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Continuous efforts to get attention and support from international organizations, to mobilize financial resources and enhance the status and legitimacy of the innovation, complemented the emphasis on achieving effective communication and desired impacts at field level. Bottom-up efforts to get SRI accepted among farmers could be reinforced by top-down recognition, encouragement, and hoped-for resources.

Interactions with the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and its research centers were reviewed in Chapter 22. In this chapter, we consider the responses and roles of other international organizations like the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Bank, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and some other institutions.

None of these organizations supported SRI in any concerted way, but over time the major agencies began to give endorsements and programmatic support for SRI. This in turn helped to get research institutions, government agencies, NGOs, the private sector, and bilateral donors to look upon SRI more favorably.



This was the international organization with the clearest mandate to take an interest in and support an innovation like SRI. But it is also one of the most complex of the international organizations. So, getting FAO involved with SRI was an awkward undertaking.

The SRI effort to gain acceptance within FAO started with an important asset. Amir Kassam quickly grasped the merits and opportunities of SRI (Chapter 25) and had extensive knowledge of this organization, and many personal connections within it, from serving as a senior agricultural research officer for the CGIAR’s Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) which was based at FAO headquarters in Rome.

There were some supportive responses toward SRI from within FAO’s Plant Production and Protection Division (AGP) which includes FAO’s successful program on integrated pest management (IPM). This was a congenial connection for SRI since it and IPM share most of the same agroecological theory and goals, as discussed in Chapter 20.[1] As it happened, FAO’s country representative in Antananarivo during the 2000s was Martin Smith, who was supportive of SRI from having himself used the methods while in Madagascar. At FAO headquarters in Rome, however, there was less enthusiasm for the new methodology because most thinking there still favored Green Revolution approaches. Fortunately for SRI, Amir Kassam began working in the AGP division after 2006.

Around 2008, there started to be a general reorientation within FAO, and particularly within the AGP division, to begin thinking along more agroecological lines, in part because of the efforts made to promote Conservation Agriculture (CA) by Amir and Theo Friedrich. Theo was based within the division as FAO’s focal point for CA, and the division’s deputy director Eric Kueneman was supportive of CA and other agroecological systems such as SRI.[2]

CA and SRI principles went beyond the approach of identifying specific Good Agricultural Practices, which was in vogue at FAO. The new push was to put in place ‘systems thinking’ and to promote practices that had ecological underpinnings for sustainability, advancing principles widely applicable especially for resource-poor farmers across the developing world.

In 2011, FAO drafted and published a document proposing a ‘save-and-grow’ strategy to raise agricultural yields with a reduction rather than an increase in production inputs. The document focused primarily on Conservation Agriculture. It made only perfunctory reference to SRI despite efforts by Amir, one of the lead authors for the document, and others to get some substantial consideration of SRI into the early versions of the draft.[3] However, the engagement was just beginning.

In 2012, Josef Kienzle, a mechanization expert in the AGP division with whom Amir worked closely on Conservation Agriculture (CA, Chapter 20), was designated by FAO as the focal point for its work on rice after it folded up its Rice Commission. In 2013, Josef was invited to participate in a special rice show of AGRITECHNICA, a big international exposition held annually in Hanover, Germany. Amir and Theodor Friedrich, whom Josef succeeded, had previously participated in this exposition several times on behalf of FAO. Their exhibit promoted Conservation Agriculture and especially machinery appropriate for CA as the expo was primarily organized to feature innovations in mechanization.

This invitation to FAO in 2013 made it possible to present CA and SRI jointly as they share many common agroecological principles within the framework of ‘save and grow’ for sustainable intensification. Amir and Josef invited the SRI group at Cornell to be part of FAO’s program at the exposition, and Erika Styger joined the FAO team in Hanover. At the 2015 AGRITECHNICA exposition, Lucy Fisher and Steve Leinau joined Josef and Amir in Hanover, with a focus on the ‘save and grow’ approach to sustainable intensification for smallholders which included some examples of mechanization for SRI.

In 2014, FAO began preparing a manual on ‘save-and-grow’ strategies as they could be applied to the three major cereal crops -- rice, wheat and maize. Drafting of the section on rice was assigned initially to specialists associated with IRRI or with its thinking. The first draft of the manual discussed how to reduce and optimize agrochemical use rather than how to take up practices that decreased reliance on such inputs. At a staff review of a first draft of the whole manual in December 2014, Amir as a contributor and some others tried to get recognition of SRI as serving FAO’s ‘save-and-grow’ objectives better than did the input-dependent Green Revolution approach. But with no apparent success.

Three months later, however, a revised draft of the manual was sent to Amir by the drafting committee, under the editorship of Timothy Reeves, a former director-general of CIMMYT with whom Amir and I had been in contact since the first ‘save-and-grow’ publication. Amir was invited by the committee to comment on the revised text. This had been completely rewritten and now focused on SRI rather than Green Revolution approaches. There was little to add or suggest changing because the committee had laid out a clear and strong case for SRI, documented with many references from the literature.

Getting agreement all around on a final draft of the manual took almost another year as there were many disputes that needed to be resolved among diverse individuals and interests. We will never know how much of the argument concerned the SRI rice section. But the manual when published in January 2016 made a positive case for SRI.[4]

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While there were disagreements and some resistance regarding SRI at FAO headquarters in Rome, there was significant cooperation and support from its IPM program in Southeast Asia.[5] Jan Ketelaar who worked with that program and then headed it was acquainted with SRI through a chance meeting that he and I had in Vientiane in 2002, and also from his association with Abha Mishra and her husband Prabhat Kumar, an IPM specialist based at the Asian Institute of Technology in Bangkok.

Jan’s program supported some of Abha’s research on SRI in Thailand, and then when Abha and Kumar put together an ambitious SRI research program for the Lower Mekong Region, covering Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam (Chapter 8), the FAO regional IPM program became part of the implementation team. Because of FAO’s standing with the four countries’ governments and the IPM program’s rapport with their respective Ministries of Agriculture, this facilitated getting official cooperation and achieving project objectives. Without FAO support, along with Oxfam America’s involvement, it would have been much more difficult to reach about 30,000 farmers in 11 districts across the four countries within four years.

An FAO integrated pest management project in Afghanistan funded by the Norwegian agency NORAD, 2011-2015, incorporated components for the promotion of SRI and SWI, employing the technical support of Humayun Kabir and Mohammad Ramzi, with good effect.[6] Almost 7,500 farmers were trained through farmer field schools from 8 provinces. One assessment of SWI impacts showed average yield increases of 42% and net incomes per hectare by 83%. Unfortunately, a follow-on project expected to have Japanese funding got off-track so this initiative was not sustained.

During 2013 and 2014, staff members in the FAO office in Pyongyang developed a proposal for technical assistance on SRI in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea under FAO’s Technical Cooperation Program that would support Chinese experts on SRI to do training and advising on the new methods in the DPRK. This project appeared to have gone nowhere, but in 2022 we came across a 2015 report by FAO reporting positively on the project’s results.[7]

There has probably been other FAO assistance for SRI acceptance in countries that we do not know about. In 2013, Ramasamy Selvaraju in the Climate, Energy and Tenure Division of FAO prepared a very thorough powerpoint on SRI for FAO’s Investment Days.[8] In 2018, FAO undertook a three-year project in seven sub-Saharan African countries that included SRI training for rural youth.[9]

Positive results from this assistance were reported particularly from Tanzania.[10] This project showed how the ideas of SRI can be utilized with good results without having assistance from SRI-Rice or others with SRI experience, just using information made available by the SRI community. Given the attention that FAO has begun giving to agroecological approaches, FAO engagement with SRI should continue in the future.



Once it was clear that SRI could achieve the productivity gains that Tefy Saina claimed, I started trying to elicit interest from World Bank personnel in what SRI could contribute to helping achieve the Bank’s objectives in a quick, low-cost way. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, I spoke with three directors of its Agriculture and Rural Development Department when I happened to be in Washington, DC for other matters, but no interest was evident.[11]

At the time, knowledge about SRI was still limited, but it could have been developed much more quickly if there had been some support or encouragement from that institution. The Bank official who was most open to SRI was its vice-president for sustainable development at the time, Ismail Serageldin.[12] But even his positive interest in SRI elicited little response from Bank staff, and it facilitated no engagement with SRI by the CGIAR system, even though as Bank vice-president, Ismail chaired its Management Board.[13]

Most World Bank staff are engaged with the planning and implementation of development projects, financed in part or mostly by World Bank loans. The part of the Bank that Ismail oversaw was charged with developing new and better ideas for the Bank and for the wider development community. It had no control over the operational side of the Bank. This made it important for SRI to be integrated into projects where its merits could be assessed on the ground.

Fortuitously, when the state government of Tamil Nadu in India was planning a large irrigation management improvement project in 2005-2006, to be funded in large part by the World Bank, the evaluations of SRI that T.M. Thiyagarajan had done at Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (Chapter 7) provided an evidential basis for including an SRI component in the project that resulted, having the acronym TN-IAMWARM.[14]

Started in 2007, this six-year project was quite successful, and it was followed by an even larger six-year project under a different name. The two projects, including Government of Tamil Nadu contributions as well as World Bank loans, amounted to almost half a billion dollars, of which the SRI component was a small but important part.

The IAMWARM project over its six years introduced SRI on 288,639 hectares, with an average yield increase of 32% and a 32% reduction in irrigation water consumption. With farmers’ per-hectare cost of production being lowered by 10-12%, the profitability of rice cropping was calculated to increase by 82%. Such results were the kind that could gain considerable respect within the Bank.[15]

After the IAMWARM project got started in Tamil Nadu state with a focus on irrigation, another large World Bank project was launched in the state of Bihar with a focus on poverty reduction. This provided support to that state’s rural livelihood improvement program (JEEViKA).

Fortuitously, the Indian NGO PRADAN had started introducing SRI methods in Gaya district of Bihar in 2007. The next year JEEViKA enlisted PRADAN to help it spread SRI, SWI and other similar modifications in crop management under the rubric of SCI, System of Crop Intensification (sometimes called the System of Root Intensification to preserve the SRI acronym). The project arranged for PRADAN to train the staff of other NGOs in Bihar which joined in undertaking this work so that PRADAN’s expertise and approach to working with farmers would permeate the whole JEEViKA program.

The results of this program were similarly impressive as in Tamil Nadu.[16] The number of farmers practicing SRI for rice production under the program in 2012 was 103,028, with an 86% increase in yield and 2.5 times as much profitability because of the lower costs. That year, 91,289 farmers used SWI methods for their wheat, with a 72% increase in yield and 86% higher profitability. The number of households using SCI methods for vegetables was 60,729; for pulses 41,645; and for oilseeds (mostly mustard) 29,190. The respective increases in yield were 20%, 56% and 50%, resulting in higher per-hectare income of 47%, 67% and 93% from these crops, respectively.

Such results, plus the fact that SRI/SWI/SCI use had expanded to over 300,000 households, persuaded the Indian government’s National Rural Livelihood Movement based in New Delhi to expand SRI, SWI and SCI promotion to other state poverty-reduction programs. These results also impressed World Bank staff. Pictures below from their Bihar report show the phenotypic differences that the staff observed in the panicle size, tillering, and root growth of wheat plants raised with SWI methods.

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When the World Bank’s president Robert Zoellick visited India in 2009, the guest column that he wrote for an Indian newspaper, The Hindustan Times, included this paragraph:[17]

Everyone cites India’s Green Revolution. But I’m even more intrigued by what is known as SRI, or system of rice intensification, and I know this is also an area of interest for PM [Prime Minister] Manmohan Singh. Using smart water management and planting practices, farmers in Tamil Nadu have increased rice yields between 30 and 80 per cent, reduced water use by 30 per cent, and now require significantly less fertilizer. This emerging technology not only addresses food security, but also the water scarcity challenge that climate change is making all the more dangerous. These are all lessons for our world.

One might think that such a strong endorsement of SRI by the president of the World Bank would lead its staff to take greater interest in it, but that underestimates the inertia that permeates (and sustains) large organizations. Initiative within the Bank remained a matter of individual interest and enterprise. Fortunately for SRI, a water resource professional within the World Bank Institute, Mei Xie, learned about SRI personally while she was serving as manager for a Bank-funded irrigation project in the southern Philippines in the early 2000s (Chapter 25).

One of Mei Xei’s Philippine counterparts was a regional irrigation manager for the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), Carlos (Bong) Salazar, who had been one of the first adopters of SRI for his own rice cultivation.[18] Several times he invited Mei to come to his farm in Mindanao to see his SRI fields, but she declined each time to make the trip because the farm was not easy to get to. However, when Salazar became the national administrator of NIA, Mei felt that she had to accept his invitation.

In 2005, I received a telephone call from Mei who had just returned to Washington from the Philippines to take up a position in the World Bank Institute. She told me the above story and explained how amazed she had been by the rice crop that she saw on Salazar’s farm. She wanted to know more about SRI, so we talked for an hour. In her new position she was expected to promote knowledge and practices that used water more efficiently, so she got World Bank Institute funding to produce a multimedia toolkit on SRI shown below.

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Two videos were produced and made available on a CD in this ‘toolkit,’ accessible from the internet, with translations from English into French and Spanish also available.[19] One of the videos presented SRI in ways that would attract the interest to policy-makers; the other was a training video, a kind of ‘how-to.’. SRI-Rice assisted this undertaking by providing pictures from many countries that would make the presentation me quite visibly international. This toolkit became one of the most widely disseminated and impactful materials for SRI training.

As a staff professional in the water resources unit of the World Bank Institute, Mei established linkages with the Bank-funded project in Tamil Nadu and facilitated web-based distance learning about SRI for farmers and professionals in both Kenya and Malawi, involving Indian farmers and professionals via teleconferencing to support the introduction of SRI in these two countries. SRI-Rice also participated in some of these activities.

Cross-visits among these countries supported by the World Bank Institute gave a South-South thrust to the spread of SRI. Mei also arranged several seminars on SRI for staff at the World Bank in Washington, but her ability to continue assisting in SRI dissemination was curtailed when she was reassigned to another unit. We note here also that in Nepal, the prize money from a national competition organized and funded by the World Bank helped to jump-start SRI there in 2005 when a US$ 20,000 prize was given to Rajendra Uprety (Chapter 33).

The World Bank’s director for food and agriculture, 2008-2018, Jürgen Vögele, was personally friendly toward SRI. In 2010, he met with SRI farmers brought to Washington from Mali, India and Vietnam by Oxfam America and WWF, and in 2016, he met in Lahore and Washington with the main proponent for SRI in Pakistan, Asif Sharif (Chapters 14 and 19). Before he retired from the Bank, Jürgen served as its vice-president for sustainable development.

A World Bank irrigation project in Egypt completed in 2017 was designed to include an SRI component, but due to institutional contracting procedures the technical assistance contract went to a consulting firm that did not choose to involve SRI-Rice or local SRI expertise. The SRI implementation was thus suboptimal, and the results were accordingly less impressive than could have been expected. But even so, the government’s project evaluation assessed SRI’s contribution positively.[20]

Considerably more acceptance and support for SRI from the World Bank could have been justified, given the demonstrated results, but the World Bank engagement with SRI that occurred certainly contributed to SRI progress. It seemed difficult for most of the Bank staff to appreciate SRI and work it into their standard mode of operation. One of the main metrics for staff in the World Bank is the amount of money that they can get committed and expended each year. That SRI is a capital-saving innovation may have made it less attractive to planners and managers who are expected to ‘move money,’ although SRI’s saving of water, a growing World Bank concern, should have made it very appealing to Bank staff. Quite possibly there will be more buy-in from the World Bank in future years. It would have been very helpful for SRI to have had more acceptance there sooner.



This organization might have been expected to be quite interested in SRI because IFAD’s mission is to eradicate rural poverty, achieve food security, improve nutrition, build resilience, and enable rural households to take charge of their own development. For a long time, only one staff member, Benoit Thierry, who knew about SRI from an assignment in Madagascar, showed much interest in SRI, even when there was a good friend of SRI at the top of the organization. In 2007, Kanayo Nwanze moved from WARDA, the Africa Rice Center (Chapter 22), to IFAD, first as its vice-president and then serving as its elected president from 2009 to 2017.

While representing IFAD in Madagascar, Benoit Thierry learned about SRI, and he subsequently arranged for the president and secretary of Tefy Saina to travel to an IFAD project in Rwanda in 2007 to train farmers there on SRI methods. Subsequently a video produced by Flooded Cellar Productions (Chapter 34) showed how farmers from Burundi, who had traveled to the IFAD project in Rwanda and learned SRI methods there, brought this knowledge back to their country.[21] This Rwanda-Burundi nexus was one of the best examples of the farmer-to-farmer spread of SRI practices, supported under IFAD auspices.

In January 2009, IFAD organized a panel presentation on SRI at its headquarters in Rome to which it invited Mei Xie from the World Bank, Willem Stoop from the Netherlands, and myself. One of its staff from Rwanda, Jonas Bavugamenshi, presented a report on IFAD experience with SRI in his country. The picture on first page of Jonas’ report is reproduced below.[22] This event helped to make SRI better known within the organization.

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In October 2012, Kanayo Nwanze as the president of IFAD gave the keynote address for the 2ⁿᵈ Global Conference for Agricultural Research and Development convened Punta del Este in Uruguay. This was a large quadrennial gathering of agricultural researchers, administrators and policy-makers from all over the world. In the middle of his address, Kanayo made this very pointed and supportive reference to SRI:[23]

We must also accept that scientific ideas and discoveries are not the purview of scientists alone. Take the case of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), which aims to increase yields in irrigated farming with approaches that challenge conventional practices. Why have some rice scientists rejected SRI when farmers all over the developing world – in Africa and Asia – have adopted various aspects of SRI technology to great success?

I have met farmers in Rwanda whose rice production had more than doubled using SRI methods. IFAD is closely involved in efforts to test SRI in countries like Burundi, Rwanda and Madagascar, where it was first developed in the 1980s.

As scientists, we know the value of observation. Sometimes, those best placed to observe are the people on the ground. After all, Gregor Mendel was a priest, not a scientist with a PhD. And so was Father Henri de Laulanié, the father of SRI.

This message should have made some impression on the large assembly of researchers. It was reinforced the next morning when the Philippine woman farmer who had been invited to speak on behalf of ‘farmers’ on the opening plenary panel reported enthusiastically on farmers’ experience with SRI methods in Southeast Asia. This was one time when messages ‘from the top’ and ‘from the bottom’ were uncharacteristically in sync.

In 2015 at the international Expo Milano in Italy, IFAD presented a picture show and video on SRI under the title ‘SRI: A helping hand against the food crisis.’ This presentation was given the Expo’s prize for ‘Best Practice for Sustainable Development.’[24]


Still, all in all, SRI has had a rather low profile within IFAD’s program. For some years, IFAD maintained a page on SRI on its website; but this has been taken down, and there was no mention of SRI in IFAD’s 2017, 2018 or 2019 Annual Reports. However, in 2020, we found a report from IFAD on its support of SCI training in Koraput district in Odisha state through an NGO, PRAGATI, that has given leadership on SRI there, as part of the effort to counter effects of the Covid pandemic.[25]



In preparation for the Rio+20 Environmental Summit in 2012, UNEP planned a publication elaborating on how environmental concerns and hazards intersect with agricultural development and food security.[26] A UNEP editorial team invited me along with two colleagues, Hans Herren and Sara Scherr,[27] to draft the publication’s chapters on the ecological foundations of agriculture (the publication’s second chapter), and on strategies for sustainable and productive agricultural systems with strong ecological foundations (its Chapter 5), which we agreed to do.

In our first draft for the fifth chapter, we included a page of discussion of SRI and how it can contribute to the goal of ensuring food security with positive effects for the natural environment. When the draft came back from UNEP’s editorial team, the SRI section had been removed, with the comment that there was not enough scientific support for this, expressing the view of SRI that IRRI was disseminating at the time.


We restored this section to the next draft, citing references that confirmed SRI’s scientific credentials, but this was cut out again. Such an excision was hard to understand because few other measures could be recommended that reconciled both agricultural and environmental objectives so beneficially.

The other co-authors agreed that we should all withdraw as contributors to the report if no mention of SRI was allowed. At this point, the editorial team agreed to have a paragraph on SRI plus a box with short case studies from Nepal and Ethiopia. So, SRI was not completely ignored in the publication.[28] Indeed, the three of us were included in the list of authors of the publication. But it was strange that UNEP had objected having to any mention of SRI.

UNEP reticence to discuss SRI in its publications had been seen previously. In January 2011, we received from the Asian Institute of Technology the final draft of a booklet prepared by UNEP’s Regional Center for Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok, addressing ‘frequently-asked-questions’ about climate-change adaptations for agriculture. The document cited SRI experiences in Cambodia and in Tamil Nadu and Odisha states of India as case studies of drought-resilience. But when the publication was posted on UNEP’s website two months later, the Indian case studies had been deleted for no apparent reason.[29]

Four years later, a more positive view was taken toward SRI by UNEP’s TEEB working group on The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity.[30] This group had sought to quantify, using available data the net benefits (or costs) of agricultural practices that would have positive environmental consequences. Specifically, it assessed the effects of SRI methodology if applied on a national scale in Senegal, Philippines and Cambodia. Here are some conclusions for the latter country:

The monetary valuation for GHG emissions in Cambodia’s rainfed lowland paddies resulted in an average cost of US$ 690 per hectare of rice production in conventionally-managed systems, and US$ 586 for SRI production – a reduction in costs of 15 per cent. If all rice farmers in rainfed lowland systems in Cambodia would change to SRI, they would increase the producer-price value of rice [received by farmers] by US$ 801 million. At the same time, society would incur lower GHG emission costs [with value] estimated at US$ 258 million.[31]

Such analysis was the first systematic estimation of SRI’s economic and environmental costs and benefits at the national level that had come to the attention of SRI-Rice. There are, of course, good reasons why UNEP, given its mandate, should take a greater interest in SRI. Possibly there will be more extensive engagement of UNEP with SRI in the future.



The UNDP first learned about SRI in 2005 when SRI was given the SEED Award which was co-sponsored by it, UNEP and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (Chapter 17 and 33). The SRI group at Cornell with colleagues in Cambodia, Madagascar and Sri Lanka was one of first five recipients of this award which recognizes and encourages innovative entrepreneurial ways to protect the environment. UNDP seeks to advance all kinds of development through its funding of hundreds of discrete projects each year.

The first UNDP project supporting SRI that we know of started in 2008 in the northern Philippines, in the Ifugao region where rice terraces two thousand years old, carved into the sides of massive mountains seen below, have been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.[32] Because of their low yields and high costs, farmers in this region who rely on purchased inputs had been abandoning their rice production.

This meant that farmers were longer investing the labor necessary to maintain their terraces in functioning condition. Perched on mountain sides and eroded by giant earthworms, rodents and snails, the terraces need continuous reconstruction to be preserved, no matter what exalted status UNESCO recognition may have given them.

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In the early 2000s, a former governor of the province, Teddy Baguilat, subsequently a congressman, launched what he called SITMO, the Save the Ifugao Terraces Movement. Obet Verzola, coordinator of the SRI-Pilipinas network, helped him to write a proposal in 2007 for a World Bank competition that invited proposals from NGOs to fund grassroots development initiatives.

Their proposal to support the introduction of SRI in the Ifugao region was intended to help preserve the ancient terraces by raising farmers’ paddy yields and reducing their costs of production so that rice farming on the terraces would become more profitable. Also, by growing indigenous rice varieties that are popular with consumers and thus command a higher market price, rice-growing could become even more even profitable, and this could attract younger farmers back to rice farming. Promoting eco-friendly production practices was considered as a broader social benefit.

Some initial trials with SRI methods on the terraces, cultivating a local variety, had given yields over 10 tonnes per hectare, so an SRI strategy for saving the terraces looked technically feasible. And SRI would get a big boost in the national consciousness if it could help to rescue this national cultural treasure of which Filipinos were justifiably proud. The proposal was selected as one of the 10 winners by a consortium of donors and was assigned to the UNDP for implementation.

UNDP teamed up with the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) of the UN and the World Bank for joint funding. This doubled the project’s funding, but it opened the possibility for UNDP to make changes in the project after it had been accepted, and the project was expanded to include many biodiversity activities, which slowed the project’s implementation. The official report on the project said that it was ‘satisfactorily completed.’[33] However, it did not launch the kind of agroecological ‘movement’ that Governor Baguilot had envisioned and that would have strengthened both the terraces and SRI.

Several subsequent UNDP projects incorporated SRI’s introduction and spread. A project in Cambodia, 2010-2012, that had Swedish and Australian funding, included SRI as an agricultural innovation that helped communities to modify their agricultural and other practices to be better protected against the effects of climate change. Over 10,000 villagers were trained in the new methods.[34] The picture below of an SRI demonstration field is from the project’s final report. There was UNDP funding for a project in Malaysia, 2018-2021, to promote SRI use in the context of agrobiodiversity conservation. This is implemented by the SRI network in Malaysia, SRI-Mas, and uses farmer field school methodology to train trainers, already in eight states of the country.

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In Mali, a UNDP-supported project to support sustainable land and water management, 2010-2016, made the introduction of SRI methods one of its focal interventions for rice and vegetable production and planned for 30% uptake of this innovation.[35] In Tanzania, UNDP was involved in the large, multi-donor SAGCOT project (Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania), which included SRI training for over 70,000 farmers.[36] In neither case was there any connection made with the SRI  communities in these countries.

A UNDP project with a focus on SRI was implemented in Maharashtra state of India, the Sandhudurg coastal environmental conservation project, where agricultural practices that help to conserve vulnerable mangrove ecosystems were critical for success. Subhir Ghosh, who was instrumental in the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development’s program to introduce and evaluate SRI in Jharkhand state before he retired from NABARD (Chapter 41), was the project’s advisor for improving rice and other production systems.

That SRI could raise rice yields without farmers’ use of inorganic fertilizers made it attractive to project planners who wanted to protect fish and other marine life from chemical pollution of coastal waters. A UNDP report shared some of the human impact associated with SRI:

In 2013, Laxman Naik was one of the 40 farmers who travelled to Goa to learn more about how to cultivate rice in a different, more environment-friendly way. Today, he is a success story. Yield of grain per hectare has increased between 40 to 80 percent; irrigation required is 40 percent less, and all inputs including herbicides and pesticides are low cost and organic.

While earlier, he would harvest 4.3 tonnes per hectare, the SRI yields around 6.7 tonnes. The partnership is supported by the Global Environment Facility. “I was hesitant to take up SRI since my paddy field looked miserable after the paddy transplant, with just a tiny plant on each hill, and the field looked almost empty. All my friends laughed at me for volunteering to try this new technology.” However, fear slowly gave way to surprise as Naik’s paddy crop thrived. The same results were reported by other farmers in the region who had planted the same variety of rice.

Sunita Naik, Naik’s daughter-in-law has just returned from the fields. She says the SRI farming means she has more time for her family because she can now use a cono-weeder, a specific kind of weeding tool that reduces labour costs and prevents nutrient loss, by ploughing nutrients back into the soil. She also no longer has to oversee the submerging [flooding] of her fields.

Family income has increased from INR 20,000-70,000 per season [US$ 650-900] and the need for manpower has also reduced. “We grow more with less,” she says. “I wish we had used this technology before. We are saving on investment and are getting more from the land.” Encouraged by the results, the district administration has decided to adopt SRI technology to 1000 acres.[37]

This story is familiar, describing a farmer experience that has been repeated now millions of times: initial farmer apprehension, with neighbor’s disapproval reinforcing this, giving way to satisfaction once the rice crop’s better performance becomes evident to anyone who looks. This makes it harder to understand why UNEP has not decided to disseminate SRI more actively and openly throughout its program. In this reticence, it is not alone, however.



The World Food Programme might have been expected to take an interest in SRI given its mandate.[38] But there has been no interest expressed despite several contacts made through friends of SRI, and there is no mention of SRI in its 2017, 2018 or 2019  annual reports. During the past two decades, the WFP has been working with smallholder households in West Africa to raise their production and yield of rice.[39] As seen from results of the West African Agricultural Productivity Program (Chapter 8), the WFP expenditures could have benefited thousands of households more if SRI methods had been introduced along with the land reclamation efforts.[40]

One international organization that took a favorable view of SRI was the UN’s Commission on Sustainable Development. In March 2008, staff of UNCSD invited me to make a presentation on SRI at the 14ᵗʰ session of the Commission meeting at the UN headquarters in New York City. Then almost a year later, the staff invited me and paid my way to attend the UNCSD African inter-sessional meeting in Windhoek, Namibia. Both events were good opportunities for networking. However, most participants attending these meetings had little engagement with practical agriculture, so there was little impact for SRI through these channels that could be discerned.

The International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) based in Nepal maintains an SRI page on its website.[41] From 2002 to 2005 under its People and Resource Dynamics Project (PARDYP)in two watersheds, ICIMOD introduced SRI to farmers in two watersheds with an average yield increase of 90% in one watershed and 100% in the other. It did a follow-up evaluation in 2008, finding that the benefits had been sustained, although there had been some drop-off in use because of various constraints encountered.

From time to time, individual staff members of international organizations have taken an interest in SRI, although this did not mean their organizations were committed to engaging with SRI. An example of this is Alexander von Hildebrand, a regional advisor for health, water and climate in the Southeast Asian regional office of the World Health Organization. A trained agronomist, von Hildebrand had known Fr. Laulanié when he worked in Madagascar in the early 1990s, and he had been following SRI from afar since then. When he learned about SRI-Rice, he got in in contact by email. In 2018, he was invited to give a keynote speech for a capacity-building workshop for the ASEAN region that was convened in the Philippines by WHO and the Convention of Biodiversity.

In the talk, after pointing out that SRI can reduce both water use and greenhouse gas emissions, von Hildebrand noted further that SRI water management practices can eliminate the breeding grounds for Anopheles mosquitoes, which are the vector for malaria (as noted from Kenyan research cited in Chapter 9).[42] While such a presentation does not do much for SRI’s spread directly since the audience was mostly health professionals and biodiversity specialists, it may contribute to SRI’s broader acceptance over time.



We have noted several times already that the acceptance of SRI in Latin American and the Caribbean has been spurred by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA), a specialized institution under the Organization of American States (OAS).[43] The West African Agricultural Productivity Program (WAAPP) was planned and implemented under the aegis of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), although implementation was delegated to other West African regional institutions. In South Asia, Nepali colleagues discussed a possible SRI initiative under the auspices of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), but this did not come to fruition. Similarly, SRI colleagues in Southeast Asia have considered how ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, might provide a good venue for regional cooperation on SRI, but this connection has not materialized.

In 2008, a German contractor for the European Parliament commissioned the most detailed case study on SRI written up to that time, to include in its study of scientific and technology options for agriculture in developing countries.[44] There were very positive comments on SRI in the summary that the consultant submitted to all members of the European Parliament. But like so many other written documents, this did not elicit any concrete responses that we could ascertain.

The largest engagement with SRI by a regional organization was the European Union’s funding of a five-year project in Southeast Asia, for the Lower Mekong Region countries of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, discussed in Chapters 8 and 9. This project made major contributions to SRI methodology and acceptance. [45]

The EU’s Technical Center for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation, known as CTA, based in the Netherlands, re-published in 2014 the monograph that SRI-Rice had prepared on the System of Crop Intensification. This was for free distribution in the African, Caribbean and Pacific Island regions.[46]

This last initiative was a fairly passive one, although nevertheless very welcome. It reflects the difficulty of having impacts on the ground from one region of the world to another simply through communication. To have impact, it helps to have some substantial and sustained investment of resources as with the EU’s support for the farmer-participatory evaluation and adaptation of SRI to rainfed areas in four countries of Southeast Asia as noted above.

*    *     *     *     *

International organization responses to SRI have obviously been quite variable. Acceptance has come in fits and starts, with some bottom-up or middle-level initiatives gaining traction, but many other efforts, most of which never become known, amounted to a spinning of wheels. There is no record of all of the ‘bureaucratic politics’ that accompanied SRI within these various organizations.

Even when there has been support for SRI at the highest levels, as from the president and vice-president of the World Bank or from a president of IFAD, organizational reactions have been sluggish. Still, over the past 15 years, there has been a growing interest in and engagement with SRI on the part of various international organizations. Taken all together, they have made some important contributions to the acceptance of SRI.


[1] We had hoped for more support from the IPM program than materialized, with one notable exception acknowledged below. The head of FAO’s IPM program, Peter Kenmore, had participated in the April 1999 meeting on agroecological innovations convened at the Rockefeller Foundation’s conference center at Bellagio in northern Italy, where SRI was presented to an international audience for the first time. Peter and I had an hour-long personal discussion of SRI during a memorable and picturesque boat ride on Lake Como.

     In 2002, when Peter made a plenary presentation to the international conference at FAO headquarters in Rome launching the UN’s International Year of Rice, he included a favorable mention of SRI when this subject had otherwise been kept off the agenda. Within FAO, however, the IPM program gave little support to SRI, and one of its advisors was quite negative, although one official as noted below was very supportive. In 2014, when Peter had left the IPM program to serve as FAO’s country representative in India, he attended the Wageningen University-National Consortium for SRI workshop on SRI held in New Delhi and made some very positive remarks about SRI, perhaps being surprised by how much evidence had been accumulated to support earlier reports.

[2] We had some standing within the Crop Production and Protection Division (AGP) of FAO because its deputy director during most of the 2000s, Eric Kueneman, had done his PhD at Cornell and had taken my development administration course, while his wife had been my research assistant for a year. Connections like these can be helpful to some extent, although they are not in themselves decisive.

[3] Save and Grow: A Policy-Makers Guide to the Sustainable Intensification of Smallholder Crop Production, FAO, Rome (2011). A concluding sentence at the end of the section on ‘Other Production Systems’ read: “Other ecosystem-based approaches such as the System of Rice Intensification have also proven, under specific circumstances, to be successful as a basis for sustainable intensification” (page 25). 

     The next year, the FAO Investment Centre recommended SRI as a methodology for making agricultural production more resilient for dealing with climate change. Integrating Climate Change Considerations into Agricultural Investment Programmes: A Guidance Document, FAO, Rome (2012).

[4] See ‘Higher yields from healthy plants in healthy soil,’ Save and Grow in Practice: Maize, Rice, Wheat, 44-47, FAO, Rome (2016). subheading for the section on SRI was: “Rice farmers are adopting crop, soil and water management practices which, together, produce more rice and income using less water, less fertilizer and less seed.” FAO published also a shorter fact sheet that summarized the section on SRI. One member of the manual’s drafting committee, Tim Reeves, a former director-general of CIMMYT, has shown particular interest in SRI, though long after he left that research center. The credence he gave to SRI had no evident effect on CIMMYT activities.

[5] One advisor to the IPM program in FAO, William Settle, an agroecologist on leave from the University of California, Santa Cruz, was negative for reasons that we could never understand. His PhD student, Tim Krupnick, was very interested in SRI and was responsible for introducing SRI in Burkina Faso; and Bill himself at one point reported to Cornell that FAO at his initiative had sponsored SRI trials in Mali and Senegal that were very successful. But he had some unfounded views about SRI, such as that it is a rigid set of practices to be imposed on farmers without adaptation, which made him object to SRI in general.

[6]  See short video on SWI component of the project posted on YouTube.

[7] The project was titled Improved Rice Productivity and Sustainability through System of Rice Productivity (TCP/DRK/3404). A proposed agreement with the DPRK’s Ministry of Agriculture, which we did see in a pre-approval document, said that FAO would provide US$ 425,000 for the project. We did not post the document on the SRI website because we had no information that it was ever finalized.

     The report on the FAO website said that water, seed and fertilizer were all reduced with 10-15% higher yield, raising yield from 6.2 tonnes per hectare to 7.5 tonnes. It said also that major disease and pest problems -- sheath blight, golden snail, and root rot -- were reduced.

[8]   This was a very well-prepared presentation posted on FAO’s website.

[9]   This project is called Partnership for Sustainable Rice Systems in Sub-Saharan Africa, with operations in Benin, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Kenya, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda. See ‘Joint African project, a game-changer for young rice producers in Moro,’ IPP Media, December 4, 2019. The project had some financial support from the government of Venezuela, as south-south development assistance.

[10] See video released by the Tanzanian Ministry of Agriculture at end of 2018. This shows farmers’ reports of success with SRI methods, enabling them to open small off-farm businesses, to pay children’s school fees, and to build better, more substantial housing. See also ‘Morogoro’s best farmer: An agroecological approach to rice leads to success,’ FAO blog, October 3, 2018, and report on how youths trained under FAO  project taught elderly farmer to use SRI methods that doubled his yield. ‘Students become teachers,’ FAO blog, April 4, 2019.

[11] These were short conversations, trying to interest Michel Petit, John Lewis, and Kevin Cleaver, respectively, in pursuing SRI possibilities. They were polite and suggested that there might be some follow-up, but it never materialized.

     One World Bank senior staff member who took SRI seriously was Eugene Terry, an advisor to its Agriculture and Rural Development Department. Before that he had served as director-general of WARDA, 1973-1987. In 1998, Terry invited and paid for the president of Tefy Saina, Sebastien Rafaralahy, to come to Baltimore, Maryland, to speak to a large conference on sustainable development that had been organized by the American Society of Agronomy, the Crop Science Society of America, and the Soil Science Society of America. Terry also provided travel support for some of the participants in the 2002 SRI conference in Sanya, China. Most others in the Bank were not even curious about SRI.

[12] Ismail Serageldin, the World Bank’s vice-president for environmentally and socially sustainable development at that time, and I got acquainted through our mutual interest in social capital; and we got better acquainted when he invited me to contribute a chapter to a book that he and Partha Dasgupta were editing, Social Capital: A Multifaceted Perspective (World Bank, Washington DC, 1999). Our interactions concerning social capital gave me opportunity to inform Ismail about SRI.

     Ismail’s willingness to help make SRI better known continued after he left the Bank. In May 2011, he invited me to make a plenary presentation on SRI at an international symposium on ‘Ending Hunger’ that he was organizing, funded by the French aid agency (AFD) and held at the College de France in Paris. In 2010, 2012 and 2014, Ismail also invited presentations on SRI at the international BioVision conferences which he hosted at the Alexandria Library in Egypt, for which he served as its founding director.

[13] As the Bank’s vice-president for sustainable development, Ismail Serageldin chaired the Management Board of the CGIAR. Years later, he confided that when he tried in 1998 to get the CG system to take an interest in SRI, this suggestion was rebuffed by the center directors and CG leadership despite his position as chair of the CG Board of Management.

[14] The Tamil Nadu Irrigated Agriculture Modernization and Water Bodies Restoration and Management Project. On the results of the project, see V.B. Nayar, V.K. Ravichandran, B.C. Barah and N. Uphoff, ‘Sustainable SRI and rice production: Learning from an irrigated agriculture management project in Tamil Nadu,’ Economic and Political Weekly, 55, January 11, 2020. One friend of SRI within the World Bank who oversaw this project was Willem Janssen at the time in the Bank’s India office, but who was then transferred to the Latin American side of the Bank where he had less opportunity to be supportive. He confirms that SRI was included in the project at the request of the Tamil Nadu state government, not as a Bank initiative. The SRI share of the project funding was only US$ 30 million.

[15] Data are from a presentation made on Project impacts by V.B. Nayar, the senior IAS officer in charge of these projects, to SRI-Rice in August, 2018, prepared with his TNAU colleague V.K. Ravichandran. This is an example of using SlideShare for communication.

     The World Bank’s Implementation, Completion and Review report (ICR00003649)    said that the expansion of SRI use to 267,000 ha beyond the initial planned target  of 66,500 ha was “a particular project achievement” and “a major source of project benefits.” (2.5.3). Paddy rice yields in the SRI area were 6.2 tonnes per hectare compared to 4.7 tonnes under conventional management. The IAMWARM project also promoted SSI for sugarcane production, although not on as a broad a scale. The ICR report credited SSI with 50% water saving and yield increases of 35-40%.

[16] D. Behera, A.K. Chaudhury, V.K. Vutukuru, A. Gupta, S. Machiraju and P. Shah, Enhancing Rural Livelihoods through Community Institutions in Bihar, India, World Bank/India Office, New Delhi (2013).

[17] ‘India could be a new pole of global growth: World Bank president,’ Hindustan Times, Dec. 2, 2009.

[18] A report on his experience, ‘SRI Trial Run in Caraga Region, Mindanao,’ was posted on the SRI website in 2004.

[19] SRI: Achieving More with Less – A New Way of Rice Cultivation, World Bank Institute (2006).

[20] The yield increases with a semblance of SRI practices were positive, but not very great. What impressed evaluators was that these production increases were achieved with more water-saving, by two-thirds, than had been expected in the project design. Any increase in production with less water consumed was appreciated.

[21] This video was first posted on YouTube in 2013, but then a set of four training videos, in English, French and Malagasy, was added. These were produced from images and interviews that Flooded Cellar had collected while in Madagascar, Rwanda and Burundi on an assignment for IFAD. IFAD provided the extra funding needed to complete this set after I contacted Kanayo Nwanze in 2014, having gotten reacquainted with him at the 2014 BioVision conference convened by Ismail Serageldin at the Alexandria Library in Egypt. Such are the ‘threads’ that tie the SRI story together. The four training videos covered the topics of seed germination and nursery preparation, field preparation and transplantation, weeding and water management, and extension activities. They were also distributed from the IFAD website.

[22] This handout, ‘Making rice a cash cow in Rwanda,’ was distributed at the event. This is the announcement of the event that was circulated to IFAD staff. Probably the most concrete result of the panel presentation in Rome was to get SRI started in Kenya, the result of my fortuitously meeting Bancy Mati from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Nairobi in the FAO coffee shop during a break. This was another of the many unforeseen connecting ‘threads’ that have knitted the SRI story together.

[23] The full address by Kanayo Nwanze to GCARD2 is posted on the IFAD website.

[24] This presentation is still available on-line, with pictures from SRI practice in Madagascar, Rwanda and Burundi.

[25] See ‘Indigenous youth in agriculture during COVID-19,’ IFAD website, August 7 (2020).

[26] Avoiding Future Famines: Strengthening the Ecological Foundation of Food Security through Sustainable Food Systems, A UNEP Synthesis Report, Nairobi (2012).

[27] Hans Herren is a former director-general of ICIPE, the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology, and a World Food Prize laureate. At the time he was director of the Millennium Institute in Washington, DC. He had co-chaired and co-authored the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), a three-year project set up by the United Nations and World Bank, started in 2002.

     Sara Scherr after productive career within the CGIAR system founded and was the director of Ecoagriculture Partners, an international NGO based in Washington, DC, promoting landscape strategies for agricultural and rural development. Hans had been a co-editor of the 2006 book on biological approaches to sustainable soil systems, and Sara contributed that book’s chapter on economic issues associated with sustainable soil systems. Both had been supporters of SRI for a number of years.

[28] See pages 41-42 of Avoiding Future Famines, Nairobi (2012).

[29] Practitioners and Policy-Makers Exchange on Climate Change Adaptations in Agriculture: Frequently Asked Questions Booklet, UNEP Regional Center for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok (2011). The Tamil Nadu case referred to is still available on line.

[30] TEEB for Agriculture and Food, Interim Report, UN Environment Program, Geneva (2015).

[31] Here are conclusions from the Interim Report for the three respective countries:
“If Senegal were to change all of its irrigated lowland systems from conventional rice management to SRI management, about US$ 11 million of savings in water consumption-related health and environmental costs would be generated. At the same time, the rice producer community would gain a total of US$ 17 million through yield increases – a clear synergy.

     “If the Philippines were to change all its rainfed lowland systems from conventional management to SRI management, the rice producer community would gain a total of US$ 750 million through yield increases …

“Data collected in rainfed lowlands systems in Cambodia led to a value of rice production of US$ 1099 per hectare when conventional management was practiced, and US$ 1422 when SRI was implemented [a 29% increase].”

[32] See Wikipedia entry on the Banaue rice terraces in the Ifugao region.

[33] See project report on the GEF website. That most of the Ifugao farmers were ethnically indigenous to the area made the project attractive also for social reasons.

[34] More information is provided in this project report.

[35] More details are given in this project document. Because of delays in implementation due among other things to political disruption, the project was extended to 2018.

[36] See page 38 of 2014 UNDP report for Tanzania, which had the theme of ‘resilience building.’ This project has been somewhat controversial for the way in which it has proceeded, very top-down and not driven by farmer needs and interests. The SRI work of Kilombero Plantations Ltd. which was part of the SAGCOT project is discussed in Chapter 34.

[37] This is from a 2018 press release: ‘Green harvest: Organic farming along the Maharashtra coastline.

[38] To save lives and protect livelihoods in emergencies; to support food security and nutrition and rebuild livelihoods in fragile settings and following emergencies; and to reduce risk and enable people, communities and countries to meet their own food and nutrition needs. The mission of the organization has expanded well beyond its initial food-aid function.

[39] WFP’s 2017 performance report says that it has been working with 13,000 households in seven countries over the past 18 years to help them transform 3,700 hectares of abandoned or underused land area into high-yielding plots.

[40] See project summary of the WAAPP SRI program, 2014-2016.


[41] The website has not been recently updated, but based on PARDYP experience it is very positive about SRI. Previously, an ICIMOD project in northern Pakistan had introduced SRI in 2004-2005 with good results, a 50% increase in yield and good farmer response. But when ICIMOD staff were transferred elsewhere, the initiative expired.

[42] Alexander cited an initiative in Peru trying combat malaria in the Amazon region by introducing methods for rice production without flooding of paddy fields. He cited a recent FAO report on this: ‘Peru uses rice cultivation techniques to avoid malaria and save water.’

[43] An IICA country representative Manual Sanchez (from Mexico) was instrumental in getting SRI started in the Dominican Republic, taking uncommon initiative.

[44] Uphoff and Kassam, ‘Case Study: The System of Rice Intensification,’ Annex 3 of a report for the European Parliament, Agricultural Technologies for Developing Countries (IP/A/STOA/ FWC/2005-20/SC92).

[45] A. Mishra, J.W. Ketelaar, N. Uphoff and M. Whitten, ‘Food security and climate-smart agriculture in the lower Mekong Basin of Southeast Asia: Evaluating impacts of system of rice intensification with special reference to rainfed agriculture,’ International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, 19: 152-174 (2021).


[46] The System of Crop Intensification: Agroecological Innovations for Improving Agricultural Production, Food Security, and Resilience to Climate Change, SRI-Rice and Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation, Ithaca, NY and Wageningen, Netherlands (2014). This was also re-published by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development in India, for free distribution in that huge country.

     Also, the CTA sponsored and funded my participation in the 2ⁿᵈ Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD2) held in Uruguay in 2012, mentioned above. This was a super opportunity for networking on behalf of SRI, a small but valuable contribution from CTA, thanks to Judith Frances, a staff member who understood and appreciated what SRI had to offer.



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