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There have been many mentions throughout the preceding chapters of contacts and collaborations between NGO actors, farmers, officials, professionals and other persons, on the one hand, and faculty, staff or students at Cornell University, on the other. In this chapter, the multiple roles played by persons based at Cornell in the SRI story are reviewed, without trying to assess their contributions or their importance. The chapter also conveys the rationale that underlay this activity. This Part II of the SRI memoire is concluded with what was done or attempted on behalf of explaining and disseminating SRI from an operational base at Cornell.

The SRI story has recounted widely dispersed, often serendipitous efforts made by people and organizations around the world to understand and gain recognition for the phenomena of SRI and for their utilization. While the impetus, encouragement, and support that emanated from Cornell are essential elements in the story, they were a small part of the overall effort. The Cornell role in this saga can be overestimated as easily as underrated. Quantification of the Cornell contributions is quite impossible, so this will not be attempted. In Part IV, there will be some reflections on Cornell’s and others’ roles and contributions. More important, many persons are adding their own respective and retrospective views to this collaborative account by offering their own mini-memoires.

From the story so far, the efforts made to get SRI understood and accepted could be considered a remarkable success. At the same time, these efforts could just as well be judged to be a noteworthy failure. Within two decades, an innovation with so many benefits as are achievable from SRI ideas and methods should have become widely accepted and broadly applied around the world. Yet after 20 years, probably less than 5% of rice-growing households are using these methods, in whole or in substantial part. This is not to say that uptake should or could have been 100%, but by most metrics the spread of SRI has been disappointing.

Have the efforts to get SRI understood and disseminated been a success or a failure? It can be argued either way. Considering how few resources were available for studying and spreading SRI, the efforts appear to have been quite successful. Yet an innovation with so many advantages as SRI offers, with little or no cost, should by now have been taken up by most of the world’s smallholder rice-growers and by many rice growers with larger farms.[1]

Whether the ‘glass’ of SRI is half-full or half-empty cannot be conclusively answered, although the question is worth pondering. The story-telling here will remain more descriptive than evaluative, focusing on what was done rather than on how effective the efforts were, or what were the obstacles and resistances that kept the efforts from being more or fully successful.[2]

Some skeptics have asserted that if SRI methodology were really as good as reported, then it should by now be used by all of the rice farmers in Madagascar, its country of origin, which is not the case. They conclude that therefore SRI is not as good as presented. But this contention, while sounding logical, proves nothing. Such reasoning is an example of what logicians call the genetic fallacy, the presumption that something is determined by its origins and should be judged thereby.

One could just as well ask: Is the Christian religion a failure because it has so few adherents in the Middle East where it originated? Christianity has been perhaps the most successful religion in history, embraced by almost one-third of the world’s population at present. The fact that it is a minority creed in Palestine and Judea does not make Christianity either invalid or unimportant. It is fair to ask, however, why there has not been more uptake of SRI in Madagascar, considered in Part III.[3]


One of the most widely read books that has tried to account for the spread of innovation is Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling book The Tipping Point, subtitled How Little Things Make a Difference.[4] The book approaches the phenomena of innovation from an epidemiological perspective, thinking and writing about the spread of innovation in terms of contagion.

Within the SRI community before we knew about Gladwell’s theorizing, we often talked among ourselves, with a little amusement, about how we and others had become ‘infected’ by SRI or with SRI, considering SRI to be a benign and magnanimous kind of contagion.

Learning about SRI’s many benefits for farmers and their families, as well as for consumers and the natural environment, could certainly affect people’s imagination, altering their sense of priorities in positive, motivating ways. SRI thus was like a kind of congenial ‘infection’ that could be passed on to others, who in turn could spread it to still more people. Being a matter of ideas, it could spread person to person like a beneficial virus, with some people being more susceptible to SRI than were others.

Not all of Gladwell’s analysis applies to the SRI experience, but the principle with which he began his book, what he calls “The Law of the Few,” is certainly relevant. In his introduction, Gladwell delineated three complementary roles that persons can play for the promotion of any innovation. At first there are just a few people in the particular roles that support the dissemination of an innovation, but their numbers grow and grow as the innovation spreads.

The three roles that Gladwell delineated were: the Connector, in contemporary terminology, a networker; the Maven, who operates as a source of knowledge; and the Salesman, who is an advocate and often a defender of the innovation. As it happened, CIIFAD and then SRI-Rice, and the persons associated with them in many countries, played all three roles concurrently without any knowledge of Gladwell’s theory, which had tried to account for how ideas and behaviors can be changed on a large scale.

A second principle that Gladwell proposed to explain innovation -- that small causes can have large effects -- was found to be relevant again and again in the SRI story. This axiom was a central theme of his book, and indeed it was the book’s subtitle. This principle theme is supported throughout this SRI memoire as well.

The third principle, which Gladwell called ‘the power of context,’ was also often manifested throughout the SRI experience. When something new is presented to people, the fact that it has merit does not ensure its acceptance. For something to get attention and approval, there needs to be some contemporary demand for it, what is often referred to in the development literature as ‘felt need.’ Supply does not create its own demand. Something not accepted at one time may be found attractive at some other time.

In Japan, Taiwan and Korea, for example, higher rice yield was not a priority for their national governments. Indeed, given their system of substantial government subsidies for rice production, spreading SRI could impose serious fiscal costs. Accordingly, the governments in these three countries remained bystanders. However, some NGOs and university faculty in these countries, having different values and objectives, took their own first steps for the evaluation and introduction of SRI (Chapter 38).

People in some East Asian non-governmental organizations and universities had concerns about preserving environmental health and safeguarding water quality which made SRI attractive and led to initiatives in Japan, Taiwan and Korea. Context is thus an important factor affecting the acceptance of an innovation, and this includes what is often referred to as ‘timing.’ Something new that is ignored or rejected at one time may be accepted and spread later, when the context is different.

One part of Gladwell’s theory does not match with SRI experience: his proposition that change is not gradual and continuous, but rather something that occurs with large and quick shifts. Hence, his interest in what he calls ‘tipping points.’ For many innovations, there can come a point in time when they suddenly become popular and displace previous thinking and practices. Yet the acceptance of innovations need not be so binary, with approval suddenly replacing rejection.

The dynamic of ‘tipping points’ can apply for some or many innovations, but there need not always be a quick shift toward acceptance, with an identifiable point of success or victory. Change and approval can be incremental, with gradual transitions made from non-acceptance to acceptance, with no quantum jump.

Much, probably most, agricultural change is different from the situations that Gladwell analyzed in his book. Some changes in policy, technology, cropping patterns, or market orientation may proceed quickly, but most changes occur in an accretionary manner. They are the cumulation of ultimately millions of decisions made by individual farmers to embrace or at least to try out some new ideas in preference to their current ones, assessing the effects of the new ideas compared to those that are familiar.

In his book, Gladwell gave examples of tipping points beyond which change spreads rapidly. But in agriculture, the concept of amalgamation is more appropriate than the idea of displacement. Farming is not like choosing among products on a store shelf. New ideas and practices get blended with existing ones. Our language tends to characterize situations and effects in binary, either/or terms, when realities on the ground are usually more composite.


A typology of roles

Gladwell’s typology of the three roles that accelerate innovation – the Connector, the Maven, and the Salesman -- is useful even if innovation’s spread can involve more than just these roles. Delineating them makes it easier to understand the parts that various Cornell faculty, staff and students played over time in support of SRI as an innovation.

For SRI, the term ‘salesman’ is not very apt. While there was promotion done by Cornell faculty and staff and others, it was more the promotion of the testing and evaluation of SRI than of SRI itself. Most of the activities on behalf of SRI were intended to get others to determine for themselves whether and where SRI ideas and practices, with appropriate adaptations, could raise the productivity of the land, labor, seeds, water and capital that farmers are investing in rice production.

Proponents of SRI derived no personal benefit from the achievement of greater crop productivity and resilience with SRI practices. There could be, of course, satisfaction from seeing the benefits generated by SRI use realized, and even greater satisfaction when the methods assisted households that were most in need of greater or more reliable food production. But there were no personal financial rewards from promoting wider access to SRI methods.

For those who conducted and published research on SRI, there could be some credit and satisfaction from professional publication. But at least in the early years, researchers who studied SRI got considerable disapproval and sometimes disparagement from their peers. Despite repeated efforts to distinguish between promoting SRI, on the one hand, and promoting its testing and evaluation, on the other, this distinction was generally neglected.[5]

The first two roles that Malcolm Gladwell delineated, the Connector and the Maven, were represented in the name that was chosen for SRI-Rice when it was established in 2010 as the SRI International Network and Resources Center.[6] Its first objective was to connect people interested in SRI within countries and between countries, thereby fostering SRI communities of interest and of practice at national, regional and (informally) international levels.[7] Creating networks within countries could hardly be done by SRI-Rice. Rather, this was encouraged and backstopped by the small center that was set up at Cornell while others voluntarily took on the concrete tasks of network building.

The second role, the Maven, is to provide information and knowledge as well as advice and cautions. As discussed in Chapter 29 and below, the worldwide rise and spread of digital electronic means of communication, reaching all the way to individuals’ laptop computers and cellphones, was concurrent with the rise and spread of SRI.

This technological advance contributed greatly to SRI’s growth. Because CIIFAD and then SRI-Rice did not have financial resources to be funding SRI activity overseas. With only a few exceptions, the ‘resources’ referred to in the center’s name were knowledge and contacts. Whatever information that SRI-Rice could learn (and had confidence in) was provided to anyone who had access to the internet free of charge through the SRI website and social media, complemented by email and other communication, using regular (snail) mail when and as necessary.

The third role, better described as the Proponent than the Salesman, was similarly proactive, trying to inform people of all roles and statuses, but especially farmers and whoever was working with them, about the opportunities that SRI knowledge could open up to them, without barriers of cost. This role involved also defending and explaining SRI if and when it was criticized or attacked, as well as critiquing any misunderstandings and misrepresentations when these were made public.

These roles could be combined into a composite general role of Enabler or Facilitator or Catalyst, but these designations are abstract. Gladwell’s three roles have the advantage of being very concrete. SRI efforts were intended to be as tangible as possible, more concerned with factual information than with terminology or semantics. Beyond providing information, efforts were made to support linkages between and among SRI colleagues who were themselves connectors, mavens and proponents in their respective countries around the world. This made SRI-Rice activities focused outward, rather than inward on Cornell.

The discussion in this chapter reviews the activities emanating from Cornell that buttressed the emerging global SRI community which took shape beyond the year 2000. The chapter will try to explain how and why there has been at least some, even if not always much, coherence in the far-flung efforts of dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of others, playing variants and combinations of these three roles.



Large institutions like Cornell University are not unitary actors, not only because their size makes for internal diversity, but because academic institutions have multiple missions and many disciplinary, departmental and other divisions. Whenever anyone talks about ‘Cornell’ or any other university, reference should be made to what specific units or even what groups or individuals associated with the institution have done or are doing. Attaching the name of an institution to them as a descriptor is really a kind of shorthand, often misleading.

This chapter discusses what transpired during the period covered by Parts I and II of this memoire when a small number of Cornell faculty, staff and students worked with colleagues and counterparts in many countries and institutions around the world to explain SRI and to promote an understanding of this innovation. The spread of SRI depended on what others made of and thought about the innovation, best based on evaluations and demonstrations.

From the outside, from an etic perspective (Chapter 2), the operation at Cornell may have appeared fairly large and formidable, judging from the results. From the inside, on the other hand, speaking emically and being very aware of how limited were the time and resources available, there was always an evident mismatch between supply and demand, between capacity and need.

The first challenge faced by faculty and others at Cornell, an institution for higher learning, was to gain a better understanding of SRI, an undertaking fundamental for any university activity. This was paired with the concomitant challenge to help farmers in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East to learn about SRI potentials for improving rice yields, for saving irrigation water, and for various other benefits.[8] Enabling farmers to make better informed decisions about how best to use their available resources to grow their rice crops, and eventually other crops as well, was in keeping with Cornell’s land-grant tradition and mission.

As a university entity and not a development agency, there was no plan or possibility to undertake agricultural extension work at the field level. This was the task for any organizations or individuals wanting to use the information that could be provided from Cornell to engage in such efforts. At the same time, we were always glad to interact with and assist farmers wherever and whenever they expressed interest or curiosity.


CIIFAD, 1994-2005

Cornell involvement with SRI began, as reported in Chapter 3, after the Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development (CIIFAD) was invited by the USAID mission in Madagascar to join in implementing an integrated conservation and development project in and around Ranomafana National Park, roughly in the center of the country. This project was designed and funded to conserve tropical rainforest ecosystems in a still relatively pristine area of more than 35,000 hectares, situated 400 kilometers south of the country’s capital.

Cornell’s engagement with SRI began with a trip to Madagascar just before Christmas in 1993 that I made with a colleague John Dennis who knew French as well as rice culture from his time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand, to get better understanding of the proposed undertaking. Our reconnaissance started by visiting villages and villagers located around the rain forest.[9] It was quickly evident that unless the farmers there could raise their rice yields well and soon above their usual level of 2 tonnes per hectare, the forest’s longevity was limited. The amount of rice that was being produced around the park was not enough for the communities in the peripheral zone around the rain forest to feed themselves and to meet their other needs without intruding upon and degrading the fragile forest ecosystems.

This conclusion led John and me, once we were back in Antananarivo, to get acquainted with a local NGO, Association Tefy Saina, which was willing, even eager, to teach SRI methods to farmers who were living and cultivating around the park (Chapter 3). In March 1994, at the beginning of the next rice-growing season, Tefy Saina deployed four of its young Malagasy trainers to Ranomafana to introduce SRI to rice farmers there, starting with and living in four representative villages near the park boundaries.

At first, CIIFAD had no staff of its own on the ground, so John and I alternated making visits to Ranomafana during the first year. SUNY-Stony Brook which was responsible for overall project implementation had its own staff, American and Malagasy, working in and around Ranomafana, so CIIFAD and Tefy Saina integrated their operations with this staff.[10]

At the end of the first season, the average SRI yield reported from the rice fields of 38 farmers who were willing to try out the new methods was very encouraging, but hard to believe: 8 tonnes per hectare. How could there be a four-fold increase in yield on these very ‘poor’ soils without using chemical fertilizers and without introducing new and improved varieties? Neither John nor I could explain this satisfactorily.

By the next season, CIIFAD was able to post two staff in Ranomafana, Glenn and Torie Lines, both of whom had experience in Africa supporting multi-sectoral rural development under difficult conditions.[11] This gave CIIFAD resident staff on the scene who could observe Tefy Saina’s work and talk with farmers as well as with others about what was going on, while overseeing a variety of other agricultural improvements such as agroforestry, horticulture, bee-keeping, and aquaculture that were compatible with forest preservation.

In March 1997, Erick Fernandes, a Cornell faculty member in crop and soil sciences, visited Ranomafana for CIIFAD to advise on agroforestry activities, as reported in Chapter 3 As someone who had grown up in India helping his family grow rice under tropical conditions, Erick was interested in taking a look also at SRI which he had heard about from me. Glenn took him to see one of the best SRI fields in Ranomafana that season. The crop-cutting that Erick made to estimate yield indicated an amazing production of 13.5 tonnes per hectare.[12]

When the SRI crop was harvested that third season, Tefy Saina calculated that the average yield for the 78 farmers using the new methods was again a little over 8 tonnes per hectare, for a third year in a row. This result justified CIIFAD’s starting to inform people outside of Madagascar about SRI and to try to get its methods evaluated in other countries. CIIFAD had held back on this until there were three years of results to report, to be satisfied that this result was not a fluke or an artifact.

CIIFAD had an International Advisory Committee composed of diverse and eminent individuals having extensive experience in agricultural and rural development around the world. From 1990 to 1997, the chair of the committee was Barber Conable, a Cornell alumnus, former US in the development community, and former President of the World Bank. I recall his cautionary comment after I first reported on SRI to the committee at its meeting in 1995: “Remember, Norman, Madagascar is known in the development community as a graveyard of dreams.” Still, most committee members were interested in and supportive of SRI as more became known about it.

One member, Bob Herdt, who was vice-president of the Rockefeller Foundation and who had been an agricultural economist at IRRI in the early days of the Green Revolution, was particularly interested in rice improvement. In 2001, he gave a lecture at CIMMYT, the CGIAR center in Mexico for wheat and maize improvement.’ [13] In it he described SRI as an opportunity for ‘extraordinary productivity gains.’ This suggestion did not evoke interest at CIMMYT or within the Foundation, however.

Another committee member, Robert Havener, who chaired it after Barber Conable retired from this role, also took an interest in SRI. He had served as the director-general of CIMMYT from 1978 to 1985 and then served as interim director-general for two more CGIAR centers (CIAT in 1994-95, and IRRI in 1998-99). En route to taking up his position at IRRI in 1998, he visited Madagascar to see SRI for himself and to meet some SRI farmers. At IRRI, he tried to mobilize interest among scientists, but without response.

Another committee member, Bryant Rossiter, took active interest in SRI, partly prompted by his experience trying to acceptance of a new solar-energy technology while he had been the director of research for Eastman-Kodak. We had become good friends while both serving on USAID’s Research Advisory Committee during the 1980s, and he expressed sympathy with my challenge of getting SRI taken seriously. Bryant was a senior elder in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, known as the Mormon Church. He tried to get his church to take an interest in SRI and to incorporate it into its large international charitable program, but with no success.[14]

Roland Bunch was the committee member who became most engaged with SRI and had the most success with it. Having served as a field representative for World Neighbors in Central America, Roland represented an international NGO perspective on the committee. He visited Madagascar in 2001 to see SRI for himself and spoke about it when visiting Indonesia, Cambodia, Nepal, Mali and other countries (see Chapter 25 and Roland’s mini-memoire for this book). 

Also in 1997, CIIFAD (Glenn and I) contacted the director of research for the University of Antananarivo’s school of agriculture, Prof. Robert Randriamiharisoa, to try to get some systematic research done on SRI. Cornell students could not do this very well without knowing Malagasy language, and the cost would have been many times greater. Prof. Robert identified the top students in the agronomy and economics cohorts who would be graduating from the school of agriculture the next year, and he recruited them to do their baccalaureate thesis research on the agronomics and economics of SRI performance in Ranomafana. CIIFAD covered the costs of their field research from its USAID project funds to start building up scientific knowledge about SRI.[15]

The next year, in 1998, the USAID mission in Madagascar decided not to continue the project around Ranomafana for a third phase. Instead, it started a new project,h the Landscape Development Initiative (LDI), which covering a much larger area about 400 km east of Ranomafana. This project area, about 320,000 hectares, was located midway between the capital and the country’s east coast.

Glenn and Torie Lines relocated to the junction town of Moramanga for the next six years, and this became the locus for CIIFAD’s work on SRI, with a government research station at Beforona 20 km to the east of Moramanga which needed renovation. Tefy Saina continued to provide SRI training and evaluation for the LDI project which was being implemented by the Washington, DC-based consulting firm Chemonics International.[16]

Also in 1998, John Dennis and I gave a seminar on SRI for a number of members in Cornell’s Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, presenting what we had been observing and learning about SRI. This was met with more skepticism than interest.[17] However, through the USAID project, we had funding available to support research. Between 2000 and 2005, graduate students in three different departments wrote master’s or PhD theses on SRI based on fieldwork that they carried out in Madagascar, Gambia, or Mozambique.[18] But these theses also did not evoke any serious faculty interest in engaging with SRI, with one exception.[19]

The Cornell involvement with SRI in the initial years was thus mostly what I could do while director of CIIFAD, working with colleagues at a number of institutions overseas. This effort had the support of two CIIFAD staff members who were following SRI reports and developments more closely than any of the faculty.

In 2001, at her own initiative Lucy Fisher developed an internet website for SRI that was launched and maintained under CIIFAD auspices. For this, she had to learn additional skills to be effective in using the emerging media for communication (Chapter 29). Lucy had lived and worked in the Philippines and Indonesia before doing a MPS degree at Cornell in the early 1980s. When she returned to Ithaca in the 1990s, CIIFAD hired her to handle communications and outreach for its programs on soil health and mulch-based agriculture (later reformulated as Management of Organic Inputs in Soils of the Tropics, MOIST).[20] While her training had been mostly in plant pathology, Lucy had broad and practical interests in agricultural development from 15 years of development work with various NGOs in Southeast Asia.

Another colleague, Olivia Vent, had also become ‘infected’ by SRI while she was CIIFAD’s director for communications and outreach. As one of her first jobs, she served as the first Information Officer for the CGIAR’s Secretariat at the World Bank, 1979-1985, and before she moved to Ithaca, she had worked with CIAT programs in Rwanda and Colombia. After she learned about SRI, Olivia took a particular interest in how market and consumer demand for SRI rice could be developed, given its higher quality, its being eco-friendly, water-saving, and benefits for women. Rich farmers would have greater incentive to adopt the innovation if using SRI methods could be made even more remunerative.

This interest led to Olivia’s and CIIFAD’s collaboration with Lotus Foods, discussed in Chapters 17 and 34. Within SRI-Rice’s informal division of labor, Olivia also focused on the effects of SRI practices on women’s health and well-being and on climate change.[21]The three of us worked respectively and in tandem to identify and assist SRI initiatives in various countries, sharing as best we could what we knew about SRI and encouraging its evaluation. In this we were assisted by several other CIIFAD colleagues,[22] and a succession of students who took some (and sometimes a lot of) interest in SRI, helping as volunteers or as student assistants during this time.

Throughout this initial period, the executive assistant for CIIFAD, Ginny Montopoli, supported SRI activities as part of her responsibilities while I was CIIFAD director, and then she continued to assist SRI activities after I stepped down as director in 2005.[23] While director, I traveled internationally fairly frequently, and this gave me many and varied opportunities to introduce SRI to colleagues abroad, and wherever possible to get evaluations or demonstrations of SRI started.[24]

The main initiative that CIIFAD took in this first period to get SRI better understood and known around the world was to organize an international conference held in China in 2002, discussed in Chapter 8. CIIFAD’s financial contribution to this event was matched by support from the Rockefeller Foundation and the World Bank.[25] International travel was the largest expense. Local arrangements for the conference in Sanya were handled by staff of the China National Hybrid Rice Research and Development Center and its world-famous director, Prof. Yuan Longping.

At the conference, reports were made on SRI experience from 15 countries.[26] In all, there were 45 international participants, including staff from the Rockefeller Foundation, IRRI, IWMI, and ILEIA. This number was matched, actually exceeded, by the Chinese participants who were invited by the hybrid rice center plus several dozen officials from the Ministries of Agriculture and of Science and Technology.

From 2000 to 2005, there were thus a variety of supportive activities undertaken by and through CIIFAD, some of them supported from the USAID funding for work in Madagascar, where Glenn and Torie Lines continued to assist and coordinate activities from their base in Moramanga until 2004.[27]

Starting in 1997, sections in CIIFAD’s Annual Report reported on SRI evaluations and results (see Chapter 3).[28] From 2000 on, there was further student research both from the University of Antananarivo and from Cornell, some supported by the Rockefeller Foundation grant described in Chapter 35 or USAID projects.


Interim Period, 2005-2010

In 2005, having served as director of CIIFAD for 15 years and with my 65th birthday approaching, it seemed an opportune time to hand over leadership of CIIFAD to someone else and to retire formally from the Cornell faculty. My intention was to devote more effort to SRI and to the adaptations that were emerging for SRI ideas and methods, for improving the production of finger millet, wheat, sugarcane, and other crops.

In retrospect, it was fortuitous that this plan was partially thwarted. A colleague, David Lewis, who was director of the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs (CIPA) which managed Cornell’s MPA (Master of Public Administration) degree program, had different ideas. He wanted me to continue teaching my graduate course on the planning and management of agricultural and rural development which was taken by many of his MPA students. So, he persuaded me to join the faculty of CIPA on a part-time basis, also advising CIPA students.

Compensation for the teaching could be put into a research account that would support my continuing work on SRI since, being formally retired, I did not need to draw salary any more. David’s proposal was an attractive one since my vigor was undiminished and we had no other source of support for SRI activity. The next year, David persuaded me to serve as CIPA’s director of graduate studies for the next four years, which brought in additional funding for SRI work. When David retired in 2010, I was appointed to succeed him as CIPA’s director for another four years, through 2014. Taking on these administrative and teaching responsibilities conveniently provided resources to support the on-going work with SRI and its website,[29] also to assist SRI colleagues from a number of countries to participate in the 3rd and 4th International Rice Congresses in Hanoi and Bangkok.

Unfortunately, within CIIFAD under its next director there was little enthusiasm for SRI, so further funding was not available from that source. However, in my emeritus status, CIIFAD designated me as its faculty leader for ‘Sustainable Rice Systems.’ So, there was continued access to office space and secretarial services to support continuing SRI activity.

Lucy Fisher remained in her communications position within CIIFAD, with my CIPA funding covering an increasing share of her salary and many of her costs, as well as my travel. Olivia Vent moved to a new position within Cornell but continued to volunteer time for SRI activity. After she decided on early retirement from Cornell in 2009, she began working with Lotus Foods while continuing to assist SRI efforts in many various ways both in a volunteer capacity and as a consultant. In 2010, she proposed to Oxfam, WWF and Africare that they jointly reflect on their experiences with SRI in a publication oriented to a policy-makers and a more general audience. They agreed, and Oxfam retained Olivia to coordinate the production of this publication: More Rice for People, More Water for the Planet, which became a staple handout for explaining SRI.[30]

This arrangement for supporting SRI work was reasonably productive for the innovation. Lucy expanded the SRI website and built up social media capabilities for SRI exchange and dissemination. I continued to have many invitations and opportunities to travel abroad which enabled me, with the help of colleagues in various countries and with sponsorship from various organizations,[31] to make more than 100 presentations on SRI in 30 countries during the five years (see Annex to Part II.)

One indication of the spread of interest in SRI is that during this five-year period, at least 21 theses on SRI were written for universities in 15 countries.[32] The number of journal articles, which had been only a handful before the Sanya conference, began rising after that event, and during the period 2005-2010, the number grew by about 30 per year.

Still, the SRI activities based at Cornell were more in a maintenance mode than in an expansion phase. The scope and pace of SRI work would have been totally different if the ALCAN Prize for Sustainability had been received in 2006, as this would have provided the SRI program USD1 million to work with (Chapter 33). As important, receiving this prize would have elicited more respect and cooperation from Cornell faculty colleagues for SRI. But the SRI story is full of what-might-have-beens.

By 2010, the number of countries in which SRI methods had been shown to be more beneficial than conventional rice management rose to over 40, so there was progress in this period. But no funding could be found to expand SRI operations at Cornell and to assist SRI development efforts overseas.

In allocating the limited time and resources available for SRI support, priority was given to assisting SRI colleagues or potential colleagues around the world, accumulating, brokering and disseminating knowledge to be widely shared and assisting their activities as best as could be done from afar without significant resources. There was little time left over for fund-raising, possibly a strategic mistake. Despite the remarkable results that were being reported from dozens of countries, no agencies or foundations expressed any interest in providing the SRI innovation any core support, which is always the most difficult kind of purpose for which to mobilize funding.

SRI-Rice, from 2010

A key part of the SRI story has already been told: how the actor Jim Carrey came to learn about SRI and took a personal interest in it (Chapters 25 and 35). The first support for SRI from his Better U Foundation was a grant made to Africare, not Cornell, to support Erika Styger’s work with farmers in the Timbuktu region, to demonstrate SRI’s merits in Mali and jump-start its acceptance there. The Better U Foundation’s next step was to establish and give technical support for three years to an SRI Secretariat in Madagascar so as to accelerate the spread of SRI in that food-insecure country.

The Better U Foundation then asked what more could best be done next to make SRI opportunities more widely available and more impactful. My suggestion was to design and fund an SRI initiative in Africa, to raise rice production and reduce water requirements for cropping in half a dozen promising countries there as examples for other African countries. The Foundation’s board considered this idea too ambitious, however, being apprehensive that funding such an initiative would create expectations of long-term financing that the board would not commit to providing.

As an alternative, the board was willing to make a gift to Cornell to establish institutional capability that would supporting further evaluation and dissemination of SRI around the world, with funding provided for the first three years. This led to setting up in August 2010 the SRI International Network and Resources Center, referred to as SRI-Rice for short.

The full name was longer than desirable, but as noted above, it indicated the purposes of the center: strengthening SRI networks within and among countries, and supporting a variety of SRI initiatives, each tailored to particular needs and opportunities. We said, in a jocular way, that we wanted to ‘make opportunism respectable again.’ Unfortunately, however, additional financial resources to expand SRI efforts did not materialize as anticipated. But since SRI is mostly a matter of information, much could be done using electronic means of communication to provide information resources around the world in a low-cost way.

Initially, SRI-Rice functioned under the auspices of CIIFAD, then in 2013, both CIIFAD and SRI-Rice were transferred administratively to operate under the aegis of the International Programs of Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (IP/CALS). The Better U Foundation gift, among other things, enabled SRI-Rice to appoint Erika Styger as its Associate Director for Programs after her successful introduction of SRI in Mali. Lucy Fisher served as SRI-Rice’s Associate Director for Communications, and my role was that of SRI-Rice’s Senior Advisor.[33]

A number of students, over 30, assisted SRI-Rice during the 2010s, some as volunteers, but most paid as student assistants. Several students at Cornell from China, for example, helped to create and expand an on-line archive of Chinese publications on SRI, searching the internet and drafting English summaries.[34] Similarly, Genesis Soto helped with a Spanish-language website and the archiving of SRI publications in Spanish. Several other students, Carrie Young and Hillary Mara who had been former Peace Corps volunteers in Africa, worked with SRI-Rice while doing their MPA degrees, and they continued assisting SRI-Rice after finishing their degrees.[35]

For the project paper required for his MPS degree, Pratyaya Jagannath from India did an ambitious quantitative meta-analysis of all the research that could be found in the published literature on water saving and water productivity under SRI management. This resulted in an important publication.[36] Arvind Boddupali, an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota and son of an SRI colleague in India, spent the summer of 2016 as a volunteer intern with SRI-Rice compiling an inventory of all the SRI-suitable equipment that could be identified and accessed by internet.

Other students who had good computer skills assisted with construction and maintenance of the SRI website, while others searched for and uploaded articles into the SRI research database.[37] A few students who were interested in working with SRI were unfortunately discouraged by other faculty, so there could otherwise have been some more student involvement with the work of SRI-Rice.[38]

There was always some tension between seeking funding and providing services, as noted above, with the latter taking priority when these tasks competed for limited time and effort. Many letters were sent to foundations and other sources of funding that appeared promising from their directories or websites, but none of the contacts led to discussions or opportunities to get flexible core support, a large number of foundations having a policy of ‘don’t call us, we’ll call you.’

Resources could sometimes be mobilized by partners in other countries to support programs there with deliverables, but most of them had a lack of success similar to SRI-Rice’s when trying to raise support for core activities. Funding sources including donor agencies were content to free-ride on the services of SRI-Rice.[39] Its policy was to make SRI information freely accessible to anybody, to governmental and non-governmental actors as well as to farmers directly, seeking to catalyze the widest and quickest benefits. However, while the knowledge that SRI-Rice was providing was generating huge amounts of income for farmers around the world, the small center at Cornell itself remained greatly constrained for lack of resources.[40]



The broadest manifestation of SRI-Rice’s role as a Connector was its ongoing efforts to encourage and assist networking on behalf of SRI. These efforts were mostly and usually necessarily voluntary, as there was no funding available for professional, clerical or other staff. The most promising way to proceed, given the resource limitations, was by linking up the talents and energies of motivated individuals, acting independently or on behalf of organizations. Their efforts could be reinforced and sustained by getting like-minded and similarly-motivated persons together at various levels to share their information, experiences, and aspirations.


National Networks

One of the first countries where SRI work got started was Cambodia in 2000. The NGO CEDAC that took the lead on SRI there was already working with more than a hundred rural communities in ways that encouraged an ethic of cooperation and sharing. There was cooperation among NGO, staff of donor agencies, and government actors, but this never became a formalized network. CEDAC put effort into catalyzing a national network of farmers, called the Farmer-Nature Net (FNN), to promote organic methods for SRI and other food production, even ‘chicken SRI’ (Chapter 14). CEDAC had a broad strategy of getting farmers organized so that they could both produce more and retain a greater share of their value-added, so that the SRI innovation was not an isolated or individual phenomenon.[41] Unfortunately, this network had some attenuation after 2020.[42]

In the Philippines, Roberto Verzola and NGO colleagues created a more formalized network than in Cambodia, SRI-Pilipinas, which eventually covered the whole country with a network of personal contacts. The national network developed a list of experienced SRI farmers all over the country who were prepared to assist others in learning the new methods.[43] In Indonesia, an Indonesian Association for SRI (Ina-SRI) was similarly organized in 2008, with more of a university base than in Cambodia or the Philippines. In 2021, Ina-SRI was reconfigured as the Indonesian SRI Research and Innovation Network (IndoSRInet), with leadership moving from the Institut Pertanian Bogor to Padjadjaran University near Bandung. Ina-SRI, IndoSRInet, and SRI-Pilipinas all included university and NGO membership plus members from other sectors.[44]

All three of these Southeast Asian networks interacted closely with SRI-Rice, as did a Malaysian network, SRI-Mas that was formed in 2011 and continues to be very active through a WhatsApp group.[45] As noted in Chapter 30, SRI-Mas planned and implemented a project for SRI training with funding from the UN Development Program. One of the most active national networks was set up in Vietnam, with a website in both Vietnamese and English.[46] In Myanmar, retired agronomy professor Thein Su set up a Facebook group for SRI in 2019 that had nearly 3,000 members by the end of 2021.[47]

One of the earliest national networks was established in Bangladesh in 2002, the Bangladesh National Network for SRI, coordinated by Muazzam Husain with assistance from Gopal Chowhan.[48] The BNN included representatives from NGOs, government agencies, educational institutions, and the private sector (see beginning of Chapter 34).

Shortly after the Bangladesh network was formed, an electronic discussion group was set up in Nepal, supported for some years by Andreas Jenny, who worked alternately from Nepal and Germany to facilitate communication among SRI colleagues in Nepal. This network was replaced by a Facebook page several years later.[49]

Colleagues in Sri Lanka set up a national network in 2008, referred to simply as SRIN, as Sri Lanka and SRI sound somewhat redundant.[50] For some years, the Colombo office of the Australian affiliate of Oxfam provided an operational base and support for the Sri Lankan SRI network. Eventually, SRIN was folded into a broader agroecological group based at Rajarata University.

The largest and most active SRI network is in India, not surprisingly, the National Consortium for SRI (NCS), set up in 2010.[51] The NCS was chaired by Bhuban Barah for its first seven years, and Debashish Sen succeeded him, with PRADAN and then the People’s Science Institute serving in turn as the secretariat for the consortium. Two early accomplishments of the NCS were studies that it commissioned on the adoption and disadoption of SRI in representative districts, and on the performance of indigenous rice varieties under SRI management.[52]

SRI partners in India also worked together through NCS on plans for national scaling up of SRI based on their respective experiences, and they lobbied with government bodies, particularly the National Planning Commission, to expand official support for SRI dissemination in India. In 2022, they took the initiative to organize an international conference on SRI and SCI, with the government’s Indian Council for Agricultural Research hosting the event and co-sponsoring it with many institutions in India.

Also well-developed is the Japan Association for SRI (J-SRI) established in 2007 with an organizational platform at Tokyo University. It holds meetings on a regular basis and has produced a variety of publications and reports.[53] In Taiwan, an organization was established in 2016 that combined members’ interests in both SRI and Conservation Agriculture, the SRI Conservation Agriculture Environment Society (SRI-CA).[54] This Taiwan network had close connections to J-SRI through J-SRI’S chair, Eiji Yamaji, who had introduced SRI in Taiwan and visited fairly often. SRI-CA communicated with SRI-Rice through its coordinator, Yu-Chuan Chang at Hsing Wu University. The first major project undertaken by SRI-CA was translation into Chinese language and publication of the 2015 book on ‘frequently asked questions’ about SRI.[55]

Less networking has been done at the national level in Africa and Latin America than in Asia, largely because a ‘critical mass’ of SRI colleagues has less often been reached at country level, although as noted below, an African regional SRI network has started before there is an Asian network, and a Latin American network was formed under the auspices of IICA. The West Africa Agricultural Productivity Program discussed in Chapter 8 did not focus on developing networks at a national level, although a local Facebook group has spun off from WAAPP activity in the Ivory Coast.[56]

A more complete listing of networking capabilities established by SRI colleagues in at least 15 countries is maintained on the SRI-Rice website.[57] There is a variety of ways in which SRI colleagues have established channels for communication among themselves and to be accessible from outside their country. Their capabilities often fluctuate because they have depended entirely on volunteered efforts. But the review above indicates how much and how widespread has been the SRI activity elicited and sustained by a proliferation of networking arrangements that have had more impact than could any single initiative originating from a single point like Ithaca, New York. The effect of these national initiatives can be amplified by the development of regional networking, or this may serve similar functions.

Regional Networking

While national networks can have direct and immediate impacts on the ground, where SRI impact is most desired, they can be supported and amplified by regional arrangement, and to some extent possibly substituted for by such networks. As noted above, partly because the Asian region is so large and diverse, with the spontaneous (or encouraged) emergence of national networks, there has not been an Asian regional SRI network established as of 2022, although there have been discussions and proposals.[58]

In Africa, Bancy Mati took initiative in 2018 to set up a SRI-Africa website based at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Nairobi, coordinating with SRI-Rice, which has assisted in the creation of this capability. With this internet presence, it is intended to have a network of SRI contacts in each country who can provide information that is shared through the regional network and who can assist persons wanting to get involved with SRI in their respective countries.[59] To what extent this may substitute for national networks remains to be seen.

Early on, SRI-Rice tried to get a regional network established for Latin America and the Caribbean, especially because it was important to have publications, documentation and conversation in Spanish language. Rena Perez in Cuba (Chapter 25) assisted in getting SRI communication started within the region in the latter 2000s, but Cuba was not an ideal country for basing the regional effort.

C36 1 18.png

When the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) started working with SRI-Rice after 2013 to make SRI better known throughout the Latin American and Caribbean region, this provided an appropriate institutional base for regional networking, especially because IICA has good access to governments in Western Hemisphere countries.

One of IICA’s first initiatives was to translate into Spanish the 2015 SRI-Rice book on ‘frequently asked questions’ about SRI and to make it available within the region.[60]

In 2018, IICA established an SRI of the Americas Network, with RED SRI as its short name (see logo on the left). Red is the Spanish word commonly used for ‘network.’

Informal International Networking

There have not been enough resources available so far to support an international SRI network, so SRI-Rice has facilitated, with support from Oxfam America, ‘meetings within meetings’ for this purpose, taking advantage of the International Rice Congresses held quadrenially between 2006 and 2018 in New Delhi, Hanoi, Bangkok, and Singapore. Special sessions within or outside the official program brought SRI colleagues together to exchange ideas and experience and to build personal connections so they could support and encourage each other’s efforts. A picture of the first such get-together, at the 2ⁿᵈ International Rice Congress in New Delhi in 2006, is shown in Chapter 22.

Below is a picture from the 2018 meeting described in endnote 56, which the SRI-Mas network hosted in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, just across the border from Singapore (to take advantage of lower costs), following the 5th IRC. Fifty SRI colleagues from 17 countries, many of whom had attended the Congress, participated in this get-together which considered among other things how to strengthen national, regional, and international SRI networking. At the Congress itself, there was a panel presentation on SRI research.[61]

C36 2 18.png

It has been an SRI dream to convene another international SRI conference like the first one held in China in 2002 (Chapter 8). It would be appropriate to convene another international meeting on the 20th anniversary of the Sanya event in 2022. However, the financial and organizational resources for such an event have not been found. Meanwhile, the informal international network will continue to function as best its members can. It functions more like a family or community than a network.



Another major role played by SRI-Rice, and before that by CIIFAD, has served both the functions of both Connector and Maven. This has involved serving as a source for all kinds of information regarding SRI, as discussed also in Chapter 29.



The SRI website started in 2001 by Lucy Fisher and built up over the years since then with the help of numerous student assistants has made SRI information widely and freely-available.[62] It has been the policy of SRI-Rice to post all kinds of information on SRI, not necessarily all of it favorable, with all postings being open-access and with no charge for downloading them. Copyrighted research is necessarily restricted, but any person who joins the SRI Research Network, which has a Zotero-based SRI research data base of over 2,000 journal articles, theses, and other research items, discussed below, can gain access to such literature.

After almost 20 years of development, the website each month serves over 2,000 unique users in 75 to 85 countries. As discussed in Chapter 29, SRI-Rice has curated and makes available through its website and social media channels hundreds of videos and PowerPoint presentations as well as SRI manuals and training materials in 15 languages. The country pages on the website for over 60 countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America are regularly updated with commentary, news items, research results, and reports about what is going on in each country.[63] 


Social Media

In addition to the website, access to SRI information has been provided via various social media established and maintained by Lucy Fisher. These media include:

  • Twitter, with nearly 2,000 followers as of 2021;

  • Four Facebook pages, one in English, one in Spanish, one for West Africa, and one that functions as a SRI  equipment  forum with over 350 members;

  • An SRI blog;[64]

  • A LinkedIn group;

  • A YouTube channel with 41 playlists and over 1,500 subscribers; and

  • A SlideShare channel (for powerpoint presentations) with over 250 subscribers.

  • Every three months, the SRI-Rice News Highlights, which is carried on a ScoopIt platform, is sent to several thousand persons around the world through individual e-mail addresses, several SRI listservs, and WhatsApp groups, while being posted also on SRI-Rice’s website and social media.



This represents the function of Maven, according to Malcolm Gladwell’s typology. Most of SRI-Rice’s work in this regard has been a matter of acquiring knowledge (not just information, to follow the distinction made by T.S. Eliot[65]) and making it available. But there has been also much direct production of knowledge about SRI and considerable indirect production by assisting others to contribute to and expand the available fund of knowledge about SRI.


Knowledge Collection

Keeping researchers engaged with SRI by providing them with easy access to published research, organized in a searchable way. has been a major ongoing activity of SRI-Rice. Researchers who become members of the SRI Research Network can gain access to otherwise-expensive copyrighted material. Research articles and reports are identified and curated in English, French, Indonesian, Spanish and Chinese languages on a publicly-accessible, searchable Zotero platform. As of mid-2022, there were over 2,000 research items in the database: published articles, chapters and books, PhD and master’s theses, and research reports.

Many researchers in Africa and Asian institutions do not have access to much published research on SRI because much of it is available only through costly subscriptions. Having free access to quality research articles, through the research network, is important for researchers in the Global South, especially if they hope to get their own research published in highly-rated international journals. SRI-Rice assists some of them with editing and placement of quality research, depending on time available and the novelty of the research. Also, having a substantial database on-line gives SRI credibility with researchers and potential donors who may believe, incorrectly, that there is not solid scientifically-credible evidence that SRI is doing what farmers and NGOs have reported.

Despite best efforts, the SRI-Rice database has not been able to include all of the research on SRI, but what has been collected and organized is reasonably complete and a worldwide resource. Given the amount of research on SRI coming from China, India and Indonesia, there are sub-collections for these countries.


Knowledge Generation

At first, Cornell faculty and students were most prominent in contributing to the initially small body of formal knowledge on SRI. But fairly quickly, researchers in China, India, Thailand, Indonesia, Kenya and other countries began conducting research and publishing their results.[66]

An informal service provided to SRI colleagues in various countries has been to assist in the polishing of manuscripts to be submitted for publication because English was often not the first language of the authors. Manuscripts that have solid and valuable content but which are not well-written are likely to be rejected by journals and possibly not even considered for publication. Also, there has been some assistance with the organization of powerpoint and other presentations inasmuch as an outside perspective can be helpful.

No record has been kept of such assistance, sometimes noted in acknowledgments, so no numbers are available to report. But such numbers are not important. SRI knowledge generation has been viewed by SRI colleagues more as a collective enterprise than are most research undertakings, which are often competitive rather than cooperative. Also, SRI-Rice’s concern has always been more with quality than quantity.

Often SRI colleagues have asked me to join them as a co-author of articles that they have drafted. This I sometimes agreed to depending on how much of a contribution I made to the substance of the article. Lucy and Olivia have also assisted with the polishing of research proposals, written presentations, manuals, proposals for funding, etc. My own direct contributions to SRI knowledge are noted in chapter endnotes in Parts I and II.

When researchers were planning a study and wanted feedback on their research designs, SRI-Rice was particularly ready to give assistance for this. When applications for funding were being written up, SRI-Rice was available to assist in refining such documents. The biggest success was the funding proposal that Abha Mishra and Prabhat Kumar at the Asian Institute of Technology submitted to the European Union for a five-year, four-country farmer-participatory evaluation of rainfed SRI in peninsular Southeast Asia (Chapter 8).[67] While SRI-Rice could assist with refining the presentation of ideas, in all cases the ideas themselves had to come from SRI colleagues overseas because they were the persons who would actually be carrying out the work.

Unfortunately, SRI-Rice did not have the resources to be able to fund research projects, although as noted in Chapter 8, CIIFAD was able to give some modest support to four Nepali students to do field research on SRI for their master’s theses when their faculty advisors were unable or unwilling to support such research. For the most part, SRI colleagues have had to, and have been able to, mobilize their own resources from one source or another to contribute to the fund of SRI knowledge. Fortunately, there were many enterprising colleagues in this regard, as seen in Chapter 9, which could report only part of the total effort.

One of the best uses of SRI-Rice time has been to advise and assist some capable students in PhD programs in various countries who were writing their theses on SRI topics. We were not able to help many students to progress more successfully through their degree programs. But this added to a new generation of leadership for SRI knowledge generation and practice.[68]


Staying Close to the Field

Cornell University, located in Ithaca, NY, is far removed from most places where SRI is practiced. Therefore SRI-Rice sought to be and remain in close contact with field realities to avoid as much as possible ‘ivory-tower’ confines. Lucy and Olivia did not have as much opportunity as I did to make visits to field sites, but they also used various opportunities to see SRI as it was being practiced and to talk with farmers who were using the practices and gaining experience. Fortunately, my role as CIIFAD director and then as a free-lance consultant and visitor gave me numerous opportunities to get into the field.

During a previous decade-long involvement with a development innovation in Sri Lanka – introducing farmer-participatory irrigation management during the 1980s[69] -- I had by happenstance devised a kind of methodology for applied social science: trip reports written in first-person and the present-tense. The trip reports that I wrote up after each of my visits to the Gal Oya irrigation project, semi-annual for the first five years and then annual for another five years, were written up in a narrative form from the extensive field notes that I took each time I went into the field.

The style of these reports was cinema verité,[70] trying to convey to others what I was seeing and hearing in the field -- from farmers, officials, bystanders, anyone who could provide information and perspective on what was going on on the ground. There as a minimum of editorializing and interpreting. These trip reports, descriptive rather than didactic or judgmental, sought to enable readers to be vicariously in the field with me -- in my shoes, so to speak.

As SRI work got started in Madagascar, then in China and Indonesia, the Philippines and Cambodia, in Cuba and elsewhere, I wrote up trip reports, now on the website, after visiting these countries. These narratives shared with colleagues in the respective countries and in other countries, as best I could, the field realities of SRI, the successes and failures, the constraints and innovations, the resistances and breakthroughs, the expectations and disappointments.

In this book, many references have been made to these trip reports in the endnotes for chapters of Parts I and II. By downloading and perusing any of the trip reports, readers can, with a little imagination, transport themselves into the field at that point in time. When there are several reports from a country, readers can get some sense of changes over time.[71]

These engagements in and with the field helped to keep our experience and understanding of SRI grounded, complementing with observations and direct learning derived from the large volume of reports, papers, emails, etc. that flowed intermittently and sometimes voluminously into Ithaca, NY. These visits, many made possible first by CIIFAD and then by other institutions but some made with personal resources from our core group, were important for adding acuity and credibility to the information that was being provided from SRI-Rice from afar. The visits also established personal linkages and bonds that made the whole SRI enterprise more effective and durable.



Along with field visits, there were numerous opportunities, seized upon when offered or created through our many contacts and channels, for members of the core group to make personal presentations to a variety of audiences. An annex to Part II gives a listing of presentations that I and others made in what can be considered as a Promoter role. My own presentations on SRI made in 45 countries over 20 some years, totaled almost 300. Presentations by other SRI colleagues boosted the number of countries where SRI information was spread to over 60, but not all of these are reported anywhere.

In the initial years, not so many presentations were made as SRI was just becoming known, so the annex can list talks made by others in the nascent SRI network that we knew about. Beyond the year 2000, the numbers of other presentations began growing so much that most of those listed are ones given by myself to a variety of forums. There was no way that we could keep track of and record all of the hundreds of presentations that were made by SRI colleagues around the world.

Most of the presentations were based on PowerPoints preparations put together for each occasion. SRI is a very visual subject, one that is best presented with at least some pictures and graphs. Several hundred of these presentations have been posted on SlideShare to make them widely available.[72] The presentations were not copyrighted, and neither were the pictures, so they could be used by anyone to put together a presentation on SRI for any particular occasion. This has been part of the SRI-Rice strategy, to enable anyone interested to take part in the communication network that was established and to take their own initiative.



Much of the dissemination of knowledge about SRI was done on a ‘wholesale’ basis via the internet. But much of the dissemination was, on the other hand, ‘retail.’ The latter had incalculable and significant impacts, so there should be recognition not only of ‘mass’ kinds of communication.

While website and social media, publications and presentations reached many thousands of persons, more personalized communication having more certain and evident effects probably matched the more generalized media in terms of impact. Comparison cannot be without data, however, so this must remain conjecture. Combining wholesale and retail means of communication seemed to have a synergistic effect.

SRI-Rice and SRI colleagues in dozens of countries made prodigious and continuous use of email year after year, with thousands upon thousands of messages. These were in many ways complementary to and complemented by the more generalized methods of communication. References were easily and often made to material on SRI that was available on the website or on SlideShare to add to and amplify personal communication.

Over the years such communication and contacts regarding SRI built up a web of personal acquaintance and friendship that cannot be quantified. Practically everyone who wrote to SRI-Rice got a personal response, without regard to status or command of English. Many interactions came to naught, but one could never know which ones would develop into productive associations. Direct communication with farmers was particularly valued and responded to.

Because SRI-Rice became known as a source of information and knowledge about SRI, many of the contacts and inquiries that came in were from journalists, from the print media, from blogs and other electronic media, and from some radio and television reporters or producers. Here the SRI-Rice role was as both Connector and Maven. We could be most helpful to journalists who had already informed themselves about SRI, say, from the website. But in any case, their needs and curiosity were satisfied as best we could.

One of the most notable connections made, for example, was a call in 2012 from London, from the environmental editor for The Guardian newspaper, John Vidal. He wanted to know what we knew about the reported world-record yield achieved by Sumant Kumar in Bihar state of India (Chapter 10). Later that year, John made a trip to India to investigate the reports for himself, and he became one of the highest-profile and most knowledgeable promoters of SRI in the press.[73]

SRI-Rice’s being situated at Cornell meant that there were continually many visitors to the university with whom SRI could be discussed in person. Some visitors came specifically to learn more about SRI because Cornell was seen as a center for SRI knowledge, but most came because of their general interests in agricultural and rural development, and once there was contact, discussions often turned to SRI.

For some visitors, the contact and connection with SRI was purely fortuitous, like getting acquainted with Prof. Lianghuan Wu, for example. He had come to Cornell from Zhejiang University in China for a semester as a visiting fellow in environmental science. He came to see me after hearing from a colleague that I visited China often. When we first met, it became quickly evident that we shared an interest in keeping China’s groundwater resources from being irreparably degraded by the excessive use of inorganic nitrogen fertilizers. This led to Wu’s getting a very bright and productive PhD student at Zhejiang University to do research on SRI for her thesis, and this led to the publication of several very important articles.[74]

There was no choice to be made between relying on personal and impersonal contacts as both were respectively important. Email communication and meetings with visitors had their place in SRI-Rice’s strategy along with participation in international events like the World Food Prize symposium in Des Moines, Iowa, the Biovision conference in Egypt, the GCARD2 event in Punta del Este, Uruguay, and the International Rice Congresses discussed in previous chapters.[75] Most contacts were followed up with emails or links to specific material on the website, or adding their addresses to the list for the SRI-Rice newsletter or to social media.

SRI-Rice did not have financial resources to bring people to Cornell as visiting fellows, but some colleagues were able to mobilize their own funding for more than just a visit. Both Amod Thakur and Shambu Prasad from India got Senior Fulbright Research Fellowships to spend 10 months at Cornell, and Amod had also a three-month stay at Cornell as a Norman Borlaug Fellow awarded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Joongdae Choi got support from his institution, Kangwon National University in Korea, to spend a summer with SRI-Rice synthesizing literature on SRI impacts on greenhouse gas emissions, and Min Huang had a sabbatical leave from Hunan Agricultural University in China to do research and writing in Ithaca for a year.[76] It is hard to know how much impact any particular connection has had on the spread of SRI knowledge and use. But a diversified strategy resulted from trying to make the most of a variety of avenues and channels.



As more was learned about SRI, about its challenges and potentials, some subject-matter specialization occurred within SRI-Rice. As seen in previous chapters, Olivia Vent delved into the issues and opportunities that SRI raises for women engaged in rice production (Chapter 15) and for value-chain development (Chapter 17). She also took a special interest in tracking climate-change effects associated with SRI.

Lucy Fisher in addition to managing the communications media (Chapter 29) gave attention to the needs and options for developing appropriate equipment for SRI (Chapter 19), and to superintending the SRI research database and promoting an SRI Research Network, as well as to support of networking in general.

As a matter of personal interest and having good colleagues to work with on the subject (I lacked the technical training and knowledge to do research and write on this by myself), I worked increasingly on questions of soil biology and soil ecology (Chapter 5). Advancing knowledge in this domain helped to illuminate an essential element for SRI success about which we were learning more and more.

There were other focuses that we would like to have worked on more, such as water saving and productivity or climate effects or linkages to Conservation Agriculture. Our colleague in the UK, Amir Kassam, provided considerable expertise on the latter subject, and many colleagues examined SRI adaptations to buffer rice crops against climate change, as well as SRI’s mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions (Chapter 12). Once SRI-2030 based at Oxford got started up with a full-time staff of three, it became the locus for expertise and activity on SRI’s reduction of global-warming emissions and for carbon sequestration in the soil.

Much more remains to be researched and reported on many subjects related to SRI. There can be encouragement of research from the Cornell side and facilitation of researchers’ access to already-published material. But the bulk of knowledge generation has come and must and will come from the interests, insights and efforts of colleagues in many disciplines all around the world.



During the initial period, 1994-2004, when CIIFAD was working on implementation of two USAID conservation and development projects in Madagascar, most of the costs of Cornell involvement with SRI there could be covered under USAID project budgets. But as CIIFAD began working with colleagues in various countries on SRI evaluation and dissemination of knowledge, there were some costs that CIIFAD had to cover.

The main CIIFAD expenditure was for the first international conference of SRI, held in China in 2002, to which it contributed USD50,000, matched by funding from the Rockefeller Foundation and the World Bank, plus in-kind contributions from the China National Hybrid Rice Research and Development Center. Other expenditures by CIIFAD to support SRI activity through 2005 came to about USD20,000. This does not take account of faculty and staff time contributed, but this was limited as there was no formal program. Most of the expenses of SRI activity were incurred by colleagues in various countries for their own purposes and curiosity.

After I stepped down as CIIFAD director in 2005, there was no further direct support from CIIFAD, although there were some ongoing in-kind contributions like secretarial assistance and office space. Compensation for my part-time teaching and administrative duties with the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs (CIPA) was used to support SRI activities, as mentioned above. This came to a little over USD40,000 a year from 2005 until 2010, after which Jim Carrey’s gift from the Better U Foundation provided resources for setting up and operating SRI-Rice. When that gift had been expended, SRI-Rice was back in the position of depending on personal contributions.

In the interim period 2005-2010, SRI activity was conducted under the rubric of a nominal CIIFAD program for Sustainable Rice Systems, which as supported by the transfers from CIPA, covering travel, supplies, student assistance, hosting visitors, and part of Lucy’s time for the website and social media. Some of these resources also supported SRI activities at the International Rice Congresses in Hanoi, Bangkok and Singapore in 2010, 2014 and 2018, as noted above.

The gift from the Better U Foundation was USD300,000 a year for three years to fund SRI activity, with 10% going to Cornell for its concomitant costs of supporting this activity. By getting some funding from other sources, particularly from the World Bank for technical support and training in West Africa under the West African Agricultural Productivity Program (WAAPP), the funding from BUF was stretched into a fourth year and part of a fifth year. The Olam Prize for Innovation in Food Security received in 2015 (Chapter 33) added USD50,000 to SRI-Rice resources to support research activities.

Unfortunately, various efforts to mobilize additional funding for supporting SRI-Rice’s service activities were not successful. One of Erika Styger’s responsibilities with SRI-Rice was to raise funding to support the SRI work at Cornell and beyond. Several grants were obtained, but they did not contribute to long-term support for SRI-Rice operations. The WAAPP program paid a part of Erika’s salary from World Bank funding, but it also consumed a large portion of her time. The program enabled SRI-Rice to have the valuable services of Devon Jenkins during the life of the project. But a follow-on Phase II kept getting delayed, despite strong evidence that an extension was well justified by the results from Phase I. Unfortunately, there was no funding to continue Erika’s and Devon’s positions beyond 2016.

Continuing to teach and having administrative responsibilities for CIPA and serving as CIPA’s director from 2010 to 2014 when my appointment became full-time brought in USD100,000 for SRI-Rice for four years and an average of USD32,000 a year for another six years. But beyond 2020, I was not in a position to continue teaching because of physical limitations, so I became fully retired (again). For ten years, my wife and I were able to contribute USD50,000 a year from retirement income that we did not need to draw on because Marguerite continued to work full-time as a pediatrician until 2019. She accompanied me on a number of trips abroad and was very much engaged in the SRI enterprise, knowing more natural science and biochemistry than I did. She also provided hospitality and many good meals to visiting SRI colleagues from other countries, contributing to the strengthening of the SRI community. Below is a picture from a visit to Koraput district in Odisha state of India in 2008. Women in a tribal village that we went to, to see their SRI results, invited Marguerite to join them in the line dance that they performed to welcome our group.

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Once the BUF funding had been expended, SRI-Rice had to operate essentially in a maintenance mode, not in an expansion mode. This left it up to SRI colleagues overseas to do the expanding in their respective countries as best they could. Erika left SRI-Rice at the end of 2016 when there was no longer enough funding to continue her position. To stretch out the remaining funds, in 2019 Lucy reduced her appointment officially to half-time while still working on SRI matters full time or more.[77] Olivia also continued to make extensive and timely volunteered contributions. Student assistance, much of it under the federally-supported ‘work-study program’ provided SRI-Rice with some additional help, usually of high quality and not very expensive (since the cost was shared with the government program).

Even with these adjustments, by the middle of 2020 there was no funding assured that could keep SRI-Rice in operation beyond the following year. Potential donors perhaps assumed that the core functions of SRI-Rice, so successful and so effective for so many years, would be supported by a ‘rich university’ like Cornell (not knowing the financial constraints that the university was dealing with) or by someone else, so that they and others could continue to ‘free-ride’ on SRI-Rice’s services. Fortunately, Marguerite’s sister, Carolyn McKay, who had accompanied us on several SRI trips overseas, dug into her retirement income to extend SRI-Rice operation through 2021 and then longer.[78]

In 2021, SRI-Rice efforts were unexpectedly bolstered by support from the Downforce Trust in the UK, which also supported the creation of a complementary and parallel SRI operation at Oxford University, named SRI-2030.[79] This operation was set up by Adam Parr, who is chair of the foundation’s board of directors, who was working on a second PhD at Oxford and engaging in pro bono work and in technology development and investment to counter and reverse climate change.[80]

It is a common problem that organizations such as SRI-Rice at Cornell and ILEIA in the Netherlands have much difficulty in finding funding sources that are willing to sustain public-goods services which make others’ work more productive but do not generate resources for themselves.[81] Donors are usually more attracted to final products, ‘deliverables,’ than they are to supporting core services which are less visible. They prefer to be funding something ‘new’ rather than something that is already-established, even if it is very productive.

Also, because SRI was out of step with the dominant paradigm for agricultural improvement, which is genocentric and input-dependent, this meant that SRI-Rice needed donors who both understood and appreciated SRI’s different approach and who were willing to be out-of-step with the rest of the parade, such as the Better U Foundation and the Downforce Trust. The reporting on SRI as an innovation through many different media (Chapter 29) did not elicit the expected curiosity and interest that would financially sustain SRI-Rice operations.[82]



Much of what was done from Cornell to encourage research to build up SRI knowledge and to disseminate SRI information was necessarily ‘opportunistic,’ i.e., taking advantage of whatever opportunities arose because there were not sufficient resources in hand to set the terms on which activities would be undertaken.[83]

This made for a highly decentralized operation with a broad sense of shared ownership of SRI as SRI-Rice had no authority or control over anyone else. SRI-Rice itself functioned in a collegial manner, without anyone designated as its director. This was in synch with the collegiality evident within the broader SRI network, not privileging age, seniority or status.[84] Any  interest expressed in SRI by others were taken seriously, unless or until they proved not to be serious or not to be well-intentioned. We could not know in advance who could and would contribute to the collective enterprise in big or small ways. So, various avenues were no prejudged.

If there was persistent theme in SRI-Rice’s work it was to get reliable knowledge and information into the hands and minds of farmers, who could make their own assessment of SRI merits once they had tried the new methods for themselves. This was done most reliably through motivated persons who worked with farmers, whether NGO, government, university or private sector actors.

To get SRI accepted, or at least not opposed, it was important to interact with a range of persons in high positions, to get resources allocated for SRI work and to get approval and legitimation. Thus, SRI-Rice worked with anyone, from president or minister on down, who showed any interest in SRI and in what could be done for the benefit of farming communities, for consumers, and for the natural environment.

This meant that SRI-Rice had a varied ‘clientele’ and diverse interlocutors, with a ‘big tent’ strategy. This meant abstaining from drawing sharp lines delimiting what is or is not SRI. This led to the disgruntlement of scientists who preferred more reductionist thinking. The purpose was to keep SRI open and evolving, eliciting others’ contributions and innovations with the hope that they would be conducive to having more and better knowledge that could be conveyed to farmers, who remained the ultimate arbiters of SRI’s merit.

Planning and decision-making for SRI support were influenced and probably improved by my prior experience mentioned above, working with Cornell and Sri Lankan colleagues during the 1980s to introduce participatory irrigation management in that country (see endnote 69). One of the things learned from that engagement with farmers and with others to bring about social and behavioral change was the importance of three factors: ideas, ideals, and friendship. These proved to be similarly and equally effective in the much broader SRI undertaking.

These three factors are each immaterial, not in the sense of being unimportant but rather for being phenomena of the mind rather than of the material world, although they can have some very powerful material consequences. This is discussed more length in Part IV, but here it should be noted that these factors were a kind of ‘glue’ that pulled and kept people together. It was also a kind of ‘fuel’ that motivated and animated persons to take initiative and responsibility, respectively but also collectively.

SRI colleagues were intrigued by the new ideas of SRI, and the fact that these ideas had impressive material effects. No matter what their occupation or status, persons who took an interest in SRI were by and large more curious than their contemporaries and were more inclined to take ideas seriously. They were also more idealistic than their peers, more concerned with making this a better, a more generous and secure world. Benefiting the marginalized, the vulnerable, and the insecure brought them satisfaction. Contributing to the conservation of natural resources and ecosystems for future generations also motivated them.

And all enjoyed the company and fellowship of like-minded persons. It was always a pleasure to watch SRI colleagues who had not known each other previously get acquainted for the first time, and even more pleasing to see SRI colleagues getting reunited. We thus assigned a lot of value to getting SRI colleagues together within and between countries.

These assemblies did not attract cynics, self-seekers, or loners. Some persons might be inclined to be shy, not all were extroverts. But common interests and ideals broke the ice as did similar experiences despite their coming from diverse backgrounds. Thus, ideas, ideals and friendship, all having positive-sum characteristics as discussed in Part IV, were sources of social energy that moved the SRI venture ahead despite the limited material resources that were available.

Certainly having Cornell University as a base of operation was a great and incalculable asset for the SRI effort. There were good facilities to work with, and excellent faculty colleagues, staff and students with whom to interact, whether they got interested in SRI or not. Cornell’s status and centrality within the domain of international agriculture was continually helpful when working or communicating overseas. Making the same efforts from a different university base would certainly not have had as much impact. This is not something that can be measured, but it should not be overlooked. Also, Cornell made good technical support for computers available, something really essential for SRI-Rice operations.

During most of this period, the attitude of faculty toward SRI was mostly one of indifference or bemusement, or in a few cases, of hostility. The administration of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences was tolerant but not much more, not wanting to get involved in intra-faculty disagreement. In October 2020, a new dean who was installed, Ben Houlton, who having a career in environmental sciences, was more interested and more positive toward SRI than any of his four predecessors.

The preceding college dean had approved a merger of its Department of Development Sociology and its International Programs, establishing a new Department of Global Development that admitting students for a major in Global Development in the fall of 2022. The new department’s chair, Lori Leonard, proved very supportive of SRI and of SRI-Rice’s efforts. If previous college and departmental leadership been as favorable as the dean and chair, the SRI story might have been quite different, such as getting an active research program on SRI operating at Cornell, with research partners around the globe. This would have been advantageous to the university, faculty and students, but this is another what-might-have-been.

It would be fair to say that there was not a strategy or plan for the SRI work at Cornell so much as assumptions and presumptions that guided decision about which opportunities to pursue. With limited resources, there was invariably sub-optimization. Volunteerism could stretch limited resources, but it could not fully compensate. Because we recognized the unpredictability of most cause-and-effect relationships, many different opportunities were pursued with the hope that at least some of them would connect and pay off, not being able to know in advance which these would be.

Objectively, SRI-Rice worked from a position of relative weakness; we had limited financial resources, sometimes serious shortages of funding, and no positions of authority that could control or sanction others’ behavior. On the plus side, however, there was significant status from being associated with Cornell; although offsetting this was some was denigration from various institutions and actors, and some shunning from colleagues. SRI’s long suit was knowledge and information, but this does not confer much power unless it is strongly in demand, and our challenge was to build up demand for this knowledge which was not much sought after at the outset.

In general terms the strategy was to reach down to the grassroots through any and all like-minded partners, keeping in touch as best we could with actors and institutions on the ground, maintaining liaison with academic, governmental and private-sector institutions, and not getting preoccupied with the games played within them, and in NGOs if they cannot resist the lure of becoming self-referential. To have known when we started out what we know now after 20 years would have been a blessing, and better choices could surely have been made along the way with hindsight, but life does not give us that boon.

One element of the strategy that was surely productive was to make a point of working with colleagues outside of academia, encouraging networking whether formal or informal that brought like-minded people together, and also to have alliances with organizations that had different but compatible objectives. If more resources had been available, these connections could have been further expanded and developed, but this is also one of the many what-might-have-beens in the SRI story. This chapter concludes by acknowledging with appreciation some of the linkages that have made SRI initiatives broader and more effective.



SRI-Global: In 2011, some of the associates of SRI-Rice set up a non-governmental organization, SRI-Global, registered in Ithaca, NY as a non-governmental, private, non-profit organization. SRI-Rice operating under Cornell University structures and requirements had both advantages and disadvantages. SRI-Global would have more flexibility and could act more quickly, such as with international bank transfers, and it did not have the costly overhead rates that Cornell had to operate with.

For example, the SRI work of Hamidou Guindo in Mali (Chapter 16) could not be assisted through Cornell University at a time (when there was jihadist violence in the Timbuktu region) because Cornell’s risk-management regulations made this difficult if not impossible.[85] SRI-Global was also able to work with NGO partners transferring small amounts of funds to set up information booths or convene SRI partners at international conferences. This NGO partner may well play larger roles in the future.

Lotus Foods: As discussed in Chapters 17 and 34, SRI-Rice has had a non-financial partnership since 2008 with this family-owned company based in the San Francisco Bay area. This has been mutually beneficial as it has connected our SRI work to the private sector and to the tasks of marketing and value-chain development on behalf of SRI. In 2009, based on connections facilitated by CIIFAD, they began importing heirloom varieties produced by farmers using SRI practices to generate marketable surpluses in Cambodia, Indonesia, and Madagascar. Besides, developing supply chains with SRI farmers, Ken Lee and Caryl Levine, co-founders and co-CEOs of Lotus Foods, have actively represented SRI in food industry forums, particularly the natural foods sector, and also in other international venues, including the Clinton Global Initiative in 2010.

LF’s marketing strategy has emphasized and publicized the water-saving and gender impacts of SRI. In 2016, Lotus Foods was able to get a short video on SRI shown on American Airlines flights within the United States.[86] The company also financed the attendance of SRI colleagues from India and Kenya at the 2018 International Rice Congress. An important assist that Ken and Caryl gave to SRI was to inform a friend, Paul Hawken, about this innovation. This communication led to SRI’s being included in the evaluation by Project Drawdown (Chapter 12), another example of how personal connections have been instrumental in SRI’s spread.

Earth Links: Connections were established with this not-for-profit organization through its director, Steve Leinau, a cousin of Lucy Fisher. Its first assistance was to help get SRI-Global legally recognized, as noted above. Thereafter, cooperation ensued for developing capacity to assist others in accessing and even producing appropriate equipment for the use of SRI methods. Steve developed a computer-assisted design (CAD) capability that turns out detailed technical drawings for weeders and other SRI-adapted equipment, accessible to anybody via the internet.[87] Earth Links and SRI-Rice have collaborated in presenting SRI equipment information and demonstrations, in cooperation with FAO, at the Agrotechnica exposition in Germany.[88]

Flooded Cellar Productions: This collaboration on making videos for SRI is discussed in Chapter 29. The co-owners and co-producers of Flooded Cellar, Declan McCormack and Sue Price, while doing videography for IFAD, they have worked in the making of some excellent videos on SRI.[89] In particular, the work that Sue and Declan have done to set up a website SRI4Women, to address the stress and difficulties of women in rice production, with visual reporting as well as narrative information, has been a welcome extension of SRI messaging.[90]

World Wide Fund for Nature: This international conservation organization known around the world as WWF, based in Switzerland, had a joint program with the CGIAR system on food, water and the environment for half a dozen years, based at ICRISAT in India. The director of this program, Biksham Gujja, once he learned about SRI, saw that it could help to further the multiple objectives of the program. The program invested first in scientific evaluation of SRI[91] and then became an active disseminator and network-builder for SRI in India. Unfortunately, WWF and the CGIAR system could not agree on continuing support for this work beyond 2010. However, many of the WWF program staff then continued the work that they had started through a social enterprise AgSRI, discussed in Chapter 34.

Oxfam: This was another large international NGO like WWF which early on, through its Oxfam America affiliate, became an informal partner with SRI-Rice, starting with Oxfam initiatives in Cambodia and then Vietnam through the support of its agricultural advisor Le Minh and its president Ray Offenheiser. Oxfam America collaborated with SRI-Rice in putting on SRI meetings, side-events and/or booths at the 3ʳᵈ, 4ᵗʰ and 5ᵗʰ International Rice Congresses to help spread knowledge about SRI to participants. Other Oxfam affiliates have taken SRI initiatives in a number of countries, most notably Oxfam New Zealand’s efforts in Timor Leste, but Oxfam America actually co-operated as a partner with SRI-Rice.[92]

Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA): This collaboration began later than the others noted above, but it was very welcome because SRI had not been able to gain much traction in Latin America and the Caribbean for a number of reasons. The most obvious was that most rice production in the region is mechanized. The labor required for the original SRI practices is unavailable or too expensive for the majority of rice farmers whose landholdings are larger than those of their counterparts in most of Asia and Africa.

The IICA program charged with helping Latin American farmers buffer their operations from the risks and effects of climate change saw a congruence of interest with SRI-Rice and as discussed in Chapter 8 began cooperating through the initiative of Kelly Witkowsky. This collaboration is still developing, but already it has gotten SRI evaluation and promotion started in half a dozen countries where previously there was no SRI interest or activity.

SRI-2030: As discussed above, starting in late 2021, this initative associated with the NGO Homeland Conservation in the UK began trying to accelerate the acceptance and use of SRI in countries around the world, for the purpose of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions, thereby slowing and contributing to the reversal of global warming and climate change. Adam Parr assembled a multidisciplinary team of three young professionals with experience or training in development who would work toward this objective, hand in glove with SRI-Rice.

In effect, this doubled the personnel engaged in dissemination of SRI knowledge and practice in a supporting capacity while SRI colleagues in various countries remained the actors directly trying to persuade government and other actors to support SRI, while also trying to reach farmers with the requisite information to speed up and spread the uptake of SRI methods.

These different collaborations all added welcome resources and talents to the SRI campaign, but more important, they brought to the effort diverse and complementary expertises as well as networks of contacts that a university like Cornell would not have. They also served to keep the SRI initiatives from being archetypically academic.

*    *   *   *   *   *   *

This chapter concludes Part II of the SRI memoire. In Part III the SRI story is reviewed as it played out in dozens of different countries, from East Asia to Latin America. Each national story is somewhat different, reflecting cultural, historical and institutional differences, and also with differences in personal connections and personalities, with the frequent influence of serendipity and some amount of randomness. That makes it more interesting.

The national accounts in Part III should make more sense to readers for having gained an understanding of the scientific issues and the evolutions that shaped SRI (Part I) and then of the array of institutions and organizational and personal factors that framed or filtered SRI activity over some 20 years (Part II).

Because each of the four parts of the SRI story is fairly self-contained, the first two parts of the SRI story are posted on the internet before the last two have been completed. Each of the parts has been organized like a book in itself, so there is no need to hold back the first two parts until the latter two are written.


[1] While the broad applicability of SRI principles has been demonstrated, it was not expected that the original SRI practices would be the most productive for all rice farmers and in all situations. Various hydrological, economic, social, institutional and other factors will make the original SRI methodology inappropriate in some, maybe even many locations. So, universal utilization of SRI thinking and practice was not advocated nor was it a goal. Rather, the expectation was to give rice farmers, as many as possible, an opportunity to know about SRI and its results, and to evaluate it for themselves, leaving to farmers any decisions about whether to use it or not.

[2] The various reasons for partial or sometimes even little success are many, although they are hard to prove. Lucy Fisher has suggested the following considerations, reinforcing the point made in the preceding endnote: the innovation is not necessarily appropriate for all rice farmers, and it was not expected that all farmers would take it up.

  • Large farms: To be practiced on a large scale, SRI requires motorized, labor-saving equipment designed to be compatible with SRI principles. Such equipment has been and is being developed (Chapter 19), but it has not been widely available. SRI methods have often been perceived as feasible only for small-scale operations, but this is not correct. SRI has been often dismissed without any attempt to capitalize upon its insights and principles which are relevant for large- as well as small-scale operations. Also, when rice fields are very large, water-saving irrigation management is often more difficult, which presents a challenge for large-scale use of the methods.

  • Labor constraints: Although a majority of SRI farmers have found the methodology to be labor-saving, SRI success does depend on having skilled and motivated labor. Farms using hired labor or roving labor crews for transplanting and weeding have faced a big challenge for training laborers, maybe several times a season; and often laborers have been reluctant or resistant to change familiar practices unless they receive some share of the higher productivity that their labor is creating.

  • Absentee landowners: SRI requires regular contact with the field to maintain good crop and water management. Farmers who are not cultivating their own land seldom want to spend more time and energy than necessary to let water in and out or to aerate the soil. Owner-operators have thus taken more interest in SRI opportunities than have absentee owners, who rely on hired labor.

  • Water control: Alternate wetting and drying of rice paddies requires less water, but it will increase the need for weeding, so weed control becomes necessary. If mechanical weeders are not available, the amount of hand weeding required is a deterrent.Also, many farmers do not have irrigation facilities that permit AWD. Most farmers do not realize how much yield they are forgoing by not using water sparingly. Given the increasing scarcity and value of water, it will become more and more rational economically to reduce the water used in rice fields. Investing in modifying irrigation infrastructure to have better water control will make ever greater economic sense as water scarcity increases. But in any case, water control is an issue for uptake of SRI and often a constraint.

  • Rainfed areas: Where farmers had no control over their water supply, they usually try to hoard as much water as possible when it was available during the initial rains, not knowing that this impairs the plants’ root growth and makes their plants more vulnerable to water stress later in the season. In many countries, farmers have devised ways to adapt SRI ideas to upland rice cultivation. But if their previous management crop has not been labor-intensive, converting to SRI involves cultural as well as agricultural change

  • Organic matter availability: In some areas, there is little vegetation available for composting beyond rice straw, and this may be in demand as fodder for animals or for other uses. A perception that SRI is only or necessarily ‘organic’ can be a deterrent to its adoption where vegetative matter and/or animal manure are scarce. Also, there can be labor constraints on the collection and application of organic material even where it is available. Not understanding that SRI methods used with inorganic fertilization can enhance yields, this opportunity has been passed up.

  • Currently high yields: Some (although not many) farmers are already producing 8 or more tonnes per hectare. For them, shifting to SRI would disrupt their current satisfactory practices, so they might feel little need to raise their yield any further. They are assessing SRI only in terms of yield, not considering other effects that should be weighed.

  • Extension services: Many extension workers are trained in the use of agrochemicals and new-variety seeds (and maybe are making money from selling these). Most extension personnel are oriented to promoting input-dependent cultivation, not having been prepared for an innovation that is based on education and reorientation.

  • Input salespeople: These persons are often at present a major source of cropping information for farmers, and they would be cutting their own incomes if SRI gains popularity, reducing the sales of fertilizer, agrochemicals and new seeds.

  • Research: Most research is supported by organizations that believe in high-tech solutions which depend heavily on purchased inputs. There is disparagement and discouragement of ‘going back to the Stone Age’ by reducing use of ‘modern’ inputs. This view is buttressed by the companies that produce and sell these inputs.

  • Water rights:  In some places where rice is grown, such as in California state, USA, the legal situation discourages water-saving because farmers can lose their rights to water if they reduce their use of this scarce resource.

Most of these factors or considerations are variable and changeable, but each can be an impediment to farmers’ taking up the new practices. SRI is most easily and beneficially taken up by small-scale farmers with relatively abundant family labor supply, and with urgent need to raise the productivity of their limited land, water and other resources.

     These factors are changing, however. For example, utilizing SRI principles in large-scale production with appropriate modifications and mechanization can be very profitable for ‘modern’ farmers. Also, increasing limitations on water in many agricultural regions around the world are making SRI more attractive.

[3] In 2004, the Minister of Agriculture in Madagascar, Randriarimanana Harison, put the number of farmers using SRI methods in his country at about 400,000. This is a large figure, but it represents less than 20% of the farmers in Madagascar (personal communication from the Minister in April, 2004).

[4] Published by Little, Brown, New York in 2000, this book was listed on the New York Times’ best-seller list for 164 weeks (over three years) and sold over 1.7 million copies.

[5] Recall from Chapter 23, how a department chair at Cornell reproached SRI-Rice in 2011 for ‘promoting SRI’ without scientific justification, even though there was extensive scientific confirmation by that time. He saw the reporting on SRI results and performance as advocacy for adoption, which was his inference, not our purpose.

[6] The initial name suggested for the center was for ‘international network support’ but the word ‘support’ was dropped to make the formal designation simpler.

[7] One colleague in India, Shambu Prasad (Chapter 25), took initiative to set up a learning alliance for Odisha state. Debshish Sen established somewhat less formal networks in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh states, and Ravinda A. did the something similar for Andhra Pradesh state. Many states in India are larger in population than most countries.

[8] As noted in Chapter 8, there was strong consensus among the conference participants that work on SRI should proceed with research and dissemination undertaken concurrently rather than sequentially.

[9] The visit was arranged by Patricia Wright, director of the Institute for Conservation of Tropical Ecology (ICTE) at the Stony Brook campus of the State University of New York (SUNY), together with a Malagasy NGO that was helping to implement the project from the capital and in the field.  Its name MICET is a French acronym for the Madagascar Institute for Conservation of Tropical Ecology. Its director was Benjamin Andriamihaja.

[10] This was the start of a second phase of the Ranomafana National Park Project, the first having been dedicated to learning about the forest and its surroundings and working out reasonable plans for the proposed national park and the peripheral zone around it. ICTE, having no agricultural expertise, was focusing its efforts on the new park and on the conservation of biodiversity; in USAID terms, CIIFAD was a subcontractor to SUNY-Stony Brook, responsible for improving agriculture practices around the park, to give farmers incentives to desist from continuing their practices of slash-and-burn agriculture within the rain forest.

     The Stony Brook team based in Ranomafana was headed by Scott Grenfell and Lynn Robinson. During the first phase of the project, agricultural evaluations and planning had been carried out by faculty and graduate students from North Carolina State University. ICTE preferred to have Cornell faculty and students assist in agricultural activities during the project’s second phase.

[11] Glenn was studying for a master’s degree in agricultural economics at Cornell and had done field research in Bolivia for a CIIFAD program evaluating an indigenous technology of raised-beds there. Glenn and his wife Torie, both having served as Peace Corps volunteers in Zaire, spoke French fluently and were accustomed to living in difficult rural situations.

[12] As was standard procedure for assessing yield, Erick demarcated a 1-square-meter area at random in the middle of the field and harvested all of the rice plants within that area. After threshing the plants, their grain was weighed and totaled 1.35 kg. When multiplied by 10,000 (1 ha = 10,000 m2), this represented a yield of 13.5 tonnes per hectare. Even allowing for considerable measurement error, the yield was certainly unprecedented.

[13] ‘Changing Priorities for International Agricultural Research,’ CIMMYT Economics Program, 5th Distinguished Economics Lecture, March 29, 2001, pp. 33-34.

[14] An even more senior elder in the Mormon Church was Nyle Brady, a former Cornell faculty member. Nyle served as the third Director-General of IRRI (1973-81) and was a towering figure in the fields of international development and rice research. We became well acquainted while Nyle was chairing USAID’s Research Advisory Committee and  Bryant and I were both serving on the RAC during most of the 1980s. Despite several substantive conversations that I had with Nyle on SRI, I was never able to get him to give it credence, and that impeded Bryant’s efforts because Nyle was so widely deferred to.

     One of the most impressive demonstrations of SRI’s effectiveness was achieved by LDS Charities staff in Cambodia in the 2006-07 season with technical assistance from CEDAC. In Kampong Chhnang province, 146 farmers in 39 villages who were already being assisted by LDC Charities were able to quadruple their paddy yields with SRI methods, on average raising their rainfed rice production from 1 ton per hectare to 4 tons per hectare, according to detailed information reported by the LDS Charities team.

[15] Half a dozen more students from the University of Antananarivo did their thesis research on SRI under Prof. Robert’s supervision before his untimely death in 2004. These first two studies were crucial because they separately confirmed that SRI yields were averaging 8 tonnes per hectare in Ranomafana, four times more than usual yields of 2 tons per hectare. Joeli’s thesis was considered to be so excellent and his academic performance at the university so outstanding that he was awarded the 1998 Laureate de Madagascar, given annually to the highest-ranked university graduate in the whole country! The average cost for supporting student baccalaureate thesis research was less than USD1,000. One of these students went on to do a PhD at ETH, the Swiss national technical university in Zürich. He was subsequently hired by an international biotechnology company and posted at its research center in the USA. So, this was high-quality as well as inexpensive talent.

[16] Chemonics is an employee-owned, for-profit company with about 5,000 employees worldwide who work in 100 countries. CIIFAD was a sub-contractor with Chemonics for implementation of the LDI with responsibility for agricultural development activities.

[17] The chair of the department, John Duxbury, the next year got some SRI trials done in Nepal where he was doing research on rice-wheat farming systems. Unfortunately, the trials were done during the monsoon season and no effort was made to control the flooding of the rice paddies so the soil could not be kept mostly aerobic as is required for SRI. As the results were not impressive, he lost interest in SRI for several years (see endnote 18).

[18] The theses, some available on-line, were a master’s thesis in agricultural economics by Christine M. Moser, ‘Technology adoption decisions of farmer facing seasonal liquidity constraints: A case study of the System of Rice Intensification in Madagascar’ (2001); a master’s thesis in agricultural engineering by Oloro McHugh, ‘Growing more rice with less water: Adaptive water management schemes used with the System of Rice Intensification (SRI)’ (2002); a master’s thesis in crop and soil sciences by Joeli Barison, ‘Nutrient-use efficiency and nutrient uptake in conventional and intensive (SRI) rice cultivation systems in Madagascar’ (2003); a PhD thesis in crop and soil sciences by Mustapha Ceesay, ‘Management of rice production systems to increase productivity in The Gambia, West Africa’ (2004); and another PhD thesis in crop and soil sciences by Maria Zenete, ‘Performance of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) on salt-affected soils in southern Mozambique’ (2005). The major advisors for these theses were Chris Barrett, agricultural economics; Erick Fernandes, crop and soil sciences; Tammo Steenhuis, agricultural engineering; and Harold van Es, crop and soil sciences.

     An additional PhD thesis on SRI was written by a Thai student, Thanwalee Sooksa-Nguan, who was supervised by Janice Thies, a microbiologist in crop and soil sciences at Cornell, ‘Comparison of bacterial activities and density in soil between conventional and the novel rice cultivation: SRI,’ Suranaree University of Technology, Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand (2006). These theses resulted in a number of published articles, reporting mostly very positive results. But once CIIFAD’s USAID and other funding ran out, no further research could be supported. Janice Thies was the only Cornell faculty member who took a long-term interest in SRI, attending the Sanya conference in China in 2002, and also the 3rd national SRI symposium in Coimbatore, India in 2008.

[19] After receiving tenure at Cornell in 2003 and spending a sabbatical year with the World Bank, Erick Fernandes was recruited by the Bank to join its professional staff in Washington, DC. If Erick had remained at Cornell as a tenured faculty member in crop and soil sciences, given his direct acquaintance with SRI and the evidence from the various theses, he could probably have attracted and sustained faculty and student interest in SRI. But his being at the World Bank was also helpful for SRI.

     John Duxbury who headed the Crop and Soil Science Department from 1995 to 2005 got some trials of SRI started in Nepal, 1999-2000, as noted in endnote 16, but without water control during the monsoon season, the results were unimpressive. After seeing the results of SRI practices in Nepal when used as recommended (Chapter 23) and also using SRI methods with raised-beds research in Bangladesh, John became friendly to SRI, but he did not take any leadership role for SRI within the department or college. He was willing to be a co-principal investor, with Janice Thies, for the proposed joint evaluation of SRI, with IRRI and Wageningen, discussed in Chapter 8.

[20] This interdisciplinary program, started by Prof. H. David Thurston in the Plant Pathology Department, was originally called Mulch-Based Agriculture, MBA. When leadership passed to Erick Fernandes, it was renamed Management of Organic Inputs in the Soils of the Tropics (MOIST, an appropriate acronym).

[21] When funding for her CIIFAD position ran out, Olivia took a position in the university’s Mann Library, coordinating a project to the world’s published literature on agriculture available (on CDs) to developing-country libraries for a nominal cost. She continued SRI assistance in her spare time.

[22] Callie Arthur, who was CIIFAD’s publications manager, made a big contribution to the dissemination of SRI by putting together the proceedings of the international SRI conference, discussed below and in Chapter 7. Callie continued to assist SRI activities after being given other responsibilities within CIIFAD and then with the college of agriculture’s International Programs. Similarly, Louise Buck learned about SRI while assisting CIIFAD with planning and implementing the agroforestry component of the Ranomafana project in Madagascar. She continued assisting SRI efforts after she took on other duties at Cornell in the Department of Natural Resources and with EcoAgriculture Partners in Washington, DC.

[23] Ginny, having helped organize the Bellagio conference on agroecological innovations in 1999, worked above and beyond her responsibilities to help put together the much larger Sanya conference in 2002, discussed below. She assisted with financial management of the Triad Foundation grant (Chapter 35) and other activities like the CIIIFAD support for Nepali students’ research on SRI (Chapter 23). She continued assisting SRI activities after I retired from the directorship of CIIFAD in 2005 and also after CIIFAD was absorbed into the College of Agriculture’s International Programs.

[24] Through CIIFAD collaborations with Nanjing Agricultural University in China and the Agency for Agricultural Research and Development in Indonesia, colleagues in these countries were persuaded to try out SRI methods under their own conditions. Contacts made subsequently during CIIFAD visits in India and Philippines got the SRI ‘ball’ rolling in those countries. A visit to Bangladesh for CIIFAD in December 2000 reinforced the SRI trials started there by CARE/Bangladesh and the Department of Agricultural Extension (stemming from the Bellagio conference in Italy a year and a half earlier). On the other hand, it should be noted that the contacts made in Honduras, Ghana, Mali and Ethiopia during CIIFAD travel were unsuccessful in getting SRI evaluation initiated. SRI did not gain traction in these countries until some years later.

[25] The Rockefeller Foundation made a grant of USD60,000, and the World Bank’s Rural Development Department provided another USD10,000 for international travel. CIIFAD covered USD50,000 of costs.

[26] The countries from which reports on SRI experience were given at the conference had started work on SRI through a variety of CIIFAD or other Cornell or personal connections. The participants from Cambodia, Myanmar, Nepal and Philippines, for example, had gotten to know about SRI through an NGO conference in the Philippines on rice that was organized by the International Institute for Rural Reconstruction in 1998.  CIIFAD recommended and paid for Tefy Saina’s secretary, Justin Rabenandrasana, to speak at that conference; then Justin published a follow-up article on SRI in the LEISA Newsletter as ILEIA had co-sponsored the conference. (I helped Justin with because his written English was less developed than his French). This article which was circulated around the world was important for eliciting the first wave of evaluations of SRI. 

     SRI evaluation was started in China and Indonesia in 1999 through contacts that I had established through CIIFAD’s collaborative programs with the Nanjing Agricultural University and the Indonesian Agency for Agricultural Research and Development. The start-up of SRI in India resulted from a Wageningen University research program on ‘water-wise rice production’ for which I was an advisor (Chapter 8). This Dutch project supported SRI evaluation and research in India, China, Indonesia and Madagascar.

     Bangladesh work with SRI stemmed from CARE International’s participation in the Bellagio conference in April 1999, discussed in Chapter 35. SRI initiative in Sri Lanka resulted from a personal contact made at an Asian Productivity Organization workshop held in that country in November 1999, followed up by CIIFAD’s sending Joeli Barison to Colombo to do SRI explanation and demonstration in January 2000. The participation from Laos also stemmed from personal contact with a Sri Lankan colleague who at the time was working in Australia for an NGO affiliate of Oxfam, Community Aid Abroad.

     The contribution from Thailand resulted from personal contact with an agroecologist at Chiangmai University while we both served on an external evaluation team for the China Agriculture University in 1999. Cuban participation developed from a conversation in March 2000 between a Cornell professor, David Pimentel, and a former student of his who lived in Havana, whom he referred to me (Chapter 25).

     SRI results from The Gambia were reported by a Cornell graduate student from that country who had tried out the methods at an experiment station (where he had previously served as director) when he returned home for the summer of 2001. The SRI trials in Sierra Leone resulted from an unplanned meeting at Cornell with a former student, Bill Phelan, who was at the time head of World Vision’s program in that country. This quick review gives an idea of the many opportunistic and serendipitous ways in which SRI got started outside of Madagascar, through diverse institutional and personal channels. All of the country reports are available in the conference proceedings.

[27] Until 2004, when USAID project funding ran out, and Glenn was hired by the Millennium Challenge Corporation to continue similar agricultural and rural development work. MCC was a new US development agency MCC set up alongside USAID during the administration of George W. Bush.

[28] Links to CIIFAD Annual Reports, if possible.

[29] Some of this funding enabled SRI colleagues from various countries to attend the 3rd and 4th International Rice Congresses in Hanoi (2010) and Bangkok (2014), participating also in SRI mini-conferences before the IRCs, co-organized with Oxfam-America. SRI-Rice also organized events during and after the 5th IRC in Singapore in 2018.

[30] This publication went through several printings by Oxfam.

[31] For example, the Asian Productivity Organization based in Japan, the Asian Development Bank, the Wageningen University Project, Ryukoku University in Japan, and the University of Pretoria in South Africa.

[32] Theses posted on the SRI-Rice website are from Bangladesh, Denmark, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Madagascar, Myanmar, Nepal, Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, Thailand, United Kingdom, and United States. There are probably others that we do not know about.

[33] The director of CIIFAD at the time, Ralph Christy, thought that SRI-Rice would be too small an operation to warrant having its own director, i.e., having a director under a director. This was no problem for us as it was intended that SRI-Rice would operate in a collegial manner, with different tasks agreed upon and delegated as appropriate. For administrative purposes, I was designated by the College as the principal investigator for SRI-Rice since I had negotiated the gift from the Better U Foundation.

     Overall responsibility for SRI-Rice operations was delegated de facto to Erika, and her appointment was extended beyond the three-year gift funding by personal contributions, as mentioned below. Her position had to be closed down at the end of 2016 because there was not funding to continue it. This left Lucy as the only full-time employee of SRI-Rice, supplemented by volunteered time from Olivia and myself and by numerous student assistants. During the WAAPP-SRI program, which covered a part of Erika’s salary, SRI-Rice had the benefit of Devon Jenkins’ services. He continued giving volunteer support to SRI-Rice after Phase I of the WAAPP ended in 2016.

     Terry Tucker, who had been associate director of CIIFAD while I was its director, became an associate director of IP/CALS after he returned to Cornell following a three-year stint as dean of social sciences at Alfred University. In 2016, Terry became the College administrator under whom SRI-Rice functioned. Having followed SRI for more than a decade, Terry was both knowledgeable and supportive of SRI-Rice’s mission. My expectation was that I would gradually decrease my role with SRI at Cornell and internationally, so this made being an advisor rather than the director more sensible.

[34] Zhoucen Feng, Hanzhou Yang and Xingya Luo helped to assemble an archive of Chinese literature on SRI which was maintained on the SRI-Rice website. Zhoucen also spent several months in northern Haiti in 2013 on behalf of SRI-Rice working with the iF Foundation program there. She was following up on SRI training that had been given some months before by Erika Styger. Zhoucen’s blog on this work in Haiti is posted on the internet, as is a video that she made on SRI transplanting in Haiti. Subsequently, an abstract on SRI research in China that Zhoucen submitted to present a poster at the 4ᵗʰ International Rice Congress in Bangkok in 2014 was accepted for an oral presentation at the congress. Zhoucen was probably the youngest presenter at that congress as she had not yet completed her undergraduate degree.

[35] Carrie went on to do a PhD in Communication and then to work with the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future at Cornell, while Hillary joined the staff of the Millennium Development Corporation in Washington, DC, continuing to assist SRI-Rice with SRI engagement in Francophone West Africa. (Hillary has now been recruited by USAID for its agricultural staff, with a focus on West Africa.) Probably not coincidentally Carrie and Hillary were both excellent teaching assistants for the graduate course that I taught on development administration.

[36] ‘Meta-analysis of water use, water saving and water productivity in irrigated production of rice with SRI vs. standard management methods,’ Taiwan Water Conservancy 61: 14-49 (2013), with Hemant Pullabhotla, an MPA student who assisted on the use of quantitative analytical techniques, and myself, who helped with the writing of the article. Pratyaya continued to assist SRI-Rice in India after he returned home.

[37] Other students assisted SRI-Rice operations between 2010 and 2020, not mentioned in the text, include: Naadhira Ali, Kevin Alonyo, Bethany Boyer-Rechlin, Bella Culotta, Nolan Edmondson, Sean Finnerty, Gene Fifer, Matt Fisher-Post, Prabhat Gautam, Jeevan Gyawali, Hannah Koski, Matt Koren, Linnaea Kelly, Nina Lin, John Lowry, Christine Ly, Sidney Madsen, Eurika Nzouatcham, Lorraine Perricone-Dazzo, Nick Reed-Krase, Olu Roberts, Shipra Singh, Thitsar Thitsar, Amy Uber, and Veronika Vogel. There was commendable engagement by these students with the mission of SRI-Rice. For example, Bella and Linnaea started assisting while still enrolled in Ithaca High School; Veronika, having learned about SRI while still in Germany, had spoken with German officials on behalf of SRI even before she arrived at Cornell.

[38] One outstanding undergraduate who had been given an award by Cornell University that fully paid for a semester of fieldwork overseas, and for whom SRI-Rice had arranged an internship with an NGO in Bihar state of India, was advised by a faculty member in crop and soil sciences not to get involved with something ‘so controversial’ as SRI; this might affect his career adversely. So that student never took advantage of this opportunity.

[39] The budgetary crunch coincided with a time when Cornell University and the College were both contracting financially, so institutional support was not available. In 2019, Lucy Fisher to extend the center’s resources in hand cut her official time to 50%, contributing time beyond this to keep SRI-Rice services on track.

[40] A survey of China, India, Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam in 2013 calculated that the number of farmers using SRI method was at least 3.5 million on 9.5 million hectares, with an average increase in yield of 1.66 tonnes per hectare. This represented an increased production of 5.75 million tonnes of paddy rice. The basis for these numbers is given in N. Uphoff, ‘Developments in the system of rice intensification (SRI),’ in Achieving Sustainable Cultivation of Rice, T. Sasaki, ed., Vol. 2: Cultivation, Pest and Disease Management, pp. 188-192, Burleigh Dodds, Cambridge, UK (2017).

     At a farmgate price of USD150 per tonne of paddy, a very low estimate, this amounted to an increase in value of USD862.5 million attributable to SRI methods. A more realistic price of USD300 per tonne would double this total. Additional value accruing to farmers would be their savings from lower costs of production and from less use of water, probably about 25% less. Where water is unpriced, there are societal costs for providing irrigation and also opportunity costs for water, so reducing water use has economic value.

     So, in 2013 we estimated that SRI was already creating more than USD 1 billion in value-added in these five countries (which together produce more than 60% of the world’s rice), but quite likely the value was twice this much. As SRI use in other countries was not considered, and since the total use of SRI methods had probably more than doubled in seven more years, by 2020 we thought there would be USD5 billion in value-added attributable to SRI knowledge. None of this huge value could be recouped by SRI-Rice or by other intermediaries of SRI information, however.

[41] See FNN website, and AliSEA report on the FNN; ‘chicken SRI’ is reported on in Chapter 14. CEDAC also undertook a marketing network for organically-produced food, including SRI (Chapter 17) and building on multi-purpose farming (Chapter 20). Efforts were made to able communities with many FNN members to purchase and operate their own rice mills, to generate more value-added from their primary product, rice, and retain for their own use the bran accumulated from milling, which millers held onto.

[42] When Koma stepped down as director of CEDAC, his successors appeared more interested in donor-funded projects than in farmers and what they could do for themselves. The FNN continued, having been designed for self-sufficiency, but the lack of an institutional platform such as CEDAC provided made the network less effective.

[43] See Obet’s description of the formation, structure and operation of SRI-Pilipinas in a paper shared with Southeast Asian colleagues in 2015. For its first five years, the network functioned without any external resources but entirely by volunteered effort. The NGO, Philippine Rural Reconstruction Institute based in Quezon City, provided an institutional support base from which Obet could work. The paper describes what subsequent funding was able to mobilize. The Philippine network maintains a Yahoo list.

[44] This is the link for IndoSRInet website in Indonesia.

[45] This is the link for the SRI-Mas website in Malaysia.

[46] This is a link to the SRI-Vietnam network home page.

[47] The Facebook group can be joined from this link.

[48] A national SRI steering committee was set up in 2002, being superseded in 2006 by the SRI National Network of Bangladesh (NNB), whose activities are reported on the Bangladesh country page on the SRI website. Here is an email sent after a 2010 workshop of the NNB, for example:

From: Gopal Chowhan <>
Sent: Thursday, April 29, 2010 12:23 AM
To: Norman Thomas Uphoff <>
Cc: Prof. A M Muazzam Husain <>;
Subject: SRI National workshop in Bangladesh.


Dear Prof. Norman,
The National Experience Sharing workshop went well in BRRI [Bangladesh Rice Research Institute] yesterday (28/4/10). We find it was a great success for being hosted by BRRI. The participants were from BRRI, BAU, DAE, NGO (national and international) and others. The Agriculture Minister (Begum Motia Chowdhury) wished all success of SRI and she asked all the stakeholders (Government extension, research and NGOs) to work for the higher rice production to ensure food security. The presentations from BRRI were favorable for SRI promotion in Bangladesh. We will mail you the proceedings of workshop duly. [Here is a summary report on the workshop.]

Thank you very much for your continued assistance. We believe SRI will make a revolution in crop production for attaining world food security.

Best regards.


[49] The Nepal Facebook group can be accessed from this link.

[50] Minutes from the founding meeting are posted on the SRI website. Establishment of the Sri Lanka SRI Network is discussed in a trip report from 2008, pp. 21-23.

[51] Here is the initial report on the establishment of the National Consortium in India.

[52] Here are links for NCS studies on use of indigenous varieties with SRI methods and on the adoption/disadoption of SRI.

[53] See J-SRI website (in English) for listing of meetings through 2012 and the J-SRI site in Japanese for the more recent meeting; the Japan page of the SRI-Rice website also shows more recent J-SRI events. My trip report from a visit to Japan in 2007 describes a J-SRI meeting and networking activities made possible by J-SRI.

[54] See the Taiwan network’s home page in Chinese, which can be translated into English on the computer screen with a single keystroke.

[55] System of Rice Intensification (SRI): Responses to Frequently Asked Questions (2015), in Chinese translation.

[56] Accessing this network for the Daloa region of Côte d’Ivoire requires logging in through Facebook.

[57] This is the link for the website page on SRI networks.

[58] Following the 5ᵗʰ International Rice Congress in Singapore in October 2018, a two-day workshop was held in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, to share SRI experiences among 50 participants from 17 countries, and to investigate opportunities for collaboration on scaling-up SRI, multi-country research, value-chain improvements, accessing resources for program support, and capacity-building of SRI networks. This meeting was intended to form a regional SRI network, which has not been realized as of 2022.

     The workshop was organized by the Malaysian Agroecology Society (SRI-Mas), the Asian Centre of Innovation for Sustainable Agricultural Intensification (ACISAI) at AIT in Bangkok, and SRI-Rice. Presentations were made by representatives from 10 Asian networks: India, Indonesia, Iraq, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Philippines, and Vietnam. Workshop participants included also representatives from the incipient regional SRI networks in Africa and Latin America, so there was some discussion on how the various regional entities could collaborate in the future. A picture of the participants is presented below.

[59] Here is a link to the SRI-Africa website, which has thus far been supported personally by Bancy Mati, with some student technical assistance.

[60] There were two separate publications put out by IICA, first of the short responses to FAQs about SRI in 2016, and then the more complete responses in 2017.

[61] As there were no opportunity given in the official program for any SRI presentations, Lucy Fisher organized a late-afternoon side-event at the Congress where presentations were made by SRI colleagues from 8 countries on SRI research, past, present and planned. These presentations are posted on-line.

[62] This link is

[63] As best we can know about these in Ithaca, New York. The country coverage depends mostly on what reports are sent to SRI-Rice by colleagues in the respective countries. Country pages can be checked out through this link.


[65] In his poem ‘The Wasteland’ (1934), Eliot asked plaintively: Where is the wisdom [that] we have lost knowledge? Where is the knowledge [that] we have lost in information? – to which we should add with a little poetic license: Where is the information [that] we have lost in data?

[66] For an analysis of the first 20 years of publications on SRI, 1993-2013, see presentation on this made by Erika Styger to the 4th International Rice Congress in 2014.

[67] Results summarized in Abha Mishra, J. W. van Ketelaar, Norman Uphoff and Max Whitten, ‘Food security and climate-smart agriculture in the lower Mekong basin of Southeast Asia, evaluation of impacts of system of rice intensification with special reference to rainfed agriculture,’ International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, 9 (2021).

[68] Willem Stoop, a Dutch agronomist who was a ‘charter member’ of the SRI community (Chapter 25) and who in his active retirement lived near Wageningen University in the Netherlands, worked closely with Debashish Sen, Ravindra, and Sabarmatee from India and with Rajendra Uprety from Nepal while they were doing their respective PhD programs at Wageningen, including making visits to India and Nepal for supervision of research in the field. When assisting these younger colleagues to strengthen their methods and conduct of research. Willem drew on decades of experience conducting agronomic research within the CGIAR system (see his mini-memoire). Willem and half a dozen colleagues published a summary report on the SRI research in India done under the Wageningen program: Willem Stoop, Sabarmatee, P. Sivasubramanian, A. Ravindran, Debashish Sen, Shambu Prasad and Amod K. Thakur, ‘Opportunities for ecological intensification: Lessons and insights from the System of Rice/Crop Intensification – Implications for agricultural research and development approaches,’ CAB Reviews, 12:036 (2017).

     I was coopted to serve as an external advisor on various PhD committees, first for Abha Mishra for her degree from the Asian Institute of Technology; then for Humayun Kabir for his PhD from the University of Honolulu; then Limei Zhao at Zhejiang University in China; Jackline Ndiiri for the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Kenya; and Febri Doni, an Indonesian, for his degree from the National University of Malaysia. These young professionals became productive contributors to the SRI literature as seen from the many references to their respective publications in chapter endnotes in Parts I and II. 

Many universities require an external advisor or examiner for students in PhD courses of study, a role that can be played from afar when email is available. Indicative of the variety and geographic range of SRI interest, in 2022 I was on the PhD advisory committees for Primativa Mboyerwa, an assistant lecturer at Sokoine Agricultural University in Tanzania, doing her thesis under a World Bank-supported PhD program at Haramaya University in Ethiopia; and for Omid Monemi at Ferdowsi University in Iran. Others whose graduate studies were advised informally include Uma Khumairoh, who got her PhD from Wageningen University with a thesis on integrating SRI into agroecological farming systems in Indonesia, and Gawain Sharp, who helped a cooperative in Timor Leste take up SRI with assistance from Oxfam New Zealand, and who then did a thesis on this and related work for a master’s degree from Massey University.

[69] Reported in my book Learning from Gal Oya: Possibilities for Participatory Development and Post-Newtonian Social Science. From 1980 to 1985, Cornell faculty and students assisted in introducing water user associations in the Gal Oya irrigation scheme in southeastern Sri Lanka under a USAID project, and then for the next five years I was able to return annually under consultancies or on my own to keep observing performance after the project ended. The book was published by Cornell University Press in 1992 and republished in paperback in 1996 by Intermediate Technology Publications in London. An updated report on the organizational work in Sri Lanka is N. Uphoff and C.M. Wijayaratna, ‘Demonstrated benefits of social capital: The productivity of farmer organizations in Gal Oya, Sri Lanka,’ World Development, 28: 1875-1900 (2000).

[70] Described in English as “observational cinema.”

[71] These trip reports are available on the SRI website: Bangladesh (2000, 2002 [2], 2005); Cambodia (2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2013); China (2002, 2003, 2004 [2], 2007; other visits not written up); Cuba (2002, 2003, 2004, 2008); Ethiopia (2008); India (Tamil Nadu 2003; Andhra Pradesh 2003; TN/AP 2004; Tripura 2007; AP/Karnataka 2006; West Bengal 2011; Jharkhand 2012; other visits in India not written up); Indonesia (2003, 2005, 2008, 2011); Japan (2007); Madagascar (2001, 2008); Malaysia (2011); Myanmar (2002); Nepal (2006); Pakistan (2006); Philippines (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006; other visits not written up); Solomon Islands (2009); Sri Lanka (2002 [2], 2003, 2008); Vietnam (2006, 2007).

[72] For a listing of and access to presentations from or on over 50 countries, see the SRI-Rice website. This page includes many more presentations made by others on SRI than just my own.

[73] See endnote 24 in Chapter 29.

[74] See endnote 11 in Chapter 9 on Limei Zhao’s research and publications.

[75] Endnote 2 in Chapter 33 gives instances of the kind and extent of networking that was possible at the World Food Prize symposium in 2010, for example.

[76] A year after Min returned to Hunan, he facilitated the participation in a large Chinese-African conference held in Changsha of two SRI colleagues in Africa: Bancy Mati from Kenya, and Pascal Gbenou from Benin. This was significant for the networking opportunities that it gave Bancy and Pascal to interact with participants from over 30 countries in Africa, and it is an example of the kind of serendipitous connections that have assisted the SRI venture.

[77] After she left SRI-Rice, Erika set up a program on Climate-Resilient Farming Systems operating under the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future at Cornell and CALS International Programs, mostly promoting SRI in situations that complemented SRI-Rice’s activity. By reducing her compensated worktime to 50%, Lucy was able to extend SRI-Rice’s available resources by roughly another semester, and an unexpected and unrequested gift from Marguerite’s sister Carolyn McKay added another semester’s worth of activity to the SRI-Rice operating budget.

[78] Another gift of USD100,000 from Carolyn the next year helped to extend SRI-Rice operations for another year.

[79] The Downforce Trust was created in 2020 to support environmental protection and improvement, especially focusing on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. In 2021, the Trust made a USD30,000 gift to Cornell for SRI-Rice operation to sustain its productivity with possibly more to come. Adam was the trust’s founder and chair of its trustees. SRI-2030 was set up at the end of 2021 with support from the Downforce Trust after consultations via zoom with SRI-Rice.

[80] Adam Parr brought an unusual background and skillset to the SRI effort. After getting his first degree from Cambridge University, he worked in investment banking, then in Formula I auto racing, and then in the mining sector, before doing a PhD at the University of London. Seeing halting climate change (correctly and acutely) as one of greatest challenges and most urgent tasks facing humankind, Adam learned about SRI from the 2016 report of Project Drawdown. He could see no reason why the use of SRI methods should not be widespread around the world, thereby reducing the net emission of greenhouse gases (especially methane) while providing also many other economic, social and environmental benefits, which gave farmers and governments incentive for adoption. In the plan that Project Drawdown formulated to reach zero net emissions of GHGs by 2050, it had projected a goal of 50 million hectares of SRI practice by that year. Adam asked, sensibly, why cannot this target be reached by 2030? It would be a very practical way to slow and reverse global warming. Hence, the name of the organization and its purpose.

[81] ILEIA, the Center for Learning on Sustainable Agriculture, located in Wageningen, Netherlands, after 25 years of productive work including a valuable publication, LEISA: The ILEIA Newsletter on Low-External-Input Sustainable Agriculture, had to close down and scale back its program. Fortunately, it could join a consortium of NGOs from half a dozen countries, called the AgriCultures Network, which took over the publication as Farming Matters, which published a special issue on SRI in 2013, in four languages (Chapter 29).

[82] Having read during my graduate studies Thomas Kuhn’s seminal book on paradigm change, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, University of Chicago Press (1962), provided helpful perspective on what was going on.

[83] An ‘in’ joke within SRI-Rice was that we wanted to give opportunism a good name again. After all, there is nothing ignoble about opportunism if it serves a worthy purpose. The word has come to be associated with self-serving behavior that takes advantage of others. But taking advantage of opportune situations to achieve justifiable ends more quickly or less expensively should not be disparaged.

     The distinction made here between knowledge and information is made clear and memorable by this short verse from T.S. Eliot’s poem ‘The Wasteland’: “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? / Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” To this can be added, to make the differentiation even clearer: “And where is the information we have lost in data?”  This implies a progression from data to information to knowledge to wisdom. Conversely, these four things represent a kind of hierarchy that is worth remembering: wisdom > knowledge > information > data.

[84] This was exemplified in the report in endnote 22 of Chapter 8 from the Sanya conference in 2002, where Sri Lanka’s Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Salinda Dissanayake, offered to share a room with the farmer-participant from his country, Premaratne, when there was a shortage of rooms for the first night. He could have suggested sharing with a room with a senior civil servant or with me, but chose not to, knowing and respecting Prema. How many government ministers have ever made such an offer?

     One of the precepts in the organization-theory literature that I have found most significant in our work (since learning it in graduate school; I cannot remember a reference to cite) is that organizations tend to recreate in their environment the values and social relationships that they exhibit and operate by internally. This was very true in the Gal Oya case (endnote 67) as well as in our SRI experience.

[85] Setting up this NGO was assisted by Earth Links and its director Steve Leinau. SRI-Global’s president has been Ed Baxter, husband of Erika Styger. Its secretary has been Lucy Fisher, and Olivia Vent and Callie Arthur have served as members of its board of directors. SRI-Global’s Facebook page gives information on its purpose and activities.

[86] Lotus Foods uses as an advertising slogan ‘Do the Rice Thing,’ which focuses on SRI’s water efficiency (‘more crop per drop’) and on its environmental and social benefits, especially for women.

[87] See designs and information on an improved conoweeder and the woman-friendly Rice Dragon weeder that is being promoted by Oxfam America in Cambodia and Vietnam. 

[88] Agritechnica is described as the world’s leading trade fair for agricultural equipment.

[89] On Flooded Cellar Productions, see the home page for its website. Its introductory video on SRI in Madagascar, Rwanda and Burundi was supplemented by four training videos produced in English, French and Malagasy, assisted by IFAD and SRI-Rice. Flooded Cellar subsequently produced videos on SRI in Nepal and Sierra Leone that were posted on YouTube, as well as a video report for the SRI-Lower Mekong Basin project, posted on FaceBook.

[90] See the website of SRI4Women for videos and information on women using SRI methods for their rice producers in half a dozen countries.

[91] Summarized in S. Gopalakrishnan et al., ‘Assessment of different methods of rice (Oryza sativa L.) cultivation affecting growth parameters, soil chemical, biological and microbiological properties, water saving, and grain yield in rice-rice systems,’ Paddy and Water Environment, 11: 65-75 (2013).

[92] This cooperation was most visibly expressed in the publication that Oxfam together

with WWF and the American NGO Africare published for distribution at the World Food Prize symposium in 2010, More Rice for People, More Water for the Planet. It engaged Olivia Vent to assist in the preparation of this booklet. Oxfam Quebec for a while supported SRI work in Vietnam, while Oxfam’s Spanish affiliate (Oxfam Intermon) gave some support for SRI dissemination in Haiti. The Oxfam affiliate in Australia, previously known as Community Aid Abroad, gave early support for SRI activity in Laos and Sri Lanka, including hosting the national SRI network in Sri Lanka. Oxfam GB (Great Britain), the original Oxfam organization, has had some involvement with SRI in Bangladesh and has supported the SRI-Pilipinas network.

Oxfam America’s support was approved by its president and CEO, Ray Offenheiser, 1996-2017, who was continuously helpful in moving SRI forward within the organization and beyond.

     Operationally, the assistance and advice of an Oxfam America staff member Le Minh made the organization’s collaboration with SRI-Rice effective. She helped to get SRI started in Cambodia and Vietnam while she was serving as Oxfam’s country representative in Phnom Penh and then in Hanoi. After becoming Oxfam’s advisor for global agriculture, Minh assisted further joint activities including representation of SRI at the International Rice Congresses in 2014 and 2018 (Chapter 25).


PHOTO CREDITS:  Norman Uphoff

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