as part-time head of its Department of Rural Development. But its students were mostly urban and not very interested in agriculture.

[37] See pages 17-19 of my trip report from a 2007 visit to Vietnam. Nguyen Tat Canh and Nguyen Van Dung learned about SRI from the US NGO, Institute for Development Enterprise (IDE), but they got most of their information from the SRI-Rice website.

[38] See pages 8-13 of my trip report from a 2006 visit to Vietnam. Phu had learned about SRI from Klaus Prinz (endnote 32 above), who befriended Phu during his master’s studies at Chiangmai University. Phu then learned more about SRI from his PhD advisor at the University of the Philippines, Los Baños, Dr. Pam Fernandez. This tracks the kinds of connections that have been involved in SRI diffusion.

[39] For example, Soe Thura, Evaluation of Weed Management Practices in the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), master’s thesis, Yezin Agricultural University (2010).

[40] This guide to SRI production in Myanmar is available on the SRI-Rice website.

[41] See TNAU website on the Irrigated Agriculture Modernization and Water-bodies Restoration and Management (IAMWARM) project. The area under SRI covered by the project reportedly reached 272,000 hectares (55,000 ha demonstration areas, 217,000 ha in adoption areas). The average yield improvement reported was 35%, with a 42% reduction in water use.

     The project posted an impressive YouTube video showing project impacts, in Tamil language with English subtitles. CIIFAD arranged for TMT to visit Sri Lanka in October 2002, to see SRI being well-practiced, and then for Satyanarayana to visit Sri Lanka the following January. Both visitors were hosted by Sri Lankan SRI colleagues there.

[42] C. Shambu Prasad, SRI in India: Innovation, History and Institutional Challenges, WWF and XIMB, Bhubaneswar (2006).

[43] C. Shambu Prasad, K. Beumer and D. Mohanty, Towards a Learning Alliance: SRI in Orissa, WWF-I and ICRISAT, Hyderabad (2007). In 2015, Shambu left XIMB to join the faculty of the Institute of Rural Management at Anand (IRMA) in Gujarat state.

[44] Anchal Dass and Subash Chandra, ‘Effect of different components of SRI on yield, quality, nutrient accumulation and economics of rice (Oryza sativa) in tarai belt of northern India,’ Indian Journal of Agronomy, 57: 250-254 (2012); A. Dass and S. Chandra, ‘Irrigation, spacing and cultivar effects on photosynthesis rate, dry matter partitioning and productivity of rice under SRI in mollisols of northern India,’ Experimental Agriculture 49: 504-523 (2013); A. Dass, S. Chandra, A.K. Choudhury, G. Singh and S. Sudishri, ‘Influence of field re-ponding pattern and plant spacing on rice root-shoot characteristics, yield and water productivity of two modern cultivars under SRI management in Indian mollisols,’ Paddy and Water Environment 14: 45-59 (2016).

[45] As seen in Chapter 31, initiative in Punjab state for SRI came mostly from a government agent, Amrik Singh, deputy director of the ATMA center in Gurdaspur. He tried to get rice researchers at Punjab Agricultural University to take an interest in SRI, but with little success. I tried in 2002 to get the university involved with SRI through my contacts with a former vice-chancellor of PAU, S.S. Johl, with whom I had worked in the 1970s. Despite a cordial exchange of letters at the time, no interest was forthcoming from PAU.

[46] K.N. Bhatt and P. Bhargava, editors, System of Rice Intensification, Studium Press, New Delhi (2017).

[47] Within the agronomy department at Bangladesh Agricultural University, Prof. Najrul Islam took the most interest in SRI, supervising the PhD research of a government rice researcher, Abu Bakar Siddique Sarkar, which was an important contribution. The key actor for SRI in Bangladesh for two decades was a professor emeritus from BAU, Muazzam Hossain. But his efforts came after he had retired from the university and after he had served as acting director of research for BRAC, the country’s leading NGO. That Muazzam had taught agricultural economics at BAU for almost three decades meant that he knew personally more than a generation of agriculturalists, BAU graduates, working throughout the country. His being their former professor gave him much respect and many contacts. However, this represented personal more than institutional support for SRI.

[48] System of Rice Intensification under Different Plant Density and Levels of Nitrogen, MS thesis, Institute of Agriculture and Animal Science, Rampur (2007). Rajeev and his wife Janani subsequently were given a small grant from CIIFAD to carry out SRI extension work in the area where Rajeev had done his thesis research, where farmer interest had been aroused by what they saw. Janani was subsequently admitted to the MPA program in the Cornell Institute of Public Affairs, while I was the director of CIPA. Rajeev accompanied her, but no funding could be found for him also to do a graduate degree at Cornell.

[49] Their master’s theses were: Sharad Pandey, Effect of Weed Control Methods on Rice Cultivars under the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) (2009); Keshav Karki, Productivity and Economic Viability under Different Planting Patterns and Age of Seedlings through System of Rice Intensification (SRI) (2009); and Krishna Dhital, Study on System of Rice Intensification in Transplanted and Direct-Seeded Versions compared to Standard Farmer Practice in Chitwan, Nepal (2011). All four theses were informally advised by Rajendra Uprety, a government extension officer (and graduate from IAAS) who gave national leadership for SRI from his position in the District Agricultural Development Office in Biratnagar, discussed in Chapter 31. 

     Ram Bahadur Khadka who also did his master’s degree at Rampur before joining an agricultural NGO and then the government’s National Agricultural Research Council worked subsequently with his Rampur professor Khem Raj Dahal and me on SRI and SWI research, e.g., Khadka and Dahal, ‘Performance of rice with varied age of seedlings and planting geometry under System of Rice Intensification (SRI) in farmer’s field in western Terai, Nepal,’ Nepal Journal of Science and Technology 13: 1-6 (2013); Dahal, ‘System of Rice Intensification (SRI): A potential approach to enhance rice productivity and food security,’ Journal of Forestry and Livelihoods 12: 75-81 (2014); Khadka and Uphoff, ‘Performance of landrace and improved varieties under the System of Rice Intensification management in Bahjang district of Nepal,’ Journal of Agriculture and Environment 15: 1-10 (2014). Both Khadka and Dahal can be seen in the Flooded Cellar Productions video on SRI in Nepal.

[50] Here is a paragraph from my trip report, documenting interactions at a national SRI workshop: “Prof. Punchihewa from Ruhuna University at Matara in the south of the country had come with half a dozen of his students. One of them is studying the effects [of SRI] on soil fauna, particularly collembola (better known as springtails), as an important part of the soil food web enriched by SRI practices. The professor was carrying a lightweight weeder that he has designed himself and built with wire ‘fingers’ mounted on a hollow metal drum which turn up and aerate the soil. He said this weeder is easier to handle than most now in use, although it is not so suitable for heavy soils. It was put on display along with other weeder models that Gamini [Batuwitage] had brought.” Unfortunately, I did not hear anything further about Punchihewa’s work on SRI.

[51] See G.A.S. Ginigaddara, Location-Specific Adoption of SRI, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, Oxfam Australia, Colombo (2014).

[52] See trip report from October 2006, pages 4-6.


[53] The respective efforts made from the College and the Center are reported on the SRI-Rice website. See review on SRI results in Bhutan by Center staff: N. Chhogyel, C. Dorji, M. Ghimerey, L. Gyem and Y. Dema, ‘Assessing potential of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) principles in sustainable rice production,’ Journal of Renewable Natural Resources Bhutan 10: 19-26 (2014).

[54] For his thesis research and exceptional academic record, Joeli was awarded the 1998 Laureate de Madagascar, the academic honor given each year to the most outstanding university graduate in the whole national country.

[55] I will save for Chapter 45 telling some stories about how Prof. René’s opposition to SRI was overcome. This involved some personal drama and real courage from young Malagasy colleagues.

[56] Despite the country’s difficulties, a private university was established in 2001 in honor of Father Laulanié, called the Laulanié Green University. This grew out of an English Language Institute and continues to be more of a teaching university, focused on English language instruction, than a research-oriented institution or one focused on agriculture. But it does teach young Malagasys about agroecological methodologies including SRI.

[57] J.A. Ndiiri, B.M. Mati, P.G. Home, B. Odongo and N. Uphoff, ‘Comparison of water saving of paddy rice under system of rice intensification (SRI) growing rice in Mwea, Kenya,’ International Journal of Current Research and Review 4: 63-73 (2012); Ndiiri et al., ‘Adoption, constraints and economic returns of paddy rice under the system of rice intensification in Mwea, Kenya,’ Agricultural Water Management 129: 44-55 (2013); Ndiri et al., ‘Water productivity under the system of rice intensification from experimental plots and farmer surveys in Mwea, Kenya,’ Taiwan Water Conservancy 61: 63-75 (2013).

[58] This effort has been assisted by AgSri, the pro-bono consulting group in Hyderabad, India, discussed in Chapter 32.

[59] Prof. Henry Mahoo has served informally as a catalyst, being quoted in many press reports and producing publications with colleagues, such as. Z. Katambara, F.C. Kahimba, H.F. Mahoo, W.B. Mbungu, F. Mhenga, P. Reuben, M. Maugo and A. Nyarubamba, ‘Adopting the system of rice intensification (SRI) in Tanzania: A review,’ Agricultural Sciences 4: 369-375 (2013); F.C. Kahimba , E.E. Kombe and H.F. Mahoo, ‘The potential of system of rice intensification (SRI) to increase rice water productivity A case of Mkindo Irrigation Scheme in Morogoro region of Tanzania,’ Tanzania Journal of Agricultural Sciences 12: 10-19 (2014). Most of these authors are on the faculty of Sokoine University.

[60] See trip report from July 2008. The Horn of Africa Regional Environmental Center and Network had been established with Dutch government support.

[61]  It could be mentioned as an indication of regional cooperation that an assistant lecturer in agronomy at Sokoine Agricultural University in Tanzania, Primitiva Andrea, is doing her PhD thesis research on SRI and climate change at Haramaya University in Ethiopia with a World Bank fellowship which enabled her to spend some time in Ghana as part of her preparation for thesis research.

[62] SRI-Rice/CTA, SCI – The System of Crop Intensification: Agroecological Innovations for Improving Agricultural Production, Food Security, and Resilience to Climate Change (2014), see page 34.

[63] Expanding Rice Production through an NGO: A Study of System of Rice Intensification in Nigeria, Implemented by Green Sahel and Rural Development Initiative. Poster for 2ⁿᵈ Global Conference on Food Security, Cornell University, October 2015.

[64] See video on the TRIMING project in Zamfara state produced in 2020.

[65] Ehiabi Cyril Odon at Ahmadu Bello University has entered into email conversations with SRI-Rice on enhancing soil organic matter for SRI. There have been other interactions over the years with faculty at Nigerian universities in Abeokuta, Ilorin, Abakaliki, Bauchi, and elsewhere. The kind of leadership for SRI that Bancy Mati has given in Kenya and Henry Mahoo in Tanzania has not emerged, however.

     In June 2020, an article by faculty members at Ebonyi State University and Evangel University in southern Nigeria was received reporting their research on the use of indigenous microorganisms (IMO) with SRI methods, the first research on this subject. Stanley Onuoha et al., ‘Study of the effects of indigenous microorganisms (IMO) and system of rice intensification (SRI) on the growth of rice plant in Nigeria,’ International Journal of Biology, Pharmacology and Allied Sciences, 9: 690-705 (2020). Nigeria is such a large country that there could be SRI research going on that is not known outside.

[66] In 2018, a junior faculty member in agricultural economics at the University of Ghana began corresponding with SRI-Rice and planning future research on SRI in his country. Elisha Denkyirah had done his MPhil thesis for the University of Ghana in 2015 on SRI’s profitability in a district in northern Ghana. He studied the productivity and net incomes of 70 SRI farmers in seven communities and 70 matched non-SRI farmers in these same communities. The thesis showed the profitability of using SRI methods even when they were used incompletely. 

[67] This research, noted in Chapter 8, was unusual because of the degree of farmer participation in the design and conduct of the research. Pascal Gbenou was director of an agroecological training center and also head of the Benin rice farmers’ federation and then of the West African Federation of Rice Farmers (Cadre Regional des Riziculteurs de l’Afrique de l’Ouest, CRCOPR). It was Pascal’s involvement with SRI that raised university interest in the innovation rather than vice versa, the university eliciting his interest in SRI.

[68] A professor of agronomy at Zamorano, Pablo Paz, did write to me in 2000 indicating an interest in having an Ecuadorian student do his thesis research on SRI, but for this he needed a grant of $10,000, which we could not provide. So no activity was undertaken.

[69] Orlando Marti, Evaluacciòn de las modificaciones a la technologia del Sistems Intensivio del Arroz (SICA) para la producciòn en el Municipio Melende Sur, Provincia Mayabeque, Universidad Agraria de la Habana (2011). An English-language summary showed the SRI yield to be 10.4 tonnes per hectare, compared with 4.2 tonnes from the control plots. This research was interesting for its innovative method for transplanting young seedlings, using a tray method that greatly reduced labor requirements.

[70] Her research were published in an article: Yoannis Martin, F. Soto, Y.E. Rodriguez and R. Morejón, ‘El Sistemo Intensivo de Cultivo del Arroz (SICA) disminuye de cantidad de semillas para la siembras, aumenta los rendimentos agricolas y ahorra el agua de riego,’ Cultivos Tropicales 31: 70-73 (2010).

[71] Jorge Orlando Acosta Buitrago, Evaluaciòn del Sistema Intensivo del Cultivo Arrocero (SICA) en el Municipio de Purificaciòn Tolima, Universidad de Cundinamarca (2011). In 2020, Jorge communicated that he was working on applying SCI ideas and methods for maize production.

[72] This was supported by the Better U Foundation. See report from this conference on the SRI-Rice website.

[73] See SRI-Rice website, section on 2013 activities.

[74] Rajendra Uprety, who has been the main mover for SRI in Nepal, took leave from his government extension responsibilities to do his coursework for a PhD from Wageningen with a thesis on Agricultural Intensification in Nepal, with particular reference to Systems of Rice Intensification completed in 2016. Debashish Sen, director of the People’s Science Institute in Dehradun, India, and currently coordinator of the National Consortium for SRI, completed his PhD from Wageningen with a thesis on How Smallholder Farmers in Uttarakhand Reworked the System of Rice Intensification: Innovations from Socio-technical Interactions in Fields and Villages (2015).

     Two other SRI colleagues who head NGOs that work with SRI in Andhra Pradesh and Odisha states, respectively, Ravindran (WASSAN, Hyderabad) and Sabarmatee (Sambhav, Rohibank) have completed all but their thesis requirements for a Wageningen PhD. They are still working on their theses, supervised by Wageningen faculty and Dr. Shambu Prasad at the Institute of Rural Management-Anand in India. Sabarmatee’s research on SRI’s impact on women in India was discussed in Chapter 15.

[75] This conference titled ‘Farmer First Revisited’ was held 20 years after a ground-breaking IDS conference which coined the concept of ‘Farmer First,’ meaning farmer-centered research and development. Shambu Prasad presented a paper on Indian SRI experience at the 2009 workshop, while I presented one on SRI as a system of agricultural innovation and another on farmer innovations with SRI.

[76] I was planning to be in the UK in December 2009 for a presentation on SRI at a conference of the Association for Applied Biology, so Robert Chambers and John Thompson put together a workshop to which three Wageningen researchers made the short trip from the Netherlands. Unfortunately, one of the worst snowstorms of the winter disrupted the second day of the workshop.

[77] In 2007, the University of Reading hosted the Hugh Bunting memorial lectures sponsored by the Tropical Agriculture Association and provided a good venue for a presentation on SRI as ‘post-modern agriculture’ (pages 13-19).

[78] This project’s findings were summarized in Chapter 1, with references given in endnotes 16 and 22.

[79] This was an annual event that is hosted by different German universities in turn. At ‘Tropical Day’ each year, a wide variety of papers are presented on subjects of interest to persons who work on development for the tropics. It has grown into a three-day program with participants coming from many countries in Europe. An introduction of SRI to Europeans had been made at the preceding Tropentag by Jürgen Anthofer, based on his 2004 evaluation of SRI in Cambodia for the German development agency GTZ (now GIZ).

[80] I should mention that Manfred Schulz, a sociology professor at the Technical University of Berlin, who had been a visiting research fellow at Cornell in the 1970s, based with the Rural Development Committee which was chairing, took an interest in SRI, in part because his wife was a Malagasy. But as his university had no agricultural specialization and as he had no agricultural credentials, Manfred was not able to be of much help.

[81] See study done by students at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences on Opportunities for Support of System of Rice Intensification in Tanzania, Zambia and Malawi, commissioned by the Norwegian aid agency NORAD (2014).

[82] These theses and many others are posted on the SRI-Rice website.

[83] The paper though unpublished is available from the Research Gate archive.

[84] There is some history of interaction with faculty at Columbia. In 2004, I was invited to make a presentation at Columbia’s Center for International and Public Affairs by its director of the international development program, Coralie Bryant, a long-time colleague. But there was no collaboration with Columbia’s Earth Institute, despite my offering several times to come to New York City at my own expense to discuss SRI with its students and staff.

    After a talk to CIPA students at Columbia in 2004, I had dinner that evening at the faculty club with Coralie and Pedro Sanchez, director of the Earth Institute’s Agriculture and Food Security Program. Pedro had invited me six years earlier to give a presentation at ICRAF, the International Centre for Research on Agro-Forestry in Nairobi while he was its Director-General. Pedro, who was a co-editor of the soil biology book discussed in Chapter 5, remained skeptical about SRI and did not engage me or SRI with his program in the Earth Institute. Whenever I discussed SRI with him after our first meeting in 1998, he kept saying that until I could show him “where the nitrogen for those high yields comes from,” he would remain skeptical. We maintained good collegial relations, however.

     In 2006, one of Jeff Sachs’ research assistants at the Earth Institute telephoned me at Cornell to ask if I would be willing to meet with him. He offered to come to Ithaca by bus (at his own expense, it turned out) to talk with me about SRI because he was curious to understand why there was no interest in SRI at the Earth Institute. He had done some reading on SRI and thought that it seemed very relevant to the Institute’s mission. After spending most of a day talking, he left Ithaca saying that he would try to get an invitation for me to come to the Institute and give a talk about SRI. But that invitation never came.

     Several years later, the director of the Earth Institute’s Millennium Village program, which Jeff Sachs had gotten co-sponsored by the United Nations, called me at Cornell to talk about SRI. We spoke for almost an hour on the phone as it sounded like SRI could help the program achieve several of its Millennium Development Goals. But an anticipated opportunity to introduce SRI within that program never materialized, although a UN agency did report that the introduction of SRI was strengthening a particular Millennium Village in Madagascar.

     The Millennium Village program remained wedded to the idea of raising food production through the introduction of new seed varieties and increased provision of chemical fertilizer. The program itself has received considerable criticism for failing to achieve its objectives in cost-effective ways. An openness to SRI could probably have made some of the negative judgments less harsh.

[85] In 2010, a Harvard Faculty Workshop on Sustainable Food and Farming invited me to talk about SRI to a dinner seminar at the Harvard Faculty Club, a splendid affair, but there was no follow-up, and in 2011, I gave a talk on SRI to students in the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

     Then in 2014, an Indian NGO colleague Anil Verma and I were invited to participate in a workshop on ‘innovation and access to technology for vulnerable farmers’ that was organized by the Kennedy School’s Sustainability Science Program. The invitation came at the initiative of a PhD student in the program, Alicia Harley, who had done field research on SRI in Bihar state of India with logistical support from Anil’s NGO, PRAN. There was no communication from the Harvard program subsequently indicating any interest in knowing more about SRI or in evaluating it.

[86] See website of ICTE for more information on this unique university-based initiative, which established a international conservation research and study center in Madagascar in 2003.

[87] Pat Wright is credited with having re-discovered in Ranomafana rain forest the greater bamboo lemur in Ranomafana which had long been thought extinct and with discovering the golden bamboo lemur, a new species. In 1989 she was given a MacArthur Foundation fellowship, known colloquially as ‘the genius award,’ which gave her considerable eminence, especially in Madagascar.

[88] In the first phase of the project, faculty and students from North Carolina State University were responsible for the agricultural component of the Ranomafana project, under a sub-contract with SUNY-Stony Brook. Preparatory work was done during the first phase, upon which CIIFAD’s work could build, including a detailed study of the soils in the peripheral zone around Ranomafana rainforest. See thesis by Bruce K. Johnson in Soil Characterization and Reconnaissance Survey of the Ranomafana National Park Area, Southeastern Madagascar (2002).

     NCSU faculty recognized the importance of raising rice yields. Their trials with selected new high-yielding varieties and inorganic fertilizer showed that rice yields could be 3-5 tonnes per hectare, rather than the 1-2 tonne yields being obtained on the very poor soils around Ranomafana with traditional practices. This was still much lower than SRI methods produced without new seeds or fertilizer.

     Apparently, there had been an informal agreement that NCSU would become the lead institution for the second phase, with SUNY-Stony Brook becoming the sub-contractor. However, CIIFAD knew nothing about this when it was invited to, and agreed to, help implement the project’s second phase. While Cornell faculty were interested also in the conservation aspects of the project, what they could contribute to the project was mostly the agricultural side. SUNY-Stony Brook was interested in agricultural development for the communities living around the park, but primarily as a means for protecting the park and its biodiverse wildlife.

[89] See endnote 40 in the preceding chapter.

[90] The invention of heavier-than-air flying vehicles is engagingly told by David McCullough in The Wright Brothers, Simon and Schuster, New York (2015). Ruttan’s suggestion led to an article written with my Cornell colleague Jerry Combs that was turned down by The Atlantic magazine but published by Robert Chambers on his IDS/Sussex blog, which was entered into several archives: ‘Some things can’t be true, but are: Rice, rickets, and what else?’

[91] In 2002, Lal invited me to give a paper at a conference that he was organizing on rice-wheat farming systems. This conference produced a book edited by Lal, Peter Hobbs, myself and David Hansen, on Sustainable Agriculture and the International Rice-Wheat System, CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL (2004). It had a chapter on ‘Agroecological thoughts on zero-tillage: Possibilities for improving both crop components of rice-wheat farming systems with rice intensification.’

[92] ‘Impacts of climate on soil systems and of soil systems on climate,’ in N. Uphoff, et al., eds., Biological Approaches to Sustainable Soil Systems, CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL (2006).

[93] This chapter, ‘Soil fertility as a contingent rather than inherent characteristic: Considering the contributions of crop-symbiotic soil biota,’ was written with three microbiology colleagues who had an interest in SRI, Feng Chi, Frank Dazzo and Rusty Rodriguez. It was included in Principles of Sustainable Soil Management in Agroecosystems, edited by Rattan Lal and Bobby Stewart, CRC Press, Boca Raton FL (2013).

[94] In 2016, the Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute at the University of Nebraska invited me to give a lecture in its ‘water for health’ series. Unfortunately, neither Cassman nor Dobermann were there to talk with. There was an opportunity to make a presentation also to agronomy department students and faculty, which Chuck Francis hosted.

[95] John Jolliffe, senior advisor with Jim Carrey’s Better U Foundation, set up a day-long meeting at the Lundberg Farms in 2008 to inform organic rice growers in the Sacramento Valley about SRI. The foundation offered to pay my way to lead this event. The meeting was cancelled three days before it was scheduled to occur, however, reportedly because some faculty at the University of California, Davis had advised the growers against getting involved with SRI. Since growers depend heavily on UCD faculty for extension support, the invitation was withdrawn.

    This could be considered as hearsay, except at the 3rd International Rice Congress in Hanoi in 2010, my wife Marguerite got to talking with James Hill, a UCD faculty member who had been director of IRRI’s program on irrigated rice from 1999 to 2002. Somehow the subject of applying SRI ideas within the US came up, and Jim, apparently not seeing the name ‘Uphoff’ on Marguerite’s name tag, commented that he had advised rice growers in California against getting involved with SRI.

The reason Jim gave was that under California law, growers could lose some of their current water rights if they engaged in water-saving methodology. Even if this was his only reason for discouraging learning about SRI, it was short-sighted because worsening water constraints will eventually put California rice growers out of business if they cannot produce rice with less water.

    In addition to Jim Hill, who had ties to both IRRI and UC-Davis, an eminent IRRI plant breeder Gurdev Khush relocated to Davis as an adjunct professor after he retired from IRRI; and David Mackill, who was a researcher at IRRI for 20 years, also joined the UCD faculty as an adjunct professor.

[96] See summary of this research, which was supported by USAID’s Feed the Future program, 2013-2017. The UCD study found only a 14% increase in yield, considerably less than in other Feed the Future initiatives that introduced SRI in Haiti. USAID’s WINNER project reported doubled yields. The UCD study also found an increase in farmers’ costs of production with SRI reportedly because the methods were unfamiliar. This differed from the more usual reduction in costs with SRI cultivation.

[97] Miguel edited the special issue of Environment, Development and Sustainability, in which my paper ‘Agroecological implications of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) in Madagascar’ was published, 1: 297-313 (1999). He never took an active interest in SRI, however, perhaps because he regarded the SRI version of agroecology as too ‘apolitical.’

[98] ‘SRI: An agroecological strategy to meet multiple objectives with reduced reliance on inputs, Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems 41: 825-854 (2017).

[99] ‘Rice as a vegetable: An organic perspective on SRI,’ paper presented at 2015 annual conference of the American Society for Horticultural Science, New Orleans, LA (2015).

[100] Keira Loukes, The System of Rice Intensification: Complicating the Global Narrative, master’s thesis, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario (2015). The thesis presented SRI as “set practices” rather than as ideas and insights that have an origin in Madagascar but that have evolved as experience and knowledge have grown. The thesis also stated that the proponents present SRI as “a universal solution to food security” without any evidence that this view may be held by more than a few persons.

    The thesis characterized SRI practices as being regarded as “a universally appropriate set of practices” not conditioned by ecological or social relationships, without any justification. While descriptions of SRI often are in terms of recommended practices, it is expected that they will adapted to local conditions. Even IRRI acknowledges this, although its scientists consider this variability as something negative because SRI’s flexibility makes it difficult for IRRI to evaluate SRI as a single set of practices. SRI principles can be considered as universal but not its practices. Chapters in Part I showed how the understanding and practice of SRI have evolved over time, without SRI being to a set of fixed methods to be applied everywhere.

[101] This prize is described in Wikipedia. Unfortunately, as discussed in Chapter 33, the nomination was not successful.

[102] Recall from Chapter 3 that agronomists at a respected peer institution, North Carolina State University, had characterized the soils around Ranomafana as some of the worst that they had ever evaluated: “There are no significant areas of naturally fertile soils within tens of kilometers of the park boundary.” Not only were the soils highly acidic, but they contained less than half the minimum amount of available phosphorus that agronomists consider necessary to get an acceptable yield, let alone a good one. This provided grounds for skepticism about large increases in yield without providing the soil with P fertilizer.

[103] These early results were summarized in the country report from Nepal to the SRI conference in Sanya, China in 2002. The trials, both on-station and on farmers’ fields, showed increased plant tillering with SRI’s seedling age and plant spacing, but the yield results were usually better with 20-day seedlings and 20x20 cm spacing than with 15-day seedlings and 25x25 cm spacing, as would have been expected from SRI theory. Both sets of yield were superior to that from older, more crowded seedlings which farmers in the area usually used. SRI theory actually would predict that with colder temperatures and poor soils, somewhat older seedlings with more plant density would perform better.

[104] Nutrient use efficiency and nutrient uptake in conventional and intensive (SRI) rice cultivation systems in Madagascar, MS thesis, Crop and Soil Science Department, Cornell University (2003). Important findings from this thesis research have been reported in Chapter 4 and 6. Unfortunately, his advisor, Erick Fernandes took a sabbatical leave shortly thereafter, upon receiving tenure, to work at the World Bank and did not return. He did not work with Joeli to get the results published.

     Joeli’s thesis findings were published eight years later in ‘Rice yield and its relation to root growth and nutrient-use efficiency under SRI and conventional cultivation: An evaluation in Madagascar,’ Paddy and Water Environment, 9: 65-78 (2011). If these results had been published sooner and if Erick had remained as a tenured member of the department, possibly the subsequent intra-departmental dynamics would have been different as Erick had a good understanding of SRI from his own observations and from his strong scientific background.

[105] These results are reviewed by Duxbury and Julie Lauren in a report to the USAID-funded project that supported this research. Duxbury co-authored a 2004 report on SRI trials in Bangladesh which showed no superiority for SRI methods in the boro (winter) season. Unfortunately, the temperatures were colder than suitable for young seedings, and ‘wider spacing’ was taken to mean 30-50 cm rather than 25 cm. This was a good faith evaluation, but with unpromising results, which confirmed a negative view of SRI.

[106] While he was department chair, John Duxbury declined several requests from me to meet with his department faculty to discuss what we were learning about SRI. But so did all three of his successors as department chair.

[107] This department chair, Harold van Es, served as national president of the Soil Science Society of America, 2015-2017. It should be said that he had supervised field research on SRI for a PhD student from Mozambique which had not shown any SRI yield advantages. M.Z.L. Menete, H.M. van Es, R.M.L. Brito, S.D. DeGloria and S. Famba, ‘Evaluation of system of rice intensification (SRI) component practices and their synergies on salt-affected soils,’ Field Crops Research 109: 34-44 (2008).

     Harold was not disciplinarily conservative, having given leadership on soil health, organic agriculture, and sustainability, e.g., Fred Magdoff and Harold van Es, Building Soils for Better Crops: Sustainable Soil Management, Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Program, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, College Park, MD (2010).

[108] Harold reminded me of the SRI evaluation done in Mozambique, cited in the preceding endnote. These results, not really positive, needed to be taken into account, but they should not have surprised anyone because on salinity-affected soils, intermittent irrigation is expected to be less successful than continuous flooding.

This was the kind of issue that I wanted to discuss and explore with crop and soil science faculty. Research published subsequently from Indonesia indicated that SRI methods can have beneficial effects even on some saline soils. M. Ferichani and D.A. Prasetya, ‘System of rice intensification increases rice productivity on saline soil,’ Paddy and Water Environment 15: 649-657 (2017). Such differences in results are worth investigating.

[109] Although my presentation to the plant breeders was thoroughly agronomic, the title of the presentation may have been too humanistic, with its allusion to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick -- ‘The SRI Puzzle: A Great White Hope, or Great White Whale?’ The title, with a touch of self-deprecation, was intended to convey that SRI with its many unresolved questions should be an interesting subject for research and evaluation.

[110] The most openly dismissive was Susan Riha, whose co-authored article on SRI published in Field Crops Research in 2006 is discussed in Chapter 28. She had been a faculty colleague for many years and a member of CIIFAD’s Program Committee in its formative years. Once in 2006 when I tried to tell her about SRI data that had been received from Shuichi Sato from 12,000+ on-farm comparison trials across six seasons and eight provinces in Indonesia, she said that she would only consider such data after they had been published in a peer-reviewed journal. Until then, she said, she was not interested in even talking about them. This prompted me to ask her whether everything that is published in peer-reviewed journals is true -- and whether everything that is true is published in peer-reviewed journals? Fair questions, I thought.

     Rather than address these questions, her response was: “You’re not a scientist!” My reply was that I might not be her kind of scientist, but I was engaged in scientific work much as she was. Her rejoinder was then: “You’re not playing by the rules,” meaning that I was not channeling all of communication through peer-reviewed journals, as discussed in Chapter 28. We were at an impasse. Unfortunately, her hostility toward SRI was unabated even after the Indonesian data were published a year later. Sato and Uphoff, ‘A review of on-farm evaluation of system of rice intensification (SRI) methods in eastern Indonesia,’ CAB Review 2:54, 1-12 (2007).

     There were dozens of other articles published in peer-reviewed scientific journals that confirmed SRI’s effectiveness, but this did not diminish the indifference or resistance toward SRI from most of the Cornell faculty in the college of agriculture and life sciences. This affected student interest, as we know of several students who were discouraged by certain faculty from getting involved with SRI, suggesting that this might affect their careers adversely.

[111] The dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences when CIIFAD was established, David Call, was responsible for the creation of CIIFAD because he picked up on the offer of funding to Cornell from the Atlantic Philanthropic Services (Chapter 35) to support work on sustainable agricultural and rural development after the central administration had failed to respond to the offer. He got the administration to let the college take the lead on CIIFAD’s creation, offering to support some of the administrative cost. Without Dave Call’s initiative, CIIFAD would never have been established, and Cornell would not have become involved in Madagascar and would not have learned about SRI.

     Also, Dave was willing to accept the search committee’s recommendation that I be appointed as CIIFAD’s first director, even though I was an ‘outsider’ to his college (not an agriculturalist, indeed a political scientist by training in the College of Arts and Sciences), rather than his preferred candidate, a plant breeder. An ‘insider’ as director would probably not have been as willing to take SRI seriously and evaluate it because he or she would have an agronomic reputation to lose. I had none.

[112] These theses are listed along with some 70 other theses on the website. There were only two PhD and two master’s theses evaluating SRI in the next 15 years.

[113] In 2006, SRI was chosen as one of the 10 finalists for the Alcan Prize for Sustainability, selected from among over 200 applicants from 55 countries. The winner of the Prize was to be receive $1 million to further its work.

     Although SRI was one of finalists within this group of 10, I was told that it was knocked out of consideration when the jury for the Prize received an anonymous ‘poison pen’ letter from a Cornell faculty member (Chapter 33).

     Whether SRI would have received the prize cannot be known, any more than the identity of the letter-writer. But this antagonistic action may have deflected the course of SRI’S history. With the kind of large, flexible resource base that the Prize would have given, SRI research and dissemination would have been put on a very different trajectory.

     Another piece of Cornell support should be mentioned. As discussed in Chapter 35, the Tata-Cornell Institute for Agriculture and Nutrition, which was financed by the Tata Trusts, indirectly provided assistance to SRI work through a fellowship for Anshuman Gupta, 2018-2020, which enabled him to come to Cornell for a MPA degree. He was already knowledgeable about SRI and had done a master’s degree at the Institute for Rural Management at Ahmedabad (IRMA) on top of an electrical engineering degree at an Indian Institute of Technology.

     Anshuman was thus highly qualified and was awarded the TCI fellowship with my involvement or knowledge. This was fortuitous assistance, much appreciated, because Anshuman was of great help in my work, including the posting of this e-book on the web. The Tata-Cornell Institute as a program kept its distance from SRI, even though we could have been very helpful in achieving the goals for which institute was created at Cornell. Other Cornell faculty evidently wished to keep all Tata resources for their own research and other activities and not share them with SRI-Rice.

[114] There was apparently someone in the university or college administration who was keeping an eye on SRI. In 2015, the chair of the Cornell Board of Trustees, Robert Harrison, included SRI as the first of four important initiatives by Cornell University for fighting global poverty, in an address to the Trustees and others attending the board’s annual fall meeting (@ 9:45). Harrison called Cornell an international leader for this technology, but did not respond to a letter we sent querying how the university could or would become more supportive of SRI work.


PICTURE CREDITS: Jin Xueyong (2); Musliar Kasim; Hoang Van Phu; Thein Su; Karma Lhendup; Tim Krupnik; Rajendra Uprety

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